This major exhibition of the work of Co Westerik (1924) is the first of its kind in 15 years, featuring not only graphic works, drawings and paintings, but also photographs with a close bearing on the rest of his oeuvre, which have never previously been exhibited. Westerik's paintings are stills from daily life, translated into a uniquely distorted realism. In his impressions of visible reality, he manages to convey almost tangibly what lies beneath the skin Although Co Westerik studied art at the Academy in The Hague, it is only in his earliest paintings that any trace is to be found of that atmospheric, dreamy art typical of the Hague – as represented by artists like Kees Andrea. He quickly found his own subjects and strictly personal style. His work only began to be appreciated around the 1960s. Although Westerik does not fall within any art movement, his characteristic distortions of forms have suggested a link with Pop Art.
A sense of wonder at everyday situations and nature (including human nature) has been the artist's main inspiration since the start of his career. In an effort to express this sense of wonder, Westerik has turned to other media besides painting. Throughout his career, he has been producing drawings and graphic work that give an unusual twist to reality. His photographs mainly serve as sources of inspiration for the rest of his work.
The famous painting 'Grass cut' (1971) is emblematic of his work. It shows a finger cutting itself on a blade of grass. An event that happened to Westerik himself when he was lying in the grass one spring morning. He has depicted this small human drama in such an impressive way that the viewer perceives it as a very major event. The intense experience sparked by his representations has to do with Westerik's angle of view. Sometimes he achieves this by looking down on objects. By contrast, he sometimes opts for a worm's eye view.
A time-consuming process
Westerik's drawings and watercolours generally look like sketches; impressions of what he has seen, rendered with a loose touch. Sometimes he takes himself as subject – his oeuvre contains a host of self portraits – but his surroundings are also a frequent source of inspiration. Producing etchings and lithographs is a time-consuming process, making Westerik's detailed graphic work much more introspective than his drawings. His paintings are even more carefully constructed, with underlayers in tempera beneath the final layers of oil paint – a working method that allows the possibility of change right up to the last moment. Westerik sets himself such high standards that it can sometimes take years before he regards a painting as finished.
Co Westerik has received Royal Awards for Painting, the Jacob Maris Art Prize, a silver medal at the São Paulo Biennale, the Rembrandt Prize awarded by the city of Leiden and the State Prize for the Visual Arts and Architecture. In 1999 he was knighted in the Order of the Dutch Lion. He has participated on a number of occasions in the Venice Biennale. Westerik’s ties with the Gemeentemuseum date from 1947, when his work featured in a group exhibition of Hague artists. Since then the museum has built up an impressive collection of Westerik’s work and dedicated many presentations to him. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication with a foreword by Wim van Krimpen and texts by Véronique Baar and Kees Fens.