World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 53 – Peter Koole
I saw Peter Koole’s work at the exhibition A Crushed Image (20 years after Srebenica) at Stroom Den Haag. It was a double exhibition: not only were the Balkan Paintings of Peter Koole to be seen, but also works of Jason File, artist and prosecutor at the Yugoslavia Tribunal.
Both are socially engaged artists. I visited Koole a few weeks later in his studio in Spangen, next to the Sparta soccer stadium. It’s an old school in a courtyard. The school is transformed into an artistic space. Peter Koole has a pretty big room with lots of light. It looks neat. At the left a number of canvases and stretchers in large format are standing. Against the right wall we look at the back of a work. In the middle is the worktable.
Thin pencil lines
Koole often combines images and texts in his paintings. Koole: ‘A painting begins in my head. Once I have an idea I start an intensive search for pictures and texts.’
On the floor lies a large new work. He’s about halfway. At the moment I was there he had two month to go. Recently, in August, it was finished. The piece consists of two parts. Two images based on photographs that are painted meticulously. Peter Koole: ‘I go to the copyshop with the photos. I ask them to make a copy in reverse. The painting will have the same size as the copy. I put the copy on the desk and I put over a transparant sheet. With very thin pencil lines I raw the outline of the patches, then I press it on the canvas. Next I mix the colors one by one and with a small brush I color the shapes.’ I see the glass jars with acrylic standing on a table. He works aloof, very precise and calm. If it is ready, he tightens it up on a wooden stretcher.
The work on canvas on the floor consists of two parts. It is a large painting, 200 x 160 cm. At the bottom you can see the journalist Anna Politkovskaya laid out for her funeral. Above we see Willem-Alexander and President Putin, cheerfully toasting with their beer glasses at hand on the occasion of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sotchi. On the studio wall by the window, I see a portrait of Politkovskaya.
Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead on October 7, 2006. October 7 is also the birthday of Vladimir Putin. Coincidence? Koole thinks not. ‘It’s probably a birthday present from Ramzan Kadyrov, acting president of Chechnya. One will never know fors ure, only the perfomers are caught.’The painting will have the title ‘Birthday’.
Peter Koole thoroughly investigated the Anna Politkovskaya case. He saw films, read several of her books and books of others about her. Politkovskaya was a Russian journalist, writer and human rights activist. She studied journalism at Moscow University where she graduated in 1980. She started working for the newspaper Izvestia and in 1999 she joined another Russian newspaper, the Novaya Gazeta. She was an independent and critical reporter who denounced political and social abuses. She was very critical on the war in Chechnya.
Peter Koole: ‘She had so much courage. She wrote a lot about corruption, the role of Russia in Chechnya and the gang of Kadyrov. This has become her death. She was in 2004 in a plane to Beslan to mediate in the hostage-taking at a school. They tried to poison her by putting a poison in a cup of tea. Earlier, in 2002, Chechen militants took hostage of hundreds of people in the Moscow Dubrovska Theatre. She came to mediate also here.’
THE FALL ON ANNA
It looks as if her coffin is being pushed inside in the party of Willem-Alexander and Putin. Koole: ‘Putin’s past lies next to that of Politkovskaya. Willem-Alexander is included, which is quite painful. That will be very hard. The painting may be framed behind glass. That would shield her. The list itself may be of brass.’
Peter turns the painting standing to the right against the wall. I see a painting full with text, again made up of two parts. It was created in 2009 and is called “THE FALL ON ANNA”. It’s also about Politkovskaya. ‘I made it three years after her death. I wrote the text myself. This took weeks. I did it associatively. On the upper part you see Politkovskaya wokring behind the typewriter. You see the ‘swipe lever’.’
‘Below you can see two images of Richard Fuld of Lehman Brothers. In 2008 the Lehman Bank had fallen, that was the beginning of the credit crisis. You see him in the court, when leaving the building. There he is met by people with pink paper with text on it as “Shame”, “Cap.Greed”, “Crook”. On one of the pictures he stands with his head down. The lyrics on the painting are about white-collar crime. It was also the Darwin year. I included Darwin and The Origine of Species in the text.’
Koole: ‘You also the text ‘stuttering’, you read THE IN .. INFLUENCE IN .. IN .. INFLUEZA OF SAATCHI’S HA .. HA .. HAATCHI’S BANKERS’. At the top you will see in the text the link with the arms trade and the war in Chechnya. The text is in a loop, you can continue to read it. This came about more or less by accident. In the copy shop the two images were not copied the same size. I have then decided to rearrange the images. The text starts at the centre and continues on top.’
‘That’s why Politkovskaya looks down on Richard Fuld, on his head a blue dollar sign. The text is upon the whole painting, only her head is recessed, without text. At the bottom you see the stuttering again ‘LET THE LIE .. LIE .. LIGHTS FALL ON ANNA POLITKOVSKAYA’. The stutter makes it bitter. When this painting is exhibited, there are tea lights underneath so that it becomes a kind of monument. In WTC ART Gallery in Rotterdam the lights were not allowed by the fire brigade. They were there, but not burning. In retrospect I thought it was nice that they didn’t burn. It was harsh and made it stronger. Sometimes help comes from outside, in this case by the fire regulation and the copy shop.
The work has also hung in RE: Rotterdam, in the Blaak. That was in 2012. It was hanging together with the diptych United in loss that hung also in Stroom The Hague. In this painting the green fabric-covered coffins of Srebrenica were combined with supporters of the Dutch soccer team, in orange. The lady supporters in the stadium in orange Bavaria skirts. It was on the occasion of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. There were strong reactions among the public. Many people know Politkovskaya.’
The patients from Donetsk and Lugansk
We see a third painting that fits into the theme. It is modeled on a cover of Novaya Gazeta. Following the disaster with the MH 17 and the funeral procession on the Dutch highways by hearses Hilversum military barracks Novaya Gazeta had on its frontpage of the July 25, 2014 edition a picture of the procession with a Dutch text (‘Vergeef ons, Nederland’) and underneath the Russian translation in small letters. It’s a large-size work. ‘I painted the entire frontpage, newspaper edge and barcode included. It now hangs in the RAM gallery in Rotterdam. The newspaper was threatened tremendously. They were clear where the blame lay with the MH-17 disaster, to Putin. Or as they formulated: ‘The blame lies with those who have left the matches in the hands of the patients from Donetsk and Lugansk.’Right now the advertisers of the newspaper are threatened, they quit, thus deteriorating the financial basis for the newspaper. Maybe it has to stop. Perhaps they go online from Lithuamia.’
A man’s gotta move
We look at the next painting. It is from 2013 and has the title ‘A man’s gotta move’. In the middle a black square. Left an image of Iggy Pop. On top again the name Anna Politkovskaya and further names include Pussy Riot, Alexandr Dolmatov, Alexandr Litvinenko and Alexei Navalny. Those behind bars received a# behind their name, those killed a †. To the right is Putin, wearing a hat. ‘It’s the photo of him fishing shirtless.’
There should be music with this painting, according to Koole. Music from a guitar amplifier. The black box of the amplifier is also in the painting. The black square represents gag, silence. Below the painting is the song title ‘Cock in my Pocket’. Koole: ‘That black square also refers to Malevich. The Music should be very loud. It’s an incredible lot of noise, the song will be repeated endlessly. Iggy Pop, or to be exact Iggy & The Stooges, sing in the refrain A man’s gotta move, it’s about what is called ‘men with dynamism’. Blunt macho lyrics, full of power. That drive you almost see one on one with Putin and his enviroment. The work has not been exhibited. I would like to see it exhibited together with the other works on this theme. I wonder what the effect of the noise around this painting will be if the public sees the other works. Maybe we should offer earplugs.’
If all these paintings would be shown together the title should be ‘For Anna, Dedicated tot Anna Politkovskaya’, Koole says.
The Walls of Jericho
Finally, we look at a recent work entitled ‘The Walls of Jericho’. It’s from 2013. The walls of the Biblical Jericho collapsed, after thirteen laps were walked around it. Koole made a video in which he made two circles, one by day and one by night, around Rotterdam Detention Center next to Zestienhoven Airport. ‘I gave the Center four designations in the address head of the painting: deportation center, detention center, toture chamber and funeral center. It is the last address of Alexandr Domatov, here he committed suicide. The people are just stuck because they have no papers. They have no idea how long to have to stay.’
When I ask him for his key work, Koole says: ‘You better talk to me of a key figure. That’s Anna Politkovskaya.’ When he looks back on his work , he does see a theme emerge. ‘In a lot of work the blame question is on the table. Who were the killers? Where is no one aware of? Recently there was a statement in response to Karremans & Srebrenica. He got away with it. You see it often: that people get away wit hit. See the filmroll at Srebrenica. And Putin, he gets away with a lot of murders.’
It appears to stem from a commitment to justice and injustice. ‘That’s my belief and out of this belief I make my work. Anna Politkovskaya is a great example. I cannot stand in her shadow. Politkovskaya had a husband and two children, and yet she took the risk. In a video she talks about the danger of a premature death. And yet she went on.’
Peter Koole was trained as a graphic artist at St. Joost in Breda. He was there from 1977 to 1982. It was the punk era. ‘That graphic training is reflected in the way I paint.’ He thinks gratefully back to some teachers, especially Rinus van den Bosch who taught model drawing and Chris Brand who did letter draft. ‘He designed the current head of de Volkskrant. He taught you to look. Both let me free and always encouraged me. I graduated with them as my assessors.’
He feels very much at home at Stroom The Hague. ‘It’s like a spider in The Hague web. It has connections with many non art institutions in The Hague, such as the Carnegie Foundation, the ICTY (Yugoslavia Tribunal), the International Criminal Court, the world of architecture. Most art organizations are in a white cube, are far removed from society. I’ve become a real fan of Stroom. With them is not art for art’s sake, but art for the whole world. I think thay’s a good starting point. In this way, art can have a function.’
Dick de Bruijn’s gallery in Amsterdam, later Middelburg, was a long time his gallery. He showed Koole’s work at fairs like KunstRAI and in his own galleries. Not so long ago he stopped. Koole is now looking for a new gallery and he hopes that he will find it quickly.