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the world is my poetry * (1998)

What a wonderful tree! And so old! it has survived so many centuries! How could it have become this thousand-year old tree? Well, because the tree was completely useless. Its wood was not suitable for making wagon wheels or furniture, not suitable for making charcoal to keep someone warm or cook food. And now that it is old, it is really not worth cutting down. It is a completely useless tree. (After Chuang Tzu)

During the preparations for the great retrospective of his work in 1980 at the Groninger Museum, herman de vries wrote to the then director Frans Haks, that he was looking forward to his first group exhibition. Haks observed de vries' ironic remark to be very meaningful: "the outer forms of de vries' work change, but it is clearly based on a number of principles." There is indeed a great diversity of forms in de vries' work: informal art, monochrome art, concrete art, concrete poetry, conceptual art and artist's books. Haks: "the drawback is that these are names which in fact bear on the external features of the work, which say nothing about the intention of its maker. the above-mentioned terms are therefore only illuminating for a short period of time: truly important artists do not repeat themselves but develop and renew themselves. This can particularly be said of herman de vries." [note 2. Frans Haks, 'introduction' in exhibition catalogue herman de vries. werken 1954-1980 (Groningen 1980) 5-7, quotations p. 5]

Apart from a few cognoscenti (and the very few collectors in the Netherlands who incorporate a historic perspective in their collection), the name of herman de vries will chiefly bring to mind those works which present elements from the natural world such as the leaves of a phillyrea plant or deer droppings. An example of this is the journal de el hierro:. a journal of his stay on El Hierro (one of the Canary Islands) in the form of a series of 47 sheets with rubbings of earth samples from the island, photographs of cloud formations, ferns which are to be found there, leaves of trees and shrubs, and so-called artefacts, man-made objects which, for a time, have been taken up in the natural metabolism of the island.

Nevertheless, this aspect should not determine one's image of his work, exactly because the themes of nature and ecology are at present so much at the centre of attention. A perspective of this kind very much misrepresents herman de vries' work. However strange this may seem, initially de vries' oeuvre does not involve these topical themes. The actuality of the oeuvre, and its relevance, is a diferent one.

This has, among other things, to do with the character of the artist. In the 60s, herman de vries had already explicitly distanced himself from the groups and movements in art, to which he, for a time, had belonged or in which he had been classified by the outside world. This artist in distancing himself took a further step. He repeatedly stated that art is renewed from the borders of art and that it hardly makes sense to strive as an artist to be at the centre of such a social construct. Accordingly, de vries puts forward that he and susanne have lived since 1970 in the country, in the little village of Eschenau at the edge of the Steigerwald.

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Cees de Boer, '"the world is my poetry". Some moments from life = work of herman de vries', in exhibition catalogue Oeuvreprijs 1998. Beeldende kunst : herman de vries (Stichting Fonds voor de beeldende kunsten, vormgeving en bouwkunst : Amsterdam 1998) 8-53.
© Cees de Boer.

Cees de Boer

Cees de BoerCees de Boer (1955) works as a freelance curator, art critic and art advisor. He published books on Sjoerd Buisman, herman de vries and Norman Dillworth. September 2014 appeared his study of the philosophical aspects of the work of herman de vries: Overal stroomt mijn oog. In 2015 he curated with Colin Huizing the Venice biennial contribution 'herman de vries - to be all ways to be'.

2014 herman de vries - overal stroomt mijn oog (Uitgeverij De Kunst/Waanders : Zwolle 2014) 184 pp. (ill.).

2014 'here & everywhere', in herman de vries – aus der heimat, erdausreibungen 1992-1993 / Erich Schneider. Schweinfurter Museumsschriften 201/2014 (Stadt Schweinfurt, Museen und Galerien : Schweinfurt, 2014) 18-21.

2011: Text in French and English for catalogue herman de vries : transit ; galerie Aline Vidal, Paris, issue of Semaine. Revue hebdomadaire pour l'art contemporain No. 292 (February 2012).

2010: In 2010 Cees de Boer launched his website 'to be all ways'. On his blog he publishes philosophical essays on the art of herman de vries. It is work-in-progress preparing the publication of a book in the autumn of 2011.

2009: 'Lebenskunst, die Sprache der Welt zu gewahren', in herman de vries : all this here / [Redaktion Barbara Strieder] (Stiftung Museum Schloss Moyland : Bedburg Hau 2009) 29-33.

2003: 'Kennis der natuur als ervaring', in Open no. 4 'Kunst in het veranderende landschap' (2003) 50-55.

2001: 'alles is altijd overal, of: de wind is een groot reiziger', in Trudy van Riemsdijk-Zandee (red.), Kunstmatige natuurlijke netwerken. 11 projecten op het web, in het bos, langs de dijk, in het water en in het dorp Zeewolde (De Verbeelding : Zeewolde 2001) 8 pages.

2001: 'gewahr sein, was der fall ist', in herman de vries : texte und tatsachen (Museum für Konkrete Kunst : Ingolstadt 2001) 7-19.

2000: 'catalogue', in herman de vries / textes herman de vries, cornelis de boer; préface anne moeglin-delcroix (Galerie Aline Vidal : Paris/Anthèse : Arcueil 2000) 19-88.

1999: 'die konkrete poezie der landschaft', in herman de vries. die reisejournale. ... marguerite le 9me avril 1997 (kunsthaus nürnberg : nürnberg 1999) 7-20.

1998: 'over de vergankelijkheid van de tekens', in herman de vries : over de vergankelijkheid van de tekens / Cees de Boer (Kunstvereniging Diepenheim : Diepenheim).

1998: '"de wereld is mijn poëzie". some moments from the life = work of herman de vries', in Oeuvreprijs 1998. Beeldende kunst : herman de vries (Stichting Fonds voor de beeldende kunsten, vormgeving en bouwkunst : Amsterdam) 8-53.

1997: 'from earth - noms de pays. herman de vries' erdausreibungen - earth rubbings', in herman de vries. from earth, von der erde (Städtische Galerie : Schwäbisch Hall 1997) 26-49.

1996: 'herman de vries', in exhibition catalogue Aspekte niederländischer Kunst heute (Skulpturenmuseum Glaskasten : Marl/Städtische Galerie Lüdenscheid : Lüdenscheid 1996) 30-35.

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