On a blustery and rainy Sunday afternoon (kitted out head to toe in rain gear, in anticipation of what the delightful Northern European weather was going to throw at me), I set out on my trusty bicycle to visit William van de Velde, also known as Kunsteboer (Artistic farmer), to learn more about him and his work.
Nestled in the woods, you enter chez William’s via a little bridge over a stream, the railings of which have been designed and created by him. Then through a large gate topped with an impressive iron bird, rust-red and in mid-flight.
The house has three separate parts to it. In one part Karen (William’s partner) was preparing to give a Thai’s massage to a client. Then we had a peak into the trailer, transformed by William into their son’s, Padouk’s bedroom-playroom. The interior is of wood complete with one of William’s creative wood burning stoves, in the form of an elephant. In the garden everywhere you look there is a piece of William’s work; some pieces are functional whilst others are decorative and amusing. A fusion of pieces of metal and found objects, the older pieces having added charm due to being aged by the weather. Then we moved onto the hub of their house and the kitchen-living room. I was greeted by a very friendly dog and astutely ignored by two cats, as we sat down over hot drinks and William began to tell me about his life.
He was born in Paris, but his youth was quite a nomadic existence, (he lived in a variety of places in southern France), so it wasn’t until he visited Groningen, in the mid nineteen nineties, that he found a place he actually wanted to stay. He likes The Netherlands and the sobriety and directness of the Dutch, in comparison to the passionate often-irrational explosive nature of his fellow countrymen. According to William, with the Dutch you know what to expect and where you are with them. He also likes Groningen because it is bursting with art, exhibitions, festivals, music, and attractions, far more than his native France. This has definitely played a roll in him becoming an artist: “I have become what I am because I came to live here,” he says. Also, as most of his circle of friends are artists too, there is a constant stimulation to develop oneself.
He had a brush with Minerva (the art academy) for a period of three months, before deciding it would be better to just go out and do it, seeing as he was already exhibiting at the time (at ‘Stichting Baksteen’), funnily enough with his entrance piece (a man-lamp) to the art school.
Having the Dutch directness off to a tee, he became a member of the prestigious Groningen art circle ‘de Ploeg’ by asking to become one. When they questioned him as to why, he unabashedly said, in order to promote himself. Liking his audacity and the fact that they didn’t have a sculptor at the time in their numbers, they accepted him!
An artist of circumstance, as a ship restorer the start of William’s creativity was when he noticed the sheer amount of metal left lying about, after the welding process was over. This was considered waste and so he took the pieces and began to solder them together, often giving his creations away as birthday presents. One time he made a set of Jujitsu fighting figures, which were so popular that they went like hot cakes, with orders for more.
When asked about his artistic process from start to finish, he says that initially rubbish is abstract, so he aims to make something recognizable out of it. Often seeing heads and arms amongst the pieces, he takes them and waits to see what they become in his hands. When it comes to commissions he is quite happy to work to the specified design of a client, but of course to be given free licence is his real passion. As to influences, he says although he is a culture barbarian he is not consciously influenced by anyone in particular, except himself, and then roars with laughter.
Does he have plans for the future? Yes, he wants to create on a larger scale, the bigger the better. With this in mind he would like to be given the chance to embellish buildings throughout the city. One such idea is to make a palm tree out of the chimney attached to the Simplon building. He apparently has been given the go ahead, now all he needs is investors; anyone interested? It will be a feat of mastery to realize, but once completed it would certainly improve the Groningen skyline.
William’s work can be regularly seen in exhibitions, at art festivals and markets, however, if you would like to contact him for more information about his work: