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.
heterotopias : architectural dwellings, curator : matali crasset, christian berst art brut gallery, from december 2nd, 2017 to january 20th, 2018.
art brut : a story of individual mythologies, works from the treger saint silvestre collection, oliva creative factory, são joão da madeira, portugual, from june 18th to february 28th, 2017.
sur le fil, by jean-hubert martin, christian berst art brut gallery & jean brolly gallery, from april 09th to may 22th, 2016.
the archive of john collier jr. in 1940s colombia, nottingham contemporary, nottingham, united kingdom, from january 24th to march 8th, 2015.
du nombril au cosmos, autour de la collection abcd/ bruno decharme, musée art)&(marges, brussels, belgium, from september 25th, 2015 to january 24th, 2016.
jusqu'à ce que rien n'arrive, maison des arts de malakoff, malakoff, france, from december 2sd, 2015 to february 14th, 2016.
soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, christian berst gallery, paris, from september 12th to october 21th, 2015.
art brut live, dox centre for contemporary art, prague, czech republic, from march 27th to august 17th, 2015.
art brut, abcd/bruno decharme collection, la maison rouge, paris, from october 17th, 2014 to january 18th, 2015.
drawing now : salon du dessin contemporain, christian berst gallery's stand, carreau du temple, paris, from march 25th to march 30th, 2014.
rentrée hors les normes 2013, découvertes et nouvelles acquisitions, christian berst gallery, paris, from september 07th, 2013 to october 12th, 2013.
outsider art fair paris, christian berst gallery's stand, hôtel le a, paris, from october 24th to october 27th, 2013.
j. j. seinen. un hallazgo y proyecto de investigación de johanna calle gregg y julio c. pérez navarrete, casas riegner, bogota, colombia, from february 28tn to march 30th, 2013.
exhibition catalogue, heterotopias : architectural dwellings, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2017.
exhibition catalogue, soit 10 ans, états intérieurs, christian berst art brut ed., paris, 2015.
art brut collection abcd/bruno decharme, bruno decharme, barbara safarova, flammarion, paris, 2014.
exhibition catalogue, art brut collection abcd/bruno decharme, la maison rouge, paris, 2015.
"arte bruta", richard treger, in raw vision #81, spring 2014.
exhibition catalogue, rentrée hors-les-normes découvertes et nouvelles acquisitions 2013, christian berst ed., paris, 2013.
selective press review
- hétérotopies architectures habitées authors Chris Cyrille in artpress, january 8, 2018.
- hétérotopies architectures habitées authors Chris Cyrille in point contemporain, january 8, 2018.
- L'art brut comme aspiration infinie authors la rédaction in Première vision, July 15, 2015.
- Arte bruta authors Richard Treger in Raw Vision, spring 2014.