Many beautiful statues can be seen at Voorhout Monumental 2021, on the Voorhout itself and in the Garden Room of Pulchri. Animal figures by Anton Vrede can be seen at both locations: Two hares and a monkey on the Voorhout and a giraffe and a hare in the Tuinzaal.
‘The last monkey of the vanished Amazone forest’ is written next to the statue in corten steel on the Voorhout.
I visit Anton Vrede in his studio in the Spanish Polder in Rotterdam. It is a studio for monumental works. In the central area – a large hall – sawing and assembly can be done.
From drawings and etchings to sculptures
I see a poster of his Voorhout statue on the wall. It also hangs in the Maastunnel amid works by 670 other mainly Rotterdam artists. Initially Anton Vrede was mainly a graphic artist and painter, here he started making sculptures.
“I have been in this building for four years. I already made sculptures of bronze, in small format. Here it could be bigger. This studio is ideal. My drawings are suitable for sculptures.” He unfolds a large folder of drawings. On rag paper he has drawn his figures in broad basic lines with black ink. He does this as simply as possible as an abstraction of the feeling. “Attract and repel and loving moments.”
The rag paper is made of linen. “The paper is made by people in the daytime activities care of ‘De Schepperij’ from The Hague. They are innocent people, I care about that. They have no part in this world as it turns.”
In the 1970s, he dreamed about animals fleeing the Amazon forest. “Shocking. The image haunted me.” He points to the bronze statue of the monkey with a raised tail. The statue on the Lange Voorhout is a monument of so many years of thinking about it.”
Animals play the leading role in his work, the figures – monkey, hare, bird, penguin, giraffe, elephant, occasionally a human being – each have their own meaning. The hare is the symbol of rebirth, and according to some stories sent into the world to save man. The penguin as a stiff, clumsy outsider among his peers. The monkey as a jester and alter ego, who can do what would otherwise not be accepted.
They are animals known in various legends as ‘tricksters’, who cunningly defy the prevailing social relations. Throughout world history, tricksters were figures from whom the marginalized and the oppressed could identify and derive hope.
Did the Anansi stories had an impact?
Anton Vrede: “I grew up in Curaçao. I heard those stories from my grandmothers. I am a mix of the Antilles and Suriname. I came to the Netherlands when I was 8. There I also heard Andersen’s fairy tales. It’s a mix of the stories from there and here. Many stories match. I made drawings in a book of Anansi stories. Actually, Anansi is a not so nice person: selfish, narcissistic. The monkey and the hare are like her, but less violent. You also see happiness, humor and gentleness in them. Now that I’m older I see Anansi more as Louise Bourgeois’ spider. With tentacles that swallow you completely. Symbol for the mother: safety but also danger and threat.
The hare is not only generous, but also very cunning, if necessary he cheats the other. It’s more of a male. When I was young, my father bought me books by Pietje Bell, also a trickster figure. He kind of looks like a hare. He means well, but when he has to he does things to achieve his goal.”
Does Anton have a key work?
He has. The wooden animal statues. “At some point I started making it. That was possible here in the large space. How should I present those images, I thought. I put them together in a group. It gave me a lot of fun. It was the result of a five-six-year process.”
Search for some kind of balance in emotional times
His work is a search for a kind of balance in these emotional times, he says. “Connection in apparent contradictions. I think it’s a shocking time. My hares are symbols of eroticism, but also testify to love for the spirit. I am a believer, but more like a Pagan. My belief in god and gods revolves around nature. When you talk about animals, including humans, you are talking about the love for sun, water, air and earth. We as humans should be ashamed of how we handled it.”
To my left I see heads of penguins. The rest of their bodies are gone. “They are in the water, but they should be on the ice. It is a monument to the melting of the ice caps. In Limburg, the water was one and a half meters in the houses. It concerns us all. This has been going on for so long. A lot of people are coming up with solutions, but it’s going too slowly.”
Finally, what is his philosophy?
“I just can’t figure out what to do. It’s so urgent, I’m actually breaking out in a sweat. So what are you as an artist? Artists have a function. That’s even clearer now. I was locked up for a year because of a stroke, but at the same time the whole world was stuck.
I hope common sense will prevail over the mechanism of capitalism. At some point it’s over. We are hares, life is so fragile. We are not tough tigers. We remain dependent on nature, on the earth.”
Image: photo Theo van Pinxteren