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‘A good picture  looks good even in the dark’

People live and exist by telling stories. But there is a place – before the words – that requires no explanation or description, a place where time and emotional space merge. Jaap van Geffen (1955, Nijmegen, the Netherlands) aims to locate this place on the canvas, harnessing it to lay bare the landscapes of his inner being.


Jaap van Geffen's eventful life serves as a constant source of inspiration. After a period of extensive study and travel in the Middle East and having obtained a Master's degree in Arabic language and literature, Van Geffen lived as a squatter and became a nightclub owner in Amsterdam and Edinburgh. He has always seen music, and the saxophone in particular, as guides that offer a moment of liberation from all thoughts and words. But it was an old chest that finally inspired him to paint. The chest contained many drawings in the style of Van Gogh's Sorrow and Rembrandt's landscapes. At that point, Jaap van Geffen understood that he had found the key.


Since 2012, he has dedicated himself to the art of painting and studying artists such as Goya, Mitchell, De Kooning, Twombly, and Verhoef. Jaap van Geffen has since transformed words into shapes, lines, and colours in his paintings. He believes painting holds the key to the inner landscapes of his imagination and fantasy: ‘Freedom begins as soon as the absurd is given free rein. There is no logic in the things that are truly important. As soon as I open myself up to the absurd, I can paint whatever I want.’


The theme of movement is central to Van Geffen's creative process and is reflected in his works. Movement releases waves of emotions and experiences in his body that had ‘nailed’ themselves into his body through words. ‘A painting has rhythm. If I can't dance to it, it's not my music,’ explains Van Geffen as he describes this process. As soon as a painter's movement and the speed of his creativity are in harmony, this generates energy on the canvas. This energy radiates out of the picture and exposes the dynamics of a certain moment.


Mark Rothko once said that a large canvas invites the viewer to enter the painting, creating intimacy and opening the viewer up to an intense experience.

Jaap van Geffen agrees with this. In this era of information overload, he would like to use his art to open up to his viewer and offer them an experience of the unspoken that transcends all words. From his point of view, a picture is successful when ‘it detaches itself from me and exists independently. A good picture is even independent of the viewer and could hang in the dark and still be a good picture.’ A work like this changes the medium of words. It opens a space on the canvas in the moment prior to the beginning of a story.

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