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Clouds from Gust Romijn

By Sandra Smets

The Kromme Zandweg was still on the outskirts of the city when sculptor Gust Romijn (1922 - 2010) picked up an old farm in 1964, one from the time that Charlois was really the Boerenzij. A ruin, he told others about it, but it had the advantage that he could control it completely. And he did. When writer Hans Baaij visited 1965 there, he saw all possibilities, a space for imagination and hospitality. Sculptures were set up in a wild garden, paintings hung inside, a café was under construction so that his friends felt free to invade and stick. There were two beds in a corner and soon the jukebox and a few old fruit machines would be delivered. Romijn was described as a 'one-man art life' and as someone 'with an attitude to facelift the whole of Rotterdam'.

In that self-created biotope, Romijn was working on two large sculptures at the time, commissioned. One was intended for the Daniel den Hoed clinic. Through an open stable door, Baaij saw a large plaster model of a sculpture still to be executed in bronze, higher than the tall figure of Romijn himself. Scaling was part of this stage in his artistry and the farm offered all the space for it. Those major assignments were the reason Romijn had returned from the United States a year earlier. He had lived in New York for a few months, at that time the artistic epicenter, to absorb the latest developments in art. Romijn was always at the forefront of seeing the most up-to-date art and exhibitions and taking advantage of them. People said about his style that it did not evolve smoothly, but jumped, as eagerly as he always embraced the new.

But in New York the message had come to him that he could take on large assignments in Rotterdam. He decided to return. And so he went to work on the Kromme Zandweg. He made two more than man-sized plastics, images in which you could crawl in to find shelter. The Infinite House was intended for the Ruigeplaatbos in Hoogvliet; He made clouds at the request of grain processor Meneba, which was fifty years old and wanted to give something back to the city. They paid this image of 50.000 guilders for the Daniel den Hoed clinic on the Groene Hilledijk, a center for rheumatism and cancer control. A second gift was the ceramic frieze by Karel Appel for the Economic High School at Woudestein, worth 100.000 guilders.

Roman's great bronze plastics seemed like dreamlike enclosures that envelop a person, welcoming and organic. This was in line with how Romijn himself hoped to live in that artist's farm, so completely different from the blocky city that rose to his dismay beyond. To propagate that, he called Wolken a do and life image, ("As far as I'm concerned they are climbing in"), a cry that turned out to do so well that it appeared to be the official title when it was unveiled in July 1965. Nobody mentioned Clouds anymore.

If you cannot 'sell' this plastic to us, who can?

'This is how Gust Romijn's' doe and life image 'came from under the sheet on Saturday afternoon', the caption read in a newspaper with a photo of the image with a group of nurses, the white starched uniforms in strong contrast with the dark bronze silhouette of 450 250 by 350 centimeters. On Saturday July 3, 1965 the time had come: the official unveiling. The bronze colossus had been put in place a few days earlier, at the front of the clinic's driveway, surrounded by square pavement tiles. A dark and whimsical tweetonner, contrasting with a suddenly much paler block box background. The image dominated the otherwise treeless environment. A large wagon and hoist provided for transport and placement. The artist was photographed on the spot. The 42-year-old sculptor, known as a flamboyant appearance with red curly hair and colorful clothing, posed this time with black sunglasses, tall and bold as the statue next to him. A few cyclists stopped for a moment to watch. On July 3 the statue for the solemn occasion was provided with a large sheet, after which it was ceremonially removed. Mayor Thomassen opened the new building of the clinic with the push of a light button, after which he received a small model of the statue as a gift from the sculptor.

However, not everything was pais and vree. Rheumatologist Piet van der Meer hinted at that. He had been an advocate of Romijn for the commission funded by Meneba and had a role in the unveiling. In addition, he came to the conclusion that the acceptance of the sculpture was "accompanied by some spiritual hesitation." Not every member of the medical staff could admire it, he said, presumably a little euphemistically. Because it had to be a festive moment, the help of Pierre Janssen, the well-known advocate of modern art, was called in. Van der Meer addressed the word to Janssen: 'We may consider you our champion stand worker for' selling 'art. If you cannot "sell" this plastic to us, who can? "

Not really Mr Janssen, it seems. According to tradition, this gave good and smooth 'stand work' for the best, but did not come to a fervent and convincing plea for the artwork in question. The content of his speech seemed mainly to follow an explanation drawn up by Romijn himself, namely that he liked to be seen as the creator of sculptures that demand action from the public; entice them to live with and to live in plastic. With his 'romantic-primitive' world of forms, Romijn acts against the leveling and dehumanization, which is so disappointing in the new residential architecture.

Janssen left the image 'unexplained, unrivaled' to only show his joy that the clinic wanted to turn to an artist of the caliber of a Romijn. Romijn, whom he called a utopian, a man who continues to do the impossible while people in new neighborhoods live like beetles in boxes. According to Janssen, we no longer have the guts to really live in such houses as Romijn once stood, but we need them in the tightly built environment to activate our imagination. Not a word about the visual properties of the artwork itself. After that, the unveiling was still celebrated. "There was great interest in this ceremony in circles of flour, medicine and the visual arts, so that the sip afterwards became an animated reunion." And at home in the farm on the Kromme Zandweg, Romijn and friends would continue the party extra well later on.

An unsurpassed and disputable image

The unveiling was a fact and the monumental bronze became an eye-catcher for the entrance. It was related to the sculpture in Hoogvliet, but also to the sculpture that Romijn had made five years earlier for the school building of Bakema for the Montessori Lyceum. That abstract form, reminiscent of a hand or bird, was a harmony of mass and emptiness, and that is Clouds. Only the Montessori statue was still on a pedestal. Clouds was at ground level so that you could walk into it. "Very unconventional," that plinthless positioning was called in 1972. Critic Dolf Welling wrote that it consisted of a kind of poles that ended in what seem to be trees, that have grown together in the crowns, and with a bronze skin as bark. And the crown part has something of whimsical cloud formations, which have solidified like a cave.

Welling was positive, but artist and writer Piet Begeer took a different view. In the article 'Colossus on mud feet', he explained why step by step. The object "irresponsibly requires attention in the complex of architecture, in a way similar to the boy who raises his head and hands right in front of the television camera." For Begeer, the problem was of a fundamental nature: 'A monument is a memorial, which commemorates some meaningful event. Nothing is commemorated with this image and from the stated point of view it is therefore not a monument. However, it is a sign, it also wants to be a sign and then in the sense of an emblem, just as the Red Cross and the white stripes of the pedestrian crossing are. "
An emblem of which, Begeer wonders. He recognized legs, a head, then it would be "a strongly deformed pre-worldly monster." A pompous plastic, he then says, with 'a negative approach to the humanitarian background of advancing science in the service of humanity. It is the same negative attitude that so many artists of our time still know as the only creative impulse. '

The negative attitude that Begeer was talking about, that must have been Roman's aversion to how people lived, in boxes and cupboards. Rather, Romijn was inspired by Fred Flintstone houses, flowing and organic. 'All those cabinets together, there is nowhere else a surprise. I want to bring that surprise back '. Begeer did not need that surprise and therefore found the content of the image questionable. He could have accepted the artwork if it had at least been visually strong, because, according to him, that was not the case. Others had also struggled with it, he continued, citing them with the statement "it is there and it will get used to it." He thought that was a killer, because getting used to it only relates to human adaptability.

The image was tough. Critic Bertus Schmidt of the Rotterdamsch Parool was also unhappy about it, after which the newspaper placed a letter in which a satirically gifted letter writer explained that Schmidt would have appreciated it better if he had known the past: the image is on a former playground where children are not. can play more because so many dogs are being walked. "If you look closely at the work of the sculptor, you see, if you neglect the four legs, exactly what the many dogs left behind."

On the barrel for car can and exhaust
But in the end people got used to it and the image was treated with care and attention. "The plastic has its own autonomous meaning and serves as an orientation and marking of access to the main and outpatient clinic entrance," writes Hans Abelman of CBK Rotterdam in 1986. But the reason for the letter is less positive: the picture is got stuck between parked cars and buildings. Clouds between exhaust gases. "The specific quality of the image requires a different qualitative location, whereby the environment is again adjusted to the size of the plastic," Abelman continued, and so it happened. The image was moved slightly, still close to the main entrance.

But that solution was short-lived. In 1990 the artwork moved again, now to the adjacent park, with a stone circular pavement at the artist's request with a diameter of 360 centimeters against mud. A new building was erected in front of the clinic's entrance, where Romijn was instructed in 1973 to make an object for this too. Again they became clouds, this time completely different, in dark blue perspex. In the evening the artwork was illuminated from the inside and words alternately appeared in it: cloud, sky, blue and sun. Romijn, always well dressed in the most outrageous colors and customized leather jackets, had a leather jacket with pink clouds on it for the occasion. Wim Gijzen got to know Romijn around 1964 and was taken by Jakob Zekveld to the unveiling of the statue at the clinic in 1965, after which they went to celebrate the unveiling with friends at the farm. About the perspex clouds from 1973, Gijzen later said that he helped beautify the entrance: 'A boring job of a few days. Patients were constantly coming by who had to be there for research. Gust came up with the bright idea to cheer these people up a little and greet them in a friendly way with "hello doctor". And we all got something like that. "

While the new clouds appeared in perspex, the bronze clouds moved to the adjacent park, the Valkeniersweide. This to the satisfaction of Romijn, who was not very fond of the combination of 'car tin' and 'artificial bronze'. Now you could walk around and under it again and touch it, he said in an interview with the hospital staff magazine Scanner: 'I had that in mind when I made the image. It had to be more than visual. " Bronsplastic could enjoy a long rest in the park. For nearly thirty years the cloud with its bronze crown stood like a tree in the park, as a landmark, not far from the main road.

A major oeuvre
For example, the Daniel den Hoed clinic had twice received clouds from Romijn, two images that differ so much from each other that you cannot imagine that they were from the same sculptor. That flexibility suited Romijn, whose oeuvre consists of very different chapters. That development started after the Liberation. In 1945 he started exhibiting, drawings and paintings, and soon became an active figure in the skinny Rotterdam art scene. He was connected to the cultural center 't Venster where he also organized exhibitions and thus helped open the windows to the art world far beyond Rotterdam.

As an artist he developed in Rotterdam, but he did not originally come from there. In 1922 Gustavus Adrianus Maria Romijn was born in a doctor's family in Noordwijkerhout, after which he grew up in Rotterdam as a boy who could not be kept at school. Eventually he went to the art academy but there he also lasted only three months. Although he could also be steadfast: he worked as a dock worker for ten years, because you couldn't live off your art that easily. His travel-like existence started when he received a scholarship from Maison Descartes for Atelier 1954 in Paris in 17, after which he stayed in Milan, New York and was a guest lecturer in Vancouver.

At that time, he began to make more and more plastics, and his oeuvre became 'a whimsical trail of prints, paintings and plastics', Welling says in 1965. He thought they were not yet an oeuvre, all those great things, but it was precisely because of their enormous formats that he stood out among potential clients, after which a 'not numerous, but nevertheless compelling, oeuvre' eventually emerged. It wouldn't hurt him. The farm on the Kromme Zandweg became a studio where the large club of friends invaded and where he also organized exhibitions of ever-increasing objects. His marriage broke down and he met a new love with three children, with whom he left again in a hurry, now to Dreischor, to stay there with the family.

Several assignments would follow after 1965, including a thirty-meter-high sculpture for Schiphol (this was moved to Amsterdam East in 1990), again in a totally different style, more businesslike. His works have been exhibited throughout Europe. In Rotterdam and Leiden he worked for the PTT, made steel sculptures for De Doelen, and for many years was the designer of Poetry International and the IFFR. In addition, Romijn was from 1970 to 1983 as senior lecturer at the Academy of Visual Arts in Rotterdam. He remained active until after the turn of the century, eventually more with paintings, interspersed with three-dimensional work. In 2010 he died in Dreischor, on Schouwen-Duiveland.

Fred Flintstone houses and whisper poles
The idea behind Wolken is not alone in this versatile oeuvre. In notebooks Romijn sketched an organic city in the sixties and seventies without prefabricated elements but with very different elements. He drew whisper poles in various shapes, a grouping of concrete bicycles, a bed-in-concrete for the Coolsingel and one over the Delftsevaart. He sketched wonderful bridges, cloud-like object images, a huge iron on the sidewalk at the Hilton hotel. They are combinations of monumental interventions with intimate places, to give the center a more varied appearance.

Wolken fits in that line. That image would enter the booklets as a protest against the leveling and dehumanization that the artist was so opposed to in the new residential neighborhood architecture and which made him long for prehistoric forms of construction. He planned to set a good example in the back of his garden by building a sort of cave or hut in which you could do everything: sitting, lying down, sleeping, eating. 'You have to remind people that there are other forms than boxes. The hole, that has a magical meaning for me, that is a starting point. " He saw it as a reaction to contemporary living situations, "which brings a certain leveling atmosphere of life, I want to break that with freer, individual forms."
He would later explain that clouds had been an inspiration, but that you should not take that too literally. 'My idea behind it was that the cloudiness in the image should not be too perceptible. In my opinion, that detracts from the emotional value of the design. People who look at the image, walk through it, touch it, must retain the freedom to get their own feelings. " That worked quite well. When the statue was not there that long, according to Romijn, they sometimes talked about 'the two rheumatism males'. "That is a bit distant from the image I had when making the artwork, but that doesn't matter."

His work is in between architecture and sculpture. He therefore prefers to call himself 'image builder' instead of 'sculptor'. He built images with which you can do something without having a directly identifiable function - they are not play images, they are not homes, but creations where it is not clear what it is. Partly because of the title 'doctrine and lifestyle', Wolken was also identified with the active therapy of the patients in the clinic who had to move. It is an image in which you can place your own meaning and which invites you to freedom. As Jan Donia Romijns bronzes from 1965 once described: 'With our hands we have built the first houses, rough and primitive. Homes that rose from nature like plants. The images of Romijn have the same. They are, as it were, vegetation in the city. "

Art historian and journalist Sandra Smets wrote this essay for CBK Rotterdam on the occasion of the unveiling of Wolken (1965) on the Dr. Molewaterplein.
Thanks to Marianne Kleijwegt.

Wolken was relocated in November 2019 due to the relocation of the Daniel den Hoed clinic to the Erasmus MC.
For more information: www.bkor.nl

Publication date: 07 / 01 / 2020

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