herman de vries

at home: eschenau

herman de vries in the Steigerwald (2004)In 1970, en route to Ireland to look for somewhere suitable to settle, herman de vries visited by chance the agricultural hamlet of Eschenau in northern Bavaria, close to the edge of the great forest of the Steigerwald. Eschenau is an unremarkable place: a handsome church stands on a knoll overlooking the village, which measures the hours by its bell, and there is a small and comfortable family inn, with a number of farmhouses centred around it. The beer it serves is no longer brewed in the village, though traces of the hops that once flavoured it can be found living wild on such local trees and hedges as have been spared the chain saws and mechanical diggers of modern agriculture. Like the other small towns and villages of the region, Eschenau is quiet, neat and, perhaps, too well-kept. It is certainly not picturesque. Unless you had business here it is unlikely that you would stop the car. Its inhabitants are, by and large, devout and hard-working farmers, traditional in their social values, discreet and respectable.

It was the quiet anonymity of the village, and its proximity to the forest, that appealed to de vries: here was a place that would provide few social distractions, where he would be able to work undisturbed In 197O, de vries came to live in Eschenau and was joined there in 1971 by his partner and close collaborator, susanne; the house where they now live and work has been their home and base of creative operations since 1990. They are on friendly terms with the local people, but have little contact with them, and they do not attend the church, which is the social hub of the village. de vries came here from Arnhem, a city of over a hundred thousand, and it was his express intention to escape from city life, and from the controls and constraints of the art scene in Arnhem and in Holland as a whole: "the dutch art scene was very close-knit and there was a kind of control, a kind of scene control and I wanted to be outside it. it felt good to be away from thinking about art like other people do and to iust direct myself towards the work i was doing."

What de vries sought at Eschenau was complete independence; after moving there he refused to take further part in any organised movement or group activity. "i stopped reading art reviews. i didn't want all these ideas of others and influences. i still had contacts. i made exhibitions sometimes and met other people, other artists. but i wanted to be independent. and distance from the centres of art allowed me to follow my own way... nature is our primary reality. our human environment, our human life-space in cities and factories and city streets and traffic is a secondary reality for me. all these things are derived from nature and follow certain laws of nature, but i wanted to be in the primary reality. the big forests i found here, with little streams here and there and small meadows..."

the meadow/die wiese

die wieseIn this landscape, his studio, and at the edge of the forest, lies one of his most important works: die wiese, a meadow of about 4,000 m², tended by the artist.


spurenIn 2006 de vries has created spuren of the same kind in the woods and quarries around Eschenau, thus making an invisible bond between the spirit of his home landscape and Digne-les-Bains, in Haute Provence.

Photo 1-7: Bruno Schneyer, Zeil am Main
Photo 8-11: Katharina Winterhalter
Photo 12-16: Lilian Seegers, Amsterdam (2010-2012)
Photo 17-22: Peter Foolen, Eindhoven (2012)
© herman de vries.

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a visit to herman de vries

During a stay in Eschenau in April 2012, publisher and designer Peter Foolen took a number of photographs.

Photo 1-38: Peter Foolen, Eindhoven (2012)

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Passage from Mel Gooding, herman de vries : chance and change (Thames and Hudson : London 2006) 42-43. © Mel Gooding; courtesy Mel Gooding.

herman de vries in the Steigerwald (2004) [Photo susanne de vries, Eschenau]