Wilgo Elshot: “This is me. I paint Suriname”

At the beginning of the cultural season, during the Open Atelier Route Zuidoost, I visited the studio of Wilgo Elshot. There was no abstract or conceptual work on the walls, but largely executed landscapes and frame filling portraits.

WIlgo Elshot in his studio | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012
WIlgo Elshot in his studio | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012

Elshot, just like visual artists Jules Brand-Flu and Rudi Chang, belonged to the first Group of artists who did not complete their art studies in the Netherlands, but  in Suriname at Nola Hatterman (1899-1984). After the First World War, Hatterman got lessons from painter Charles Haak in perspective, anatomy and art history. It was at this time that she mastered the originally German art movement ‘The New Objectivity’. The classical branch of this art movement especially, played an important role in her typical method of art education which started to take shape in Suriname around 1954.

Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012
Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012

The classical way of working, which focused primarily on the classical practices of the art of painting and sound academically schooled techniques, are characteristic for the art of Wilgo Elshot. The importance of practicing the classical art of painting which is the origin of visual art as a craft, comes close to Nola Hatterman’s motto “Geen kunst zonder kunnen” [no art without skill]. Just like Hatterman Elshot is not much taken with abstract art, which he refers to as an easy way of creating visual work. For Elshot each work of art originates in a meditative phase of continuously creating a design. Initially he records his ideas in a small sketch book that is filled with concepts that need to be further worked out. The second step is to transfer an actual size outline of the sketch onto the chosen surface such as paper or canvas, with oils. Subsequently the image is filled with color and provided with an appropriate background.

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Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012
Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012
Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012
Wilgo Elshot, title unknown, year unknown | PHOTO Priscilla Tosari, 2012

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Interesting in the paintings of Elshot are the darker hued figures that fill the frame or the landscapes, which are reminiscent of Suriname. A fact that also stems from his education at Nola Hatterman.

“The appreciation for the arts begins with the recognition. Of finding the self in it – recognizing –the first introduction of a person – a people – with art, and in particular with the visual art.” *NOTE 1

The fact that Elshot’s figures are portrayed with a dark skin color, seems to have its origins more in the art education he received – ‘finding the self in it’ – than in Hatterman’s own preference for painting people of the ‘black race’.*NOTE 2

Just like many of his colleagues Elshot went to Amsterdam where for one year, he received a visual art education at the Rijksacademie van beeldende kunsten. While fellow students from his Hatterman-period developed another style from the one they had been taught, Elshot could not reconcile himself with that which was being taught at the Rijksacademie and stayed true to the classical style of his teacher.  This is not only visible in the design choices of Elshot, but it is also clearly noticeable when comparing his compositions to the works of Hatterman. The postures of the subjects, the fine features of their faces, gestures the figures make with their arms and the density of the landscapes. All of this exposes the ever-present style of Nola Hatterman.

Elshot’s inspiration is man and nature. His message is therefore simple. He wants to bring the beauty of man and nature closer to society. He has chosen this style of painting in which he can lay his own feelings. Despite the fact that for a long time already Suriname is no longer his home base, he says: “This is me. I paint Suriname.”

The artist’s website: www.art-w-elshot.nl

*NOTE 1 Quote from E. de Vries, NOLA. Portret van een eigenzinnig kunstenares, Amersfoort, 2008, p. 145

*NOTE 2 “Bij voorkeur schilder ik mensen ‘t liefst van het zwarte ras, daar die zich voor de stijl waarin ik tracht te werken zich het meest eigenen [I prefer to paint people of the black race, since they best appropriate themselves to the style that I try to work in].” Citaat uit E. de Vries, NOLA. Portret van een eigenzinnig kunstenares, Amersfoort, 2008, p. 49

TEXT & PHOTOS Priscilla Tosari, 2012 (TEXt and some of the PHOTOS previously published in digital magazine Sranan Art Xposed, nr. 7, February 2013).

Priscilla Tosari (Paramaribo, 1978) is art historian and she runs Galerie 23. She is also freelance writer of art related articles and has her own blog. She lives and works in Almere in Amsterdam.

TRANSLATION Cassandra Gummels-Relyveld

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