1950 Zijn eerste tentoon gestelde werken dateren van 1974 en
daarmee is Zjos Meyvis al meer dan 40 jaar ‘aan de kunst’. Hoog tijd dus voor
een terugblik, voor een meer dan verdiende retrospectieve.
Tot eind januari 2016 worden er in het Administratief Centrum en
de Muziekacademie van Hemiksem een 80-tal werken geëxposeerd die
grosso modo de periode van mid jaren ’70 tot op heden omspannen.
In dit artikel fietsen wij even losjes door de tentoonstelling die we gemakshalve
opdelen in drie grote categorieën: het grafisch werk (1),
de landschappelijke beeldhouwwerken (2) en tot slot de stuifmeelverspreiders (3).
We badineren in deze drie rubrieken crescendo van makkelijk naar moeilijk.
Daarnaast zijn er uiteraard nog links en rechts creatieve uitschieters die buiten
het bestek van deze uiteenzetting vallen: immers, een creatieve duizendpoot
als Zjos Meyvis, valt niet onder één hoedje te vangen.
Zjos Meyvis: (age) 65 (years) and pensionable (set for retirement), but more alive and kicking and creatively so than ever before.
The first works of art he's ever put at display go back as far as 1974 and with that Zjos Meyvis has been 'arty' for more than 40 years. High time we draw a long look into the past to review his art retrospectively -he just deserves that! Up to the end of the month January 2016 the Administrative Center and Music Academy (Administratief Centrum en Muziekacademie) in Hemiksem will exhibit some 80 works of art spanning grosso modo the period beginning in the mid-seventies and reaching as far as the present day.
In this article we wil be freewheeling through the exposition, which we will split up for the sake of convenience into three main categories: the graphical works (1),
the landscape sculptures (2) and the pollinators (3).
In these three groups we will be strolling in crescendo from simple and down-to-earth to difficult and complex. Furthermore we will spot here and there -and inevitably so- numerous excesses of creativity that might, unfortunately, go beyond the core business of the article at hand: indeed, a creative millipede such as Zjos Meyvis couldn't possibly be covered by just one explanation.
Graphics and paintings
Zjos Meyvis's graphics are playful and at times even rather naughty. Let me give you a piece of advice here: make sure you read the titles given to each work of art as they bring quite a peculiar type of tension to them.
As an autodidact (self-taught man) Zjos Meyvis was never kneeded into a given mould by any teacher at all teaching particular skills at the academy. From a very early age on he was already developping his own particular style. You (everybody) will recognize his paw immediately. As is the case in his other, more ‘ecological’ works he is engaged socially: just have a look a Kabila's etching and consider the way he is stripped naked physically and figuratively: indeed, just look at his being blessed -scarcely!- with such a tiny little ‘ego’.
In his graphical works Zjos Meyvis deals with kings and presidents, with birds, dogs and fantasy animals, with fairy-tales, stories and myths choosing subjects plucked as archetypes either out of our collective subconscience or the world as it currently is. He deals with the beast in man ánd vice versa, with antropomorphized animals.
In his graphics and paintings Zjos Meyvis makes use of different, often mixed techniques and materials: etchings, drawings with pastel crayon and chalk or pencil, wash drawings, acryl on panel and canvas -in short, even when it comes to form and technique... what a slippery character that Zjos Meyvis really is!
Here we enter a truely poetical universe: ‘Arcadia Turned to Stone’, indeed a wonderful place to be!
A piece of land caught in mid-air, all with undulating cornfields and waving cypresses, together with rolling hills or smooth mountain lakes. And sluices and high quay walls along canals, rivers and brooks. Or some typically Flemish ribbon building and a solitary farmhouse with its stables next to a stack of hay or an old, propped up telephone pole…
Even though this part of Zjos Meyvis's work is more accessible, it still contains quite a few hidden references and hints. It is dreamy and the materials chosen seem to face eternity itself: rock-hard stone or superbly sound wood…
This is the past, meant to remain unchanged and to last for ever, bringing forth nostalgia for what used to be, but then again, in a most idylic way, beyond our very dreams and memories.
Zjos Meyvis and his landscapes: you can find yourself high above them in the sky, flying like a bird, fluttering like a butterfly or dragonfly or hovering like a drone with helicopterview…
But to this visual spectacle there is a tactile aspect: at last even a blind man will be able to feel the landscape… The smoothness, the rawness, the fibers, the polished character of the materials being used. These are landscapes that just have to be touched: the coolness of the stone, the warmth of the wood, the smart combination of materials such as corrugated iron, gold leaf, old brick, …
Allow me to go astray once again: the brick in his works is a nice pars-pro-toto, a small part but a genuine symbol for the greater picture. It is the brick that we, Flemish people, carry around in our stomachs and that symbolizes the essential house, nothing more and nothing less.
And yet another thought: these sculptured landscapes are very worksome and time-consuming. Out of a log of stone or wood they arise, escaping little by little from the material. Indeed, the sculpture's work is full of contemplation, far more than is the case with the painter's or the graphical artist's, which is often too quickly produced. No, it is thoughtfulness that rules: once you take away or accidentally break any material, there is no way to reverse the situation!
Either way this fine poet of landscapes only gets going if a certain amount of rather primary needs have been fulfilled in the first place. First man has to solve his food problem and try to reproduce and only then he will find time and space for poetry and art. And it is precisely in this domain that the same artist will find his next alter ego.
Thus we are reaching, through the mnemonic of immobile landscapes, our last chapter: the hyperactive pollinators.
Three: the pollinators
This last category deserves a far more elaborate reading.
It bangs and hammers, puffs and snorts, sweeps and clanks, rattles and rolls (niet de echte vertaling tuurlijk: squeaks), flashes and dies out… All in the eternal circular movement of life. Thát is what Zjos Meyvis's pollinators are really about.
At times he's developed as well machines that can catch the pollen or even harvest it, but let's just get on…
With his pollinators Zjos Meyvis joins the ranks of such celebrities as Jean Tinguely of Switzerland and his kinetic works of art or our very own Panamarenko.
Often his works are compared to what these artists have produced: that's why we won't be shy of any confrontation. It is indeed my belief that the resemblance is a mere superficial one: all these cases deal with ‘nice little machinerie’ made through the technique of assembling tiny little wheels and other moving parts, tubes & cables, using the most diversified materials: metal, wood, rubber, leather and plastic…
But! In essence Jean Tinguely is all about the esthetics of movement, the choreographed danse of sculptures.
Panamarenko is yet another story altogether. Henri Van Herwegen has his naive boy's dream, utopian techniques dealing with flying, sailing and diving. Human boundaries are scanned, natural laws are to be vanquished. On the other hand we find Panamarenko's devices informal and not quite vital to life of both man and nature.
Zjos Meyvis functions in a more essential way. Here it is all about the survival of mankind, the very essence of everything. Not one living creature on earth has eternal life. Not the sequoia: more than 3.000 years of age! Not the turtle: a meager 150 years! A whale perhaps, with its 200 years? Certainly not! Have a closer look and even then you will find that no creature is immortal. That's why they all have to procreate, with the emphasis on creating: yes, it's all in nature's genes. And so Zjos Meyvis never wants to conquer nature as Panamarenko would: instead he aims at giving it a little help from a friend (zoals de Beatles, haha!).
"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe, then man would have only four years of life left”: a true statement and attributed to Albert Einstein.
Plants can only achieve pollination or fertilization if something brings the pollen from the stamen to the pistil. That something may be an animal (presumably an insect, but in fact any mammal in existence, meaning humans too) or just water and wind, as long as they can carry the pollen. By the grace of Zjos Meyvis man himself produces this flow of air by means of his machines: bellows, fans, fluttering wings, …
The art of pollinators affects the vulnerability of our very food production: starting from the understanding that so many insects, especially bees but also butterflies and bumblebees, are getting extinct these days, Zjos Meyvis presumes he has to interfere. Through a most poetical admonition, a finger lifted in the face of Monsanto and their fellow producers of insecticides. In this view the pollinators stand for socially engaged art. There is no mistake possible here: behind the very playfulness of this work is hidden a double layer of social commitment.
In this proces of survival the spreading of pollen is vital. Not just as a direct source of food but also, on a larger scale, for the very existence of both plants and animals, including that specific mammal known to us as homo sapiens.
Zjos Meyvis's pollinators face us with the metaphor of life- a strange paradox. Homo faber, the trus technician, takes care of the spreading of the pollen now that nature is backfiring… all because that same homo faber has made a mess of our fragile eco-system through the use of technique and chemicals (the use of that very same technique).
Giving a hand to increase fertility: in crops, in animals and last but not least in mankind itself. This makes us consider the human vanity, the hybris of the Ancient Greeks when they tried to domesticate nature. This is typically a man thing and in a way a bit macho too: the combination of pollen swept wildly around by means of machines in order to cover the pistils in dust. O yes, dear people: there will be dust for sure!
In this context the males among us will be summoned to be somehow modest again because, actually, male mammals do not really have sperm, in the strictest sense of the term, but ... pollen!
The whole idea of this seed stems from agrarian and patriarchal communities wherein the farmer sows and scatters his seed, fermly and dashingly, over the land so as to be able to harvest once more (the grain). Up to 200 years ago people still thought that man planted his seed in woman, who lawfully symbolized the receiving earth. Nowadays we know that this is not quite true, that there are egg cells and there is sperm and that, save for some very rare exceptions of (mitosis through) asexual reproduction, they just couldn't exist one without the other.
And finally there is yet another metaphorical layer to all this: in a way these pollinators are also about the spreading of ideas, about the cross-pollination when different opinions meet, different views, different perceptions. This is the only escape possible for mankind from the age of the troglodytes (caveman). And why not name it ‘perception in motion’ by mutual communication? This be a lesson in life to us: through the dialogue between people, between disciplines, between visions of the world,… new forms of knowledge will arise in order to solve problems.
With this the whole circle is drawn and worlds that are apparently opposite in fact complete one another and get to merge fluently.
Please allow me a little shortcut here: there are two links between Zjos Meyvis's pollinators and landscapes, both substantive and formal.
The first one is that, as a subject, they both are about nature.
The second one is that each one of them was made with skillfulness: both the technical aspect of these mobiles -a matter of speach, so to say!- and the very shrewd way the sculptured landscapes were produced give evidence to high craftsmanship..
In one word: two links …
And, o yes, there is even a third link -so obvious that I even forget to mention it! This third link is the personnality of this driven artist who created this oeuvre for us. In a career full of art spanning more than 4 decades.