World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 37 – Henk Veen

In 2014 Henk Veen’s work was exhibited in Amsterdam American Hotel, adjacent to the famous Americain Bar. Pure Amsterdam! was the title of the exhibition of 40 paintings about Amsterdam. Houses, streets, people. And Ajax and Cruijff of course.

The exhibition was opened by Mayor Eberhard van der Laan. Van der Laan was full of praise. ‘Henk is a Paradise Bird. It’s incredible beautiful what he makes. It has the Amsterdam touch. In all details you smell and taste that he knows the city, the streets and the people. A great Amsterdam artist.’ Actor Peter Faber a little later: He’s got the Ajax feeling. No mercy. Do, just do. That’s how we do it.’  

The North-part of Amsterdam

Henk Veen a few days after the opening of the show: ‘My theme is Amsterdam, the city and the street. And love. I was born and raised in Amsterdam. Born in ’64 I grew up with Ajax, with Cruijff. My father took me out of bed for two things: Cruijff and Mohammed Ali, the boxer.’ 

When Ajax played I could watch the first half of the match. I witnessed the rise and the great times of Ajax. Unfortunately he couldn’t notice anymore that I have painted with Cruijff, up to three times. If he had known he would have considered it a marvellous thing.’

Henk Veen comes from the North-part of Amsterdam, on the other side of the IJ. ‘I was born there. Later I lived all over Amsterdam. In West, in the center. When children came I was back in North. Living in North is fantastic. Especially in our district, Molenwijk.’

On canvas

Already as a kid Veen seemed destined to be an artist. ‘As long as I know I was drawing. Everywhere, on paper, on the wall, on my pants. At one point I bought a picture frame – which they sold in the HEMAshop with a photo of a family on it. That picture I turned around and I had a white surface. Upon that I made my drawing and did it again in the list. It looked fantastic. I gave it to somebody as a birthday gift.’

‘A friend said: ‘You have to paint on canvas.’ But I had no money. So I went to the Gamma, a DIY store, bought four slats and little corners. Next I went to Albert Cuyp, the open air market and bought a cotton canvas. I fixed it to the slats, as straight as possible with square corners. I whitewashed and sanded the canvas and was ready to paint. When I sold it – it was 1998 – I had a proud feeling inside.’

Gerrit Rietveld Academy

Veen didn’t study at an Art Academy. ‘I’m self-taught, as it is called. I was allowed, by the way,  to enter Rietveld. I’ll tell you how it went. At a certain moment I was live painting in a shopping mall. Then two men came up who appeared to be teachers at the Rietveld Academy.  They had watched me for a while and they said to me: you’re allowed to enter Rietveld.’

‘It was a great honour for me, on the one side, but the more I tought, the more doubts I got. I’m not a perfect painter, sometimes the shadows are not right and there are other ‘mistakes’. At Rietveld flaws would be systematically removed. What would remain of my style? I would be average. I then cancelled.’

The Louvre

For his paintings Henk Veen uses spray paint and acrylic paint. He works with a brush, a stick and templates, with which he captures his emotions without detours. He paints vivid colourful paintings that are characterized by the ‘layer upon layer’ technique. This technique and the mist of spray paints cause a warm eradiation and give the works depth. This finishing touch is Veen’s secret. It is also called SignArt – allowing the painting to live.

With his fiancée Freeda he is particularly active to promote his work. He showed up in television shows, painted up to three times with Johan Cruijff for the Cruijff Foundation – who realizes sportive playgrounds in disadvantaged neighbourhoods- and had his work two times at the walls of the Louvre in Paris, where he won a Grand Prix Special. ‘It was so much fun, you’ll be adressed in French by the judges and other art experts and a moment later you walk among nice people in the city of Paris.’

With Freeda he organized various Art Squares, annually on Rembrandt Square, at het Dam to Dam Run and at Keukenhof, the great flower exhibition show.

Keep on fighting

He even has pupils, as the Mayor said. Henk Veen: ‘That’s a project. I work along with Peter Faber. I paint with boys of the Top 600 – the 600 criminal boys of Amsterdam – to make them think. This happens two or three month before they are released. I ask them: do you want to live like that? Do you not just want to have a wife and children? Do you like to have to look over your shoulder all the time and never have peace? On this theme they start to paint. It’s about starting to be yourself.’

How is life as an artist? ‘It is great to be an artist. But you have your ups and your downs. The ups: the Mayor, the Louvre, the tv-programs. One time you earn 10.000 euro, but there are also times when you’re not selling. Then you are forcing sale. Then every euro counts. It ain’t so easy to enter galleries. Every time you have to explain your work.’

It doesn’t work for me as for Corneille or Herman Brood, entering easily. You have to keep on fighting. That’s heavy. Someone with a normal job has his monthly salary. That’s not the case with me.

Veen, finally: ‘Each painting is a new adventure. You have different periods in your life. Some periods are more fun than others. The paintings tell the story.’



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