Le Chateau de Mai

Sandrine van Noort Art advisor for the collection of the Leids Universitair Medisch Centrum (LUMC)

Jos van der Sommen’s paintings and drawings depict a fragmentary world.  Different story-lines run through his images. The scenes are at the same time both recognizable and alienating. What is reality and what is fiction? He uses photos which he often makes himself of places and situations which fascinate him. He transforms the photos into fictional happenings by exaggerating details and adding surrealistic elements. Images which he has committed to memory can also serve, sometimes years later, as a source of inspiration.
When Jos van der Sommen was studying at the Art Academy in Eindhoven, he became interested in the paintings of the French painter Francis Picabia (1879-1953).He admired Picabia’s ability to vary and combine different styles. His later, surrealistic works, also gave him ideas for his own paintings. Not only Picabia, but also the surrealistic painter Max Ernst (1891-1976) and the absurdist films of Luis Bunuel (1900-1983)and René Clair (1898-1981)provided van der Sommenwith images which moved and inspired him. Jos van der Sommen loves the absurd world of surrealism. He loves images in which something unexpected happens and in which existing notions are turned upside down. He mixes stories together and presents us with a new world.
Deception or reality, that is the recurring theme.  In all his works Jos van der Sommen is looking for the point where reality crosses over into fiction and the other way round. Recurring elements are the traditionally dressed men in black suits and starched white shirts. They stand for the establishment, power and privilege. They represent the anonymous, formal world. Van der Sommen is interested in the world behind the smart suits. He looks for the personal, the human and makes them visible in his paintings. At first sight everything seems normal, but reality is misleading. Out of this idea arises the drawing ‘Wat dacht u ?’ / ‘What Were You Thinking?’,  which Patricia Dunn,  the discredited chairperson of the board of directors of HP, is depicted. She had to resign when it became known that she had illegally bugged her staff during an investigation which she led into the leaking of information. Jos van der Sommen gave the face of the woman in the drawing unnaturally large proportions. He has stretched her face apart so much that it seems like she is looking into a carnival mirror.
Also in the painting ‘Van hieruit moet het te regelen zijn’ / ‘I Should Be Able To Sort It Out From Here’, figuring  the powerful art collector Paul Getty, whose son had been kidnapped. Van der Sommen painted him in a richly decorated room at the head of an endlessly long table. He is sitting at the far end like a tiny figurine, lonely and vulnerable. The table is slowly dissolving and eventually the man will also be absorbed by the mist. An unreal image but at the same time also reality.
The title of this book, ‘Le Chateau de Mai’, refers to the name of the castle near Cannes where Francis Picabia lived between 1925 and 1935. Jos van der Sommen has visited this castle and many aspects of it are assimilated into his drawings and paintings. The painting entitled ‘Appartement van een weldenkend mens’ / ‘Apartment Of A Right-Minded Person’ is inspired by Picabia’s house. On canvas Van der Sommen has made a fictional reconstruction of this castle. The interior is an empty museum room with a single table and some paintings on the wall.We are looking out from the room at an immaculate blue sky. Against the blue background is a tall tree with bare, dark branches from which crystal chandeliers are hanging. One branch is hanging right above the table in the museum room. The image of a tree from which crystal chandeliers are hanging appears in a text from the novel ‘The White Tiger’ by the Indian writer Aravind Adiga. In this depiction, Jos van der Sommen connects the World of Picabia with an Indian story to bring to life Picabia’s surrealism.
Images from the past, sometimes years later,  are also a source of inspiration for Van der Sommen. In the painting ‘Tafelschikking’ / ‘Table Arrangement’ , he incorporated his memories of the Sunday dinners at his grandparent’s house. He painted the long table at which the entire family took its place on Sundays. The fifties interior, the black velvet curtains, the festively laid table and the crystal chandelier hanging above the table, it was just like that – approximately. For in the same way that memories are coloured, Van der Sommen gives his own version of what he experienced in his thoughts. The crystal chandelier with elongated swan necks gives it a story-book dimension. And the deflated balloons in the foreground should in fact represent the cellophane wrapping of two bunches of flowers.
Jos van der Sommen  made a  large number of paintings and drawings of the last few years as a result of a stay in the Spanish village of Calanda, the village of Luis Buñuel’s birth, in the province of Aragon. Here, he literally saw surrealism in the street. “Then you cycle into a village and find yourself in the middle of a procession. You see a man in a very chic suit holding a cake in his hands and all of a sudden you see that everybody is earnestly carrying a cake. The next day there is another procession and everybody is walking straight faced with flowers in their hands.” An image like this stays with him. He doesn’t want to know exactly what the people are doing and why. For him it is solely about the image and about its unreal aspect. 
The painting ‘Promenade im Park’  / ‘Promenade In The Park’ is inspired by this procession. The people in the painting are walking in procession, in twos. We only see them from behind. It is a formal procession. It could be at a funeral  or a ceremonious state visit. The men are dressed in smart suits and the women are wearing dark veils. The landscape, a decor of pink blossom and light blue and green colours, makes one think of budding Spring. It is an alienating image because Van der Sommen has left the context out of the painting.
In his paintings, Jos van der Sommen makes reality even more surrealistic than it can be. But sometimes reality in itself is surrealistic enough and he doesn’t need to add anything. He draws on the world around him and has an eye for odd, remarkable images that he spontaneously comes across. He magnifies these themes on canvas. He leaves out details or adds new elements to them. 
A painting can come about because of something he saw on the news, or from a meeting, or from a book he has read.But it is always Jos van der Sommen’s eye which sees through everything and perceives new worlds. He gives form to these worlds in his drawings and paintings. Essentially, all Jos van der Sommen’s work is an ode to his amazement at the absurdity of existence.

March 2010



Enter the world called Jos van der Sommen

Philippien Noordam Art Advisor to the collection of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Jos van der Sommen, an artist I have never met, but think I have known for quite some time. Or am I confusing the name of the artist with his work and the world painted by him in which I myself move, professionally. His paintings are after all my daily reality: the settings of the world of diplomacy. Both the world of painting as well as that of diplomacy refer, in the first instance, to the intrinsic aspects of their work. However, both professions seek extra support. The artist translates his words into two or three dimensional images. For this, the diplomat makes use of imposing residences, equipped with impressive interiors and art. And this is precisely the world that Jos van der Sommen represents in his paintings.This is probably why his paintings seem at home in the diplomat’s surroundings. Unintentionally, a Droste-effect is created. The surroundings are repeated in the painting.

 In this way, he literally seduces people to enter his world. Look at a painting like “Heart of Fire” then it is so easy to slip into the painting, and before you know it take your place on a empty chair. You look around you and see an empty table with a silver platter. On the side table behind you is a silver tea service. An old master on the wall is inviting you to take a closer look. You walk past the draped curtains and look at the crystal chandelier. It is just a little on the cold side. You have become lost in a world of receptions, of dining and where it is impossible to see the far end of the room. Children sneak upstairs past the guests and their parents. In spite of its emptiness you know that it is a dynamic world in which you find yourself. The silence before the storm is tangible. Your lose yourself for a moment in an ostentatious world. However, moments later you are assailed by feelings such as fear and loneliness. It is all too big there, too quiet and too cold. It is a ghost house inhabited by people with a passion for seduction, but who have lost each other in all the turmoil. Jos has briefly allowed you to enjoy it, but immediately makes you face the facts. You want to go home!

 March 2010