A(n) (Expatriate) Painter’s Story

By Ron Roberson

2017-Gerrys Gifts-Oil-80cmx120cm

Gerry Gifts, oil, 80 x 120 cm, 2017.

It is  every painter’s dream to be able to dedicate all of his or her time to painting. Unfortunately, that rarely happens in the real world. Artists must find other work to support their living expenses. Two typical directions are a job that makes no demands on one’s time off, like a waiter, or a teaching position. The teaching position is more time-consuming, but has the benefit of free summers.

The teaching position was the path that I selected, first on the high school level, and later as a college professor and college administrator (so no more summers off). Though I continued painting, as my rank and responsibilities increased, the amount of time I could devote to my art decreased.

2015-Ficulle-Dusk-Oil-30x48

Ficulle-Dusk, oil, 30 x 48 inches, 2015.

An early retirement, marriage to my Dutch sweetie, and immigration to the Netherlands opened the door to a life devoted full-time to painting—but not right away. Though I arrived in Arnhem at the end of August, 2010, my belongings—a car and 207 (!) boxes—didn’t arrive until the beginning of November. It took until Christmas to sort out everything and set up my studio. Then in February, 2011, I began the required Inburgering course which I passed in February 2012. So for the first year and a half, I got very little painting done. Seeded thoughout this blog are the paintings that I completed in the next five and a half years. Please see my website www.ronaldxroberson.com for paintings before 2010.

2013-Elegy 2-Oil-22x38

Elegy 2, oil, 22 x 38 inches, 2013.

From the standpoint of the needs of a painter, the transition to a new country was not a difficult one. There are many excellent art supply stores in the Netherlands, and two where I have done business in Arnhem. I have had no trouble finding paints, brushes, canvas, and many of the same brands available in the U.S. (some actually Dutch brands). I have also found an excellent frame shop in Arnhem that makes custom frames.

One significant difference is that flake white and cremnitz white—very basic artists colours—are not to be found among the selection of tubes of paint. That is unfortunate because these two lead-based whites, though poisonous, have qualities that are not found in the newer zinc white and titanium white, and until the twentieth century these were the whites that all oil painters used—without managing to poison themselves. With a little investigation, one finds that these whites are not on display but available separately in tins rather than tubes. Since in the Netherlands these lead-based whites are targeted to restorers, they are very expensive—currently almost 42 euros for a 120 ml tin of flake white and almost 60 euros for a 120 ml tin of cremnitz white. In comparison, 200 ml tubes of titanium white and zinc white sell for 7.50 euros. It is unfortunate that at these prices most art students are not going to be able to experience the white oil paints that artists have used for centuries.

2011-The White Room 2-Oil-48x36

The White Room #2, oil, 48 x 36 inches, 2011.

I discovered very soon after my arrival that the gallery system in Arnhem is essentially closed to outsiders. Gallery owners have long-term relationships with the artists that they show and are not looking for new artists. Never-the less, I have managed to be in two group shows since I’ve been in the Netherlands—one in downtown Arnhem. My inclusion was also based on personal relationships.

2016-Last Tango in Venice-Oil-100cmx120cm

Last Tango in Venice, oil, 100 x 120 cm, 2016.

When asked about my style, I simply reply that I am a Magic Realist. While that is a vague term, it does convey (I hope) that my work is not abstract and that I am also not limited to what I see in the real world. My approach is intuitive and more poetic than prosaic. My ideas mostly come when I am not seeking them.

My life in the Netherlands is ideal in many ways. I have a happy and fulfilling marriage, and I spend my days reading and painting. I can see the growth in my abilities over these last few years. I do miss my relatives in the US, but technology these days makes it easy to stay connected (and I do enjoy being far away from Donald Trump). I am financially independent, so it does not matter if I show in galleries or sell. I have the luxury of doing what I want.

 

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