Dutch painter draws on China for passion

WHEN Peter Riezebos first came to Shanghai in 2009, the city won his heart immediately with its vibrant environment, cultural heritage, rapid development and energetic people.

WHEN Peter Riezebos first came to Shanghai in 2009, the city won his heart immediately with its vibrant environment, cultural heritage, rapid development and energetic people.

The artist, who was in the city for an exchange program for his academic studies of communication science and psychology, stayed for five months, then came back to the city for a short time every year after that. He eventually settled down in Shanghai in November, 2014.

He started studying for a PhD at the East China Normal University of educational technology and specialized in optimizing creativity in classroom. At the same time, he was provided a studio by the university to paint in the evenings, so that he can continue his artistic career, which he started back in his home country, the Netherlands.

Riezebos’ recent exhibition in collaboration with art agency Artgogo “Peter Riezebos — Chinese Artifacts” at the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, is a record of his life in Shanghai and how the city and China have influenced him, both in his personal and artistic life.

The 40 paintings on display are all typical Riezebos style: a reinterpretation of neo-expressionism, which is very bold and very expressionist.

“I try to set myself free in the paintings,” said the 37-year-old artist. His art is a medium for him to communicate with the audience and the world about almost everything in his life: what he has learned, what he experienced in various places, what he is interested in, as well as social issues such as consumptionism and social dominance.

So the themes of his paintings vary throughout the exhibition.

In the painting “Cigar Smokers,” Riezebos captures a relaxing moment of a friend and himself smoking cigars after a nice dinner and some wine.

In “Dominant,” he illustrates social relationships with four figures: the dominant personality, the semi-suppressed and fully suppressed, as well as the bystander.

For more abstract subjects, like “The Concept of Creativity,” Riezebos poured out what came to an artist’s mind when he was asked the question: what is creativity?

“It’s very easy to paint a car, a house or a woman. But how do you paint a concept? What I basically did was that everything in my brain at the same time, I just paint on it,” explained Riezebos. So on the linen of 2 by 6 meters, people can find a cartoon dinosaur, a phone ringing, a cherry, a naked lady, a rocket, a face with paper mask, arrows, an ice cream, another big face, chess games and other elements that are “in all directions, with no connections to each other, going from very dark colors to light colors.

“This is what creativity is: it embodies everything. That’s a reflection of what it could be.”

China has played a big role in his art since 2014. Riezebos started to include Chinese characters and calligraphy as part of his creations after coming to China.

His interpretation of the famous Chinese heroic figure Monkey King was shown in an installation work — “Mountain” — of 23 paintings in the public square in Xintiandi last year, the Year of the Monkey.

As the Monkey King is the hero of the Chinese classic novel “Journey to the West,” he loved to call his own personal experience a “Journey to the East.”

This year, the Year of the Rooster, he also created a series of paintings for roosters as his tribute to Chinese culture.

The artist says he has never lacked inspiration. His major issue is that his painting cannot keep pace with his mind. So, he normally starts at least five paintings at the same time, all with totally different subjects.

“I was just very inspired by walking on the streets and meeting all the people, eating all kinds of different food and enjoying the environment,” Riezebos said. “I was very bad at school because I had to sit still and be passive.”

But being too active and energetic has became a good thing for him as an artist. He normally paints 16 hours a day, seven days a week: “You need to be a little bit crazy. Maybe I am, a little bit. But I don’t care.

“But every painting is a struggle. You know 70 to 80 percent about what you are going to paint before getting started, but you can’t visualize 100 percent.

“So I need to look and look, sometimes walk away from a painting for a few days.”

His productivity has helped him succeed in many exhibitions throughout the years. His works were seen at the World Trade Center Amsterdam solo show “In My Mind” from June to August 2015, the Van Schaik & Van Schaik gallery solo “Existential Lines,” in February 2016, and in the Zeist gallery in the Netherlands and Shanghai’s United Art Space in M50 in February 2016.

Riezebos loves to do live painting in front of an audience, which he does often. A signature part of every exhibition opening is a live painting. He paints with his usual acrylics and oils, spraying at fast speed.

He has also done live painting on various surfaces such as a piano, a Buick sedan and doors he found in the garbage.

“It’s very important to make sure that you interact with your audience,” he said. “You not only create something and put it out there, you also want to connect with the people on a personal level.

“I want to be fully transparent. My style and how I paint is just out there. If there is anyone who wants to copy from me, then go ahead, I don’t care,” he shrugs.

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