"I hope my paintings add to a sense of connection with the mysterious magnificence and restorative serenity of nature."
Johan Abeling was born in 1953, in Emmen, Netherlands, and grew up in Ter-Apel, a little town in the south of Groningen province near the border of Germany. In the early 1970s, he decided to follow his heart and study art at the “Academie Minerva” in Groningen, this being one of the last academies in Holland where one could learn the traditional ways of painting. During his time at the academy, he was influenced by prominent artists and teachers like Wout Muller, Matthijs Roling and Barend Blankert. Abeling's work is often interpreted as “Magical Realism”, which is characterized by a sense of pessimism, alienation, melancholy and uneasiness.
Dutch realism has a long tradition of magical realism and commenced in the period between the two world wars, with artists such as Carel Willink, Pyke Koch and Dick Ket. Although his outlook isn’t as negative as these artists, Abeling's austere atmosphere indicates his feelings of unease about how we view our world. He sometimes believes that we have lost our relation to nature, and that we no longer have an eye for its beauty and healing power. As stated by Abeling, "In this hectic world where there’s almost no time for contemplation, I hope my paintings add to a sense of connection with the mysterious magnificence and restorative serenity of nature."
Johan’s paintings elicit a beautiful, almost magical, sense of calm. The early morning mist, the golden glimmer, the silent nature gives us a sense of otherworldliness that cannot fully be explained. Perhaps it is the bizarre feeling that comes from the near omnipresence of human-beings on this planet, and Abeling, with the mere absence of said humans, is able to transport us to another, enchanted realm. The mysteries that lie beyond the vision allow for our minds to wander in a sort of reticent and meditative state.
Q. What role does the Artist/ Painter have in society?
A. In a hectic time like this, looking at, or making art is a form of contemplation and reflection about what else there is in this life.
Q As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up? How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. As a young child I was not concerned with that, it was later in high school when I chose to pursue art, and it was also an act of resistance against established society.
Q Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. We used to draw a lot at home but I wouldn't call it art, later at the academy, when my work developed a distinct character of its own, this I would dare call it art.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. My work is often interpreted as magical realism, due to the atmosphere of mystery, emptiness, and desolation. The elements found in my paintings are derived from reality, Dutch landscapes and old villas, but combined in an imaginary world of my own. I use a subdued hazy color palette and a kind of sfumato that can give these paintings this atmosphere. I was inspired by Caspar David Friedrich, but there is not a specific moment when I decided to do it in a certain way. It has grown over the years and is continuously growing, it flows by itself and I answer the questions that the painting poses until there is the right atmosphere.
Q. Tell us about some of the highlights of your artistic career, such us memorable shows or publications?
A. The first highlight was ART 14'83 in Basel, with Gallery ''Lieve Hemel'', barely 30 years and already amongst renowned artists. There are even more highlights, such as years of participation through the ''Lieve Hemel'' gallery in what is now the Tefaf in Maastricht. And of course, Frank Bernarducci's invitation to participate at the group show ''Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, BMG First Look'' in New York in 2013, which opened the doors for more activities in North America like CK Contemporary in San Francisco.
Q What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. Despite everything, I remained too modest for too long, so I missed opportunities.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. I have often had to work hard, never certain of my place as an artist and of my income, but despite that, I would make the same choice again.
Q. Who are your biggest influences? Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I was influenced by my teachers at Academie Minerva, The German romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich, the founders of magic realism and I also follow a lot of artists on social media.
Q Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
A. It’s a lonely job, all the painterly problems you must solve on your own. Fortunately, we have a dog, so I take long walks to clear my head of these complications.
Q. Apart from art, what do you love doing?
A. Walk the dog or cycle in nature, furthermore, I love photography and to read.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. Art is subject to inflation, nowadays everybody does a course, feels like an ''artist'' and makes ''art''. It used to be special to be an artist, now everyone makes ''art''.
Q. What does ''success'' mean to you?
A. You always do the best, of course, but when I see my work again after a while and think, ''Did I make this?'' my heart does a little jump.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. Do not be too modest, but also not arrogant. Learn to listen to the people, do not see questions about your art as criticism and do not go directly to the defence, maybe your story is not as clear as you thought it was, and learn to take advantage of this.
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Be yourself and go your own way, set the bar high, be open to criticism, don't wait for something to happen, be proactive, and make sure you are seen.