World Artists and their Story, 29 - Harry Schumacher
In mid-February I attended the opening of the exhibition ‘Alive!’ in Schiedam. Alive! consisted of a combination of the work of Harry Schumacher and works by pupils of grade 8 Elementary School De Taaltuin in Schiedam.
The pupils were very inspired by Schumacher’s work. They had made creatures out of curved branches.
Branches in all shapes and sizes
Schumacher: “I let the kids experiment. Don’t make a copy of an animal, I told them, but move the branches and rotate them in such a way that something animal-ish emerges. On that basis you can finally emphasize a detail which is not pronounced enough with plasticine (a kind of clay). They enthusiastically set to work. They proved to be surprised by what came out of their hands.”
Schumacher tells me this in his studio in the south of Rotterdam. It is located on the top floor of a large artists building of SKAR. While Harry prepares coffee and on the background sounds a song by Sigur Ros, I look around me. I see branches in all shapes and sizes. On the ground white life buoys, flasks with sand in it, on the window sill old weighing machines, at my right drawings on the wall. Behind a high wall there is a work bench and to the wall and in the drawers all kinds of materials.
The power of nature
Harry Schumacher’s work is about how people deal with nature. “How man sees nature as a large laboratory, with which we can do what we want, at least so we think. We are not sufficiently aware of us being part of nature. We rather think that we stand above it.”
Nature is the essence of being human, says Schumacher. “That used to be clearer. By releasing ourselves from nature we have lost a lot. Nature gave great power, people knew for example how to get ‘drugs’ from nature to heal themselves when they were sick. These days human existence turns around money and the economy.”
Schumacher wants to show how beautiful nature is. How did he end up in branches? “I have been working for three years in an intuitive, autonomous manner. I then tried to find a red line in it. It resulted in this three-dimensional work of branches, dealing with our interaction with nature. In 2012 I had my first exhibition.”
The branches he finds in, inter alia, the Utrechtse Heuvelrug forest. “I’m looking for special branches. The Pinas (fir tree) produces beautiful branches. At the edge of a forest grow trees with jagged branches, because there they get more space. Sometimes there are whole fallen trees, then you have to saw. I’ll pick them up, along with a friend and transport them in a van to the studio.”
Harry Schumacher started as an interior designer. He still has his own office, but he does it occasionally. “At the Rotterdam Art Academy I chose Interior architecture. I have a talent for three-dimensional, spatial thinking. I also design furniture, all natural materials and virtually everything is unique. I love the contact with people, I can translate specific wishes well in a design, so the end result matches a unique lifestyle. Psychology interests me immensly.”
The interior world is largely determined by trends, but he himself had a preference for timeless design. When implementing a design, the original parts of the design often proved to fall by the budget. “Sometimes there was nothing original anymore. I thought: I’m going to create something myself, I listen to nobody. I make what I want for myself. That took an increasingly important place.” When he had succesfully completed a commission for CBK, the Center for Visual Arts Rotterdam, it was an art application for the entrance to the Crematory Hofwijk, he thought: “Here lies my heart. It’s now or never. I opt for the arts.”
In the canopy of the entrance there is a recessed hole, where a tree is growing through. Under the canopy he placed leaves of wood, so it seemed a natural drift. Around the tree leaves formed a circle and further away leaves were ‘captured’ by wind. A metaphor for the people who come to pay their respects for the deceased: relatives, close friends and acquaintances with sporadic contact. The pattern invites people to enter the building. “Heirs are often terribly confused. They no longer pay attention to information signs. By following the leaves you can see the trail to go inside.”
Trapped in a grid
Asked about a key work, he says that all his works are related. But he does have some special works which he likes to explain, such as ‘Legacy’ (2012), which was also to be seen in Schiedam. You see a curved branch that bends around a white torso on wheels, with leaves underneath. “The branch is nature, in the middle you see man, very static. He is trapped in a grid. The cross on the ground indicates this even more: stand HERE.
Another work at the exhibition was ‘Strings’, which is about genetic engineering. Starting point was the fairground attraction where you can win a prize by pulling on a string. “What you win is a surprise at the fair, in my work it’s more transparant, you can influence your choice. I wanted to show what results when man is in charge. In the future, you can determine for example, whether your child will have brown or blue eyes, but do we want that?”
‘Defence’ is the name of another work, which is slightly different from the main work. You see a red spine like a circle, attached to a piece of weathered wood. It is a representation of the inflexible man of the future. “It is made using 3D printing technology and finished with several coats of wax, pigments and ink. In creating it I brought in the expertise of someone who has experience with 3D printing.” The felt works are also made with the help of a modern technique, the line drawing is burned with a laser in the felt. See his website.
Schumacher makes also ‘site-specific’ work, for example in sculpture gardens. For Sculpture Garden Ravesteyn in Heenvliet he worked with a weeping willow, leaning forward to the water. The huge tree became the figurehead of a small boat. “I made it commemorating the risky journey many refugees undertook over water. The medieval fortress in the yard across the water represents the Promised Land.”
Clearly Harry Schumacher is a versatile man. He does a lot of education, especially with elementary schools. He is involved in an ‘artists-gallery’ of 12 artists on Noordereiland, http://partners-galerie.nl/, at Art Works Foundation, http://stichtingkunstwerkt.nl/, and in design at Tutti Cortex, https://www.wouterstorm.com/tutti-cortex.
1) Air, 2) Arctic, Small, 3) Chain, 4) Composure, detail, 5) Defence, 6) Hofwijk, 7) Harry Schumacher, 8) Injection, 9) Legacy, 10) Parasite, 11) Rivierdelta, 12) Strings, 13) Transfusion, 14) Against All Odds