World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 104 - Justus Donker

A large painting of a musician who has just started to make a trip around the world, guitar on his back. Black hat on his head. An empty bottle thrown away. ‘No End’ is on the sign. Flipper, the famous dolphin, looks at it approvingly at the left from the clouds. Right fly three birds, the trinity of the Donker brothers.

It is one of the works that are now to be seen in Marcello’s Art Factory & Rock Gallery. Justus Donker’s life was and still is peppered wih rock ’n roll. The Donker brothers began in the late eighties their careers as artists of the After Nature Group, together with, among others, Peter Klashorst and Jurriaan van Hall.

Productive period

There were dozens of exhibits and action painting shows. From New York to Barcelona. ‘After Nature’ wanted to have nothing to do with conceptual art or art-fetched theories. The concept was simple: start from what you see. As it was done one hundred years ago, the brothers went into nature, behind the easel with brush in hand, searching for the truth. They painted landscapes, still lifes, model images and (self-)portraits.

That works out well for quite a time, but there comes a turning point. More about that further. A few days after the opening I speak with Justus in the gallery. He now has a distance to ‘After nature’ he says. “I went back to where I began, with free work. This year I became 50. I always thought, if I’m 50, I can paint anything. I now know what I want, can and how to proceed. I do not want to stick to one style. I’m in a productive period and have many exhibitions.” 

Jacob Kanbier

Since his birth he is an artist, he says. “I was always busy with drawing. Together with my two brothers, Gijs the oldest, and Aad the youngest.” The biggest bond he had with his brother Aad. “Aad was the linchpin. I did everything with Aad. I was born in Rotterdam, but then moved to Denmark for six years. Aad was born there. His midwife turned out to be a grandchild of Gauguin. We were called ‘the little ones’. We wanted to do everything what our big brother did. “Even father Willem Donker, editor, liked to draw. “He especially liked figure drawing.”

At seventeen Justus decided that he seriously wanted to start with an art career. He took lessons from Leiden master Jacob Kanbier. “He gave me a brush and paint and I went to work. With him I painted ‘free’. That took about ten years.” When his brothers went to study at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, Justus followed them a year later. ‘After Nature’ they had devised and publicized already. The director of the Academy said they had to stay away from the media, and had to concentrate on their studies. 

“I persevered for nine month and then ran away screaming. I had learned nothing. They didn’t care for craftmanship. I learned a lot from Kanbier and watching Peter Klashorst and my brothers.”

Key moment

‘After Nature’ made soon furore. Justus also toured with the group ‘The Boulevard of Broken Dreams’, to which also Herman Brood, Jules Deelder, Remco Campert and Simon Vinkenoog belonged. We speak of the 90’s with ecstatic and interactive art performances. The glory years were over for good in 1998, when Aad Donker, the youngest of the three brothers, committed suicide because of heartbreak. “A key moment.”

Justus withdrew from the art world in a tiny village in Groningen. There is born his third child in 1999, daughter Luna. Previously there were two sons: Dali and Fela. After several years of reflection he again engages in painting in 2001 and he continues where he left off in 1998. After Groningen he goes to Friesland, Amsterdam, abroad and finally ends up in Leiden in 2009. With another daughter: Sterre (2004).


In 2011 Justus met the filmmaker Frank de Rooij. He makes a documentary ‘Justus’ about the life of Justus. The documentary is rewarded in 2015 by DOCfeed as ‘best Dutch documentary’, see: The documentary has been viewed by over a million people. In 2016 appeared the also frequently viewed documentary ‘All you need is me’ about the life of Aad, made by Wim van der Aar, And a biography of Aad by the author Menno Voskuil will appear in 2018. 

We walk past the paintings. In front of the gallery window are paintings on thick solid scaffolding wood. Landscapes, heads, bodies. “I paint everywhere.” Indeed, there are also two painted armchairs, one with a lady and on the other side of the gallery one with a man with hat. On a number of works we see a boxer, ready for battle. “I’ve boxed myself, long ago. Painting is like boxing. It’s a fight with the canvas. You can win, lose, or it ends in a draw.”

In ‘Knockin’ on Heavens’s Door’, a recent work, we see a woman at the ‘life ladder’. That also represents the fight you deliver. Life is fighting. But preferably in the way the Indians do it, ‘sweet fighting’, where afterwards people smoke a peace pipe. His brothers are on display, including Aad, his father, sometimes a bit hidden. Refugees ‘on the run’, beautiful women and a painting that says ‘Jesus to drunk’, the anagram of Justus Donker.

New Donker Collective

Meanwhile, there is a new ‘Donker Collective’, a new trio of painting Donkers. It consists of his sons Dali and Fela, and Tun, the son van Gijs.

“Art life has its ups and downs” he concludes. “I have ever been jealous of people with a regular job. That you get your salary every month. But that’s no longer the case. Now they are jealous of me. I foremost feel myself an artist. Especially the way is the best, not the goal. Succes has its drawbacks. The money is nice, but the fame not. When I worked with Herman Brood, I couldn’t go anywhere.”

Finally, asked about his philosophy, he says: “Always keep going, never stop, no matter what happens.”   


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