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"What makes my paintings typically mine is for others to decide. I just try to make beautiful paintings, whatever that may stand for...”

Bert van Zelm (born in 1955) is a painter from Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Bert comes from a middle-class family and he describes having a happy upbringing.  In his youth, he studied the technique aspect of painting by attending an evening painting course.  Afterwards, Bert attended the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam until June of 1980.  Bert spent the last two years of his studies taking courses in model painting at the State Academy of the Netherlands.  He concluded his studies by receiving a scholarship from Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence, Italy.  Bert’s first solo exhibition came about in 1983 in Bari, Italy.  In 1991, Bert moved briefly to New York where he worked and in 1993 moved back to Amsterdam.  In 1999 he moved to Barcelona, Spain, and this is where he currently resides.  Bert has been painting for more than 35 years at a professional level and his work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.  Bert’s focus is to surprise himself with the end result of what he does, and without a doubt it is evident that he achieves that.  For what he paints clearly shows an expression of limitless elements that combined, simply allows for the realization of a magical outcome.   

“Art shows that there is more to life than just getting around. It shows what it is; it relates to Plato’s cave.”

Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career, such us memorable shows/exhibitions where you have exhibited or publications and blogs where your work has been featured? 
A. I’ve made great paintings, more than that I have had public success.  So, to choose one is to neglect others.  But if I have to name some, they would be, my solo show in Amsterdam in 1990. Another is the series of portraits of the last four Dutch queens.  My biggest commission is the making of the artworks for the church ‘Gesù Redentore’ in Modena, Italy.  It took me two years. In 2010, the paintings for the movie ‘Barcelona, Ciutat Neutral’ for Spanish television, it’s about an architect who actually would like to be a painter. The story is situated between 1914-1918.  For the film, I made the sketches and paintings, the film was broadcast in 2011. It forced me to step out of my comfort zone and produce works with a ‘different identity’.

Q. Why did you decide to become an artist?
A. The direct confrontation with my public, I find it fundamental.

Q. Who are your biggest influences. Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I am influenced by so many.  Such as Rembrandt (I am from that area), Goya, Francis Bacon, Turner, Horst Janssen… just to count a few. What they have in common is their approach; they are interested in how to make a painting more than being a moralist or preacher.

Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success means being able to work without economic worries.

Q. Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. I have understood that my journey is a lonely one, but this does not disturb me much. It may be more that painting chose me and vice-versa. I seem to flourish better alone in the studio.

Guessing the way I counteract it is by the fact of knowing interesting people who have great stories to tell and my daughter who shows me with her presence what it means to become a responsible and emotionally rich human being.

Q. What does your work aim to say? Do you intend your work to challenge the viewer? 
A. My work expresses my feelings, and how I confront life, but not in an obvious way. A good piece of art leaves room for unexpected views and interpretations. The language of the discipline I work in should be a fundamental part of the message. The message lays more in the silence between the words than in the words themselves.

Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Art shows the essence of life, it goes beyond reason (see Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein). I am only the messenger; through me, a good painting comes to life, not thanks to me.

Q. Apart from making art, what do you love doing?
A. Reading, one of my favorite writers is Marcelo Proust. Listening to art… seeing documentaries about art, history, and nature. And I find great pleasure in observing everything that surrounds me. Enjoying seeing people who care and the stupor of life.

Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
A. No one can help you better than you yourself. 

Q. What advice would you give to the next art-generation?
A. Look often in the mirror, be humble with others and yourself. Your convictions are not always the correct ones; you can learn much from others and have a different look on life... You see, the past is a great source to learn from. There is nothing new under the sun. Originality does not exist, if you go for that you fall into banality. The wheel has been discovered ages ago, don’t waste your time on inventing it again, understand. As Newton said: ‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’