“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” Phillip Pullman
With the current aesthetic in mosaic leaning heavily towards abstract work, mosaicists who tell stories, like Jeroen Meijer, are rare. The Dutch artist creates haunting images that make one wonder “Who are these people? What is happening to them?” Looking for answers, we set a series of questions to Mr. Meijer who responded with thoughtfulness and candor. Be prepared to look very, very closely at these mosaics. Much like the Dutch painters of the 17th century, almost every detail in Meijer’s work has meaning–from the andamento to the tesserae.
Why mosaic? Because, my mosaic technique enables me to tell my stories perfectly.
I see myself as a builder, a storyteller and a sculptor. As a sculptor, working in only one material has never really satisfied me. I need the interplay – the energy-interaction of different elements or materials – that can happen in a mosaic. I like it when I can cut things, break them, saw them, polish them, glue them, and combine them until I have just the right composition.
The mosaic technique has unique qualities. It is like a big puzzle where every little piece is carefully selected for its place. It is also a very meditative activity. Physically, there are no limits. A mosaic is like a firm statement that can last for ages; it is permanent.
I supplement the tesserae I find with photographic tiles I make myself. First, I manipulate a photo in Photoshop so it becomes more graphic and then, using a special copy machine, I transfer that image onto white bathroom tile.
Who or what are influences for you?
I was always intrigued by the paintings of Gustav Klimt in which the faces and hands are three dimensional and the fabrics are just flat patterns. Another great influence for me are the “story book” painters of the late medieval and early Renaissance like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. Every little thing – the details, the symbols, the images and the colors – in their paintings had a purpose towards telling a story or making a statement. To create more space in their compositions and to layer in even more details, they used a very flat perspective.
What inspires a new work for you?
The starting point for almost all my objects and mosaics has been is an “objet-trouve”; something I have found that intrigues me enough to keep it for later use. Nowadays, that object is often a candid photograph in which I find some metaphor of a human condition or quality.
My most important muse is my partner, Buba Cvoric, whom I met at a sculpture-ceramic symposium in Serbia in 2006. Buba had just finished at an art academy there and had plans to do her masters studies in Holland. Her subsequent move here, reactions to the Dutch culture, and her struggles to stay here have had profound effects on my life and have served as starting points for several of my mosaics.
High Expectations And A Dog Called Lucky (2007)
This mosaic is the story of Buba’s early struggles to create a new life for herself in Holland.
It started with a photo of Buba in the garden of her parents home in Serbia. She has just taken a shower and her hair is wrapped in a towel. She wears China slippers and stands before the garden wall made of bricks.
At that time, Buba was busy with all the frustrating paperwork for her move to Holland; visa, study application, funding, etc. In the mosaic, these troubles are represented by chains. Her suitcase is packed and ready for travel (bottom right), but she is bound. Her dog, Lucky, is biting through Buba’s chains – helping her. (This crazy dog is called Lucky because Buba’s sister found him as a small puppy in a garbage container.)
Buba can only see her expectations for her future through a barred window in the wall. Her expectations are butterflies – a symbol of transition and beautiful change. The wall made of rocks is beginning to break down, almost disappearing in a kind of digital, virtual sky and some of the butterflies have escaped.
Although I had some doubts that all of the paperwork could get done on time, Buba’s persistence and great willpower made it happen. At the very last minute, both a solution for her visa problems and a scholarship showed up. As someone who once felt the urge to move away from his roots himself, I understood what was driving her. If you want something very much, many times Good Luck will come by itself!
Detail: The butterflies above the wall have bodies made from bullets. In 1999, Buba witnessed the NATO bombing of Novi-Sad, her home town. Ironically, Holland, her destiny and new home, was involved in the destruction of her old country.
A Cup of Coffee, A Cookie and a Hug
In the 1970’s, Holland had the reputation of being a very liberal and open country that welcomed immigrants. Today, it is probably one of the most xenophobic countries in Europe and the multicultural “experiment” of the 70s is considered a failure. Now, all immigrants have to adapt fast and participate in the “inburgerings-programma” (citizen program) which requires, among other things, that they learn the Dutch language.
The starting point for this mosaic was a photograph I took of Buba lying on the floor prepared to have her face cast in plaster for an object I was making. It looked to me as if she was wearing one of those fabric caps that are part of traditional Dutch costumes. Simultaneously, I found a set of babushkas in my studio (a souvenir of a trip my mother made to Russia) wearing their traditional kerchiefs.
What came into my mind was the image of a traditional Delfish-blue Dutch landscape with an “invasion” of Eastern European immigrants – the “Babushkas”.
My first title was Bubashkas in Citizenland, but that might imply that I had a problem with these Eastern European immigrants. Luckily, Buba came to me with a story which gave me a better title.
To help her learn the required Dutch language and earn money, Buba had taken a job in a home for the elderly. One day, one of the residents became angry with Buba when her coffee and cookie weren’t delivered at exactly the usual time.
Buba, new to the situation, had no other way to respond to this anger than to give the resident a big spontaneous hug and a smile. The crisis immediately ended.
Detail: The image of the blue cows I took from a milk chocolate candy bar that was popular when in Holland I was young.
This mosaic is a tribute to my mother.
In the photograph, you can see her in her favorite chair inviting someone to play Yahtzee. When you visited my mother, any effort to simply sit and talk was futile, at some point you had to play and she was very good at the game!
In the mosaic, she wears a nun’s habit because it was her costume for my very raucous 40th birthday party which had a medieval theme. I was shocked when I first saw her that night because I thought she was my deceased aunt who had actually been a nun! During the party, many people thought my mother was a nun because of her gentle demeanor and open attitude for everything that was going on.
I created a sort of medieval monasterial setting for the mosaic and used the flat perspective that was the predominant painting style of that time period. It allowed me to include many details that tell my mother’s story.
Details: The three-dimensional dice have a Yahtzee score from any angle.
The crucifix is upside down because of a previous work of mine that my mother had liked a lot.
Man ist was man isst (You are what you eat) shows Jesus (ichtus = fish) diving in the sea where hungry fish are eager to eat him. Jesus said, “Eat my body and become like me” – therefore all who eat him can act in His name while everyone else is wrong.
Last month, Jeroen Meijer and his partner, Buba Cvoric, completed the 600 mile El Camino de Santiago walk through Spain following a route established by Christian pilgrims over 1,200 years ago. One wonders what stories will come from that experience.
Meijer’s current “day job” is as an instructor in the wood and steel workshop of the Fine Art Department of the Art Academy of Utrecht. He is working on a series of mosaics for a solo exhibition in 2013.
On September 10, 2012, Buba Cvoric participated in a naturalization ceremony that made her a citizen of The Netherlands.
UPDATE: March 2014 – A new work from Meijer “Con Te Partiro” Read about this moving commemoration of the passing of the artist’s mother here: