José Johann Seinen, born in the Netherlands in 1934, produced, with obsessive care, a unique body of work that could be compared to a personal mythology where archaeology and science fiction are intertwined. It is a spectacular project, one that also poses the question of the game in art.
When his parents, suspected of collaborating with the Germans during the Occupation, were imprisoned at the end of the war, José and his five brothers were placed in the custody of their grandparents, who lived in Amsterdam. There, he began drawing tirelessly: exercise books designed like pop-up books filled with robots and – from the start – careful, minuscule cut-outs, small figures of a private theatre that the boy moved around in sets drawn to their scale. As a young adult, Seinen was employed at the bank where both his father and grandfather had worked, married and had a daughter. His wife and child left him late in the 1960s. He then opened a travel agency where he met his second wife, who came from Colombia. They agreed to live alternately in Amsterdam and then Bogotá, moving every seven years. But he never returned to the Netherlands and when his beloved mother died, Seinen had the entire contents of his house, wooden flooring included, packed up and sent to Colombia. He spent the rest of his life there, shutting himself up for days on end in a small, spartan room to escape into his own universe. Seinen, extremely erudite, had extensive knowledge of ancient history and owned a library of thousands of rare books. A penny-pinching man, he wore the same badly made striped three-piece suit whatever the season, and smoked one cheap cigarillo after another.
When he died in 2013 at the age of 78, his wife discovered 22 boxes filled with his life’s work: thousands of extremely precise drawings, serial accumulations of figures and objects, often carefully cut out and classified in envelopes: Mesopotamian gods, Greek and Roman buildings, entire armies, pottery from archaeological digs, extra-terrestrials and more.
J. J. Seinen has left us with an enigma, that of a child hidden in an adult’s life, who seems to have pursued his waking dream.
art brut : a story of individual mythologies, oeuvres de la collection Treger Saint Silvestre, Oliva Creative Factory, São João da Madeira, 18th june until 28th february 2017.
On the Wire by Jean-Hubert Martin, christian berst art brut gallery & Jean Brolly gallery, from April 9 to May 22, 2016.
The Archive of John Collier Jr. in 1940s Colombia, Nottingham Contemporary du 24 janvier au 8 mars 2015.
du nombril au cosmos, autour de la collection abcd/ Bruno Decharme, musée art)&(marges, Bruxelle du 25 septembre 2015 au 24 janvier 2016
Jusqu'à ce que rien n'arrive, exposition collective à la Maison des Arts de Malakoff du 2 décembre 2015 au 14 février 2016
preTENse, gallery christian berst art brut, Paris, from September 12 to October 21, 2015
Art brut live, DOX Centre for contemporary art, Prague, March 27th - August 17th 2015.
J.J Seinen | The Archive of John Collier Jr. in 1940s Colombia, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, January 24th - March 8th 2015.
art brut, collection abcd/Bruno Decharme, la Maison Rouge, Paris, October 17th 2014 - January 18th 2015.
"Drawing Now: salon du dessin contemporain", christian berst gallery booth, Paris, March 25 - 30, 2014.
rentrée hors les normes 2013, discoveries & new acquisitions, gallery christian berst, Paris, September 07th - October 12th 2013.
"Outsider Art Fair Paris", christian berst gallery booth, Hotel Le A, Paris, October 24 - 27, 2013.
J. J. Seinen. Un Hallazgo y Proyecto de Investigación de Johanna Calle Gregg y Julio C. Pérez Navarrete, Casas Riegner, Bogota, February 28th - March 30th 2013
soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, exhibition catalogue (09/12-10/10/2015, christian berst art brut), Paris, christian berst art brut, 2015
Under the direction of Bruno Decharme and Barbara Safarova, Art brut collection abcd/Bruno Decharme, Flammarion, Paris, 2014
Art brut collection abcd/Bruno Decharme, exhibition catalogue (Paris, La maison rouge, october 17 2014 - january 18 2015), ed. La maison rouge, Paris, 2014
Richard Treger, "Arte Bruta", in Raw Vision #81, spring 2014
rentrée hors-les-normes découvertes et nouvelles acquisitions 2013, exhibition catalogue (Paris, Galerie Christian Berst art brut, 10 septembre - 12 octobre 2013), christian berst ed., Paris, 2013