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Marcel Joosen... men & art

by Vincent van der Kraan in Lifestyle & Fashion , 27 december 2002

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

In the last twenty years male art has made its way into the Dutch museums and galleries. Before the eighties male art in the Netherlands virtually didn't exist, besides a number of thirties' German magazines or fifties' Tom of Finland editions

Major pioneers in the seventies were the Americans Etienne and Robert Mapplethorpe. Since then Dutch artists like Hans van Manen, Erwin Olaf and Marcel Joosen have made a name for themselves. At the moment Marcel Joosen has an exhibition in the Utrecht gallerie De Kunstsalon and we visited him in his home studio in Grave, a village in the south of Holland.

How did you get started?
In my academy years in Breda there was no interest whatsoever in figurative art, let alone the male nude. I was inspired by classical sculpture and portraits, but in those days abstract was the word. At the time I also worked as a teacher at an education centre in Cuyk. Refugees admitted into Holland had to follow courses there and in these portraiture and claying classes I began working with African models. I was fascinated by their build and rather coarse skin structure. Back then I wasn't aware of my homosexuality yet. I woke up to that realization relatively late. Only at 33 I found out I was turned on by men.

At 33... that was around 1976. Was there any interest for male art in the Dutch art world then?
None whatsoever. The academy was sexless. Only the COC played an important role in promoting the emancipation of male art. The gallery world turned up its nose at it and it was only when Rob opened his new leather store in 1980 at the Weteringsschans that I was offered my first chance to exhibit my work. Rob asked a number of artists to create a small artwork to fit in a little wooden box as an opening's present. He was so enthusiastic about my work that he offered me an exhibition. And a year later I could exhibit also in his new store in New York. Rob really cared for male art. His store was a permanent exhibition space. His contibution is priceless and cannot be overlooked.

These days you're one of the top in male art. When was your breakthrough?
In December 1994 the Bergen op Zoom museum organized an exhibition on the Saint Sebastian theme. In an art magazine I read an invitation to send in work on this theme. The museum's curator paid me a visit and was completely bowled over. I had to show her all of my work and she went completely bananas. "Why isn't this famous?," she kept calling. She organized an exhibition for me in the Markiezenhof in Bergen op Zoom. The room got a fresh coat of paint to match my work. Then gay gallery "Ho eens even" in Arkel gave me an exhibition. The curator of the Bergen op Zoom museum knew the owner of the "Wiek XX" gallery in Groningen and he asked me for a show. In 1995 I got my first television exposure. And after that Akke Schut of gallery "De Kunstsalon" in Utrecht offered me an exhibition, my first all bronze one. That exhibition really made my name.

Where do you find your models?
For the first ten years I actually had only one constant model, a strip cartoonist from Nijmegen. I did put up an ad now and then with good results. Nearly all of my models are straight. I prefer the virile hetero type. I did have gay models but they don't work for me. In my classes at the education centre I had many African models who really enjoyed posing in class. Since their culture is quite macho I didn't think it would do any good to tell them I'm gay. All my other models knew though. But when you're busy with your work that's so not important and straight guys don't seem to care.

What is a good model?
A good-looking man isn't necessarily a good model. Build is important, but so is personality. I once had an African boy of good build who really liked posing for me but he didn't have enough power. A well-defined body, power and personality, that's what counts. I can best compare it to trees in nature. Their form is so beautiful sometimes you have to stop and study them. The male physique has the same appeal for me. Mixed with erotic admiration.

Gay art or male art?
In the eighties we had heated debates whether gay art existed or not. An artist is fascinated by lines and forms. The fact that gays appreciate this art doesn't turn it necessarily into gay art. Art is the power to create. Eroticism doesn't play a role here, though the final product can have an erotic effect. Art gets labelled by subject: abstract, figurative, etc. Gay art would be gay art if it had only homosexuality as its subject. But people are interested in my work regardless of their gender or sexual orientation. My subject is men, so the right label I guess would read: men & art.

Marcel's work is on view, loan or for sale in gallery 'de Kunstsalon', Oude Gracht 315, te Utrecht. Prices run from E 215 to E 13.635. De Kunstsalon also offers a loan/buy arrangement. On request they will explain all about it.

De KunstSalon
Oude Gracht 315
3511 PB Utrecht
Tel: (030) 2312600
Opening hours: Fr and Sa from 13 till 17 hrs, Th from 18 till 21 hrs and by appointment.



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