Pyke Koch (1901-1991) was a Dutch-born painter, whose art reflected a fantastic realism full of symbolic meaning. He took the art world by storm around 1930, starting his career late after quitting law-school. With no formal training, he proved to be a natural talent. Intrigued by the cinema, the city’s backstreets and scenes from the carnival; he turned streetwalkers into gutter goddesses, showing them flawed but nevertheless proud. His work made him become one of the most notable figures of magic realism, heavily drenching his canvases with hidden symbolism that is up to the viewer to find and interpret. He also happens to be the grandfather of one of our very own Loft teammates and with that, he has inspired a lot of the Loft’s mentality. Now that the Centraal Museum in Utrecht is showing a retrospective on the artist, founder of The Loft and grandson Floris sat down to offer us a personal view on his paintings.
What makes his art special to you?
The mysterious atmosphere that permeates his work immediately transmits all sorts of emotions; you’re really taken into his world through his art.
His paintings offer a unique combination of technical finesse, puzzling representations and a very subtle play between form and content. The hidden meanings and small puns, the symbolism, the carefully chosen objects – everything has been deliberately chosen and thought through and through.
How do you, personally, interpret his paintings?
In my opinion, art should communicate directly and on a personal level with its viewers. You might feel enchanted, fall in love or maybe you feel repulsed by it. There’s no need for a story or concept there, just the pure emotional relationship between the painter and his audience.
I know my grandfather thought the same way and saw art as a self-service store: you take from it what you want.
Do you have a favourite painting?
If I would have to choose it would be Bertha van Antwerpen. She might be a bit of a strange appearance as a woman, a transvestite even, leaning against a wall and framed by two Louvre shutters. Standing in front of the painting, you can almost feel the silk of her blouse and, if there was the slightest breeze that day, the feathers of her hat would almost flutter. Her gaze is sad but also friendly and disarming. Beautiful!
The ambiguity of female figures like Bertha is nothing new in Pyke Koch’s work. Male, female or anything in between. The artist likes to leave things open for interpretation. It’s these little humoristic jests he likes to play with, endlessly. Which is not to say he wasn’t extremely serious about it. The artist was known for perfecting everything tirelessly, revisiting old works and new ones until he found just the right balance between the story and aesthetics. Floris explains this further ‘He wanted people to see whatever they wanted to see in a painting. In a way this might have influenced the Loft as well as we are not subjected to a strict concept. People should really experience art on their own terms.’
The exhibition ‘De Wereld van Pyke Koch’ will be on display until March the 18th 2018 at the Centraal Museum in Utrecht.