CELL PORTRAITS – 2020
During the first year I had a studio in the former prison Bijlmerbajes, I discovered a corridor of cells. They were so called ‘holding cells’; small and only fitted with a built in bench at the back. Inmates could be locked up here for a couple of hours during the day, awaiting an interrogation or a trial. With their tiled walls the cells look like empty bathrooms. There are no windows. The walls and ceiling are covered in graffiti – silent shouts – and burn marks. The steel door is heavy. It is very quiet in there.
I used to go and sit in a cell every now and them, waiting for what I did not know.
It turned out to be a plan to start painting portraits in there.
I cleaned one out, fitted it with lights and a heater, and put my easel in. Then I invited friends and family to come and spend time with me there and pose for a painting.
A cell is a compelling space; a room not many people are used to entering. When there is just the two of you and the door is closed it is like the outside world no longer exists. It is easy to concentrate on the task at hand – sitting, painting.
The tally went up to twentyfive works in the end – and I’m showing all of them here below. I’m not showing them all because I think they are all brilliant – I don’t – but to show what happened.
I am still trying to organise a show in the former prison, hopefully in the holding cell corridors. My friend Dominic Weston has composed a soundscape to go with the exhibition. A catalogue of the series has been printed (only in Dutch, so far) in February 2022, with photographs of the prison and the proces.
The people in the paintings are not from a particular group. Some are good friends, some family members, others coincidental contacts. I invited about sixty people all together, and this is how it turned out, in the weird first year of the pandemic, 2020.
The portraits are painted in oil on linen, and they measure 100 cm by 100 cm. Some of them are for sale, for €3000.
One of the Cell Portraits was stolen – number ten, picturing “The Teun”, a former prison guard. It was taken from my studio in October 2020.