Philip Akkerman

The Hostage

Since 1981 I have painted nothing but self-portraits. Until today I made 2377 of them. That seems to be boring. But I can tell you that it is everything except boring. Sometimes it is like playing but usually it is a terrible struggle. There is a war going on inside me. Innumerable Philip Akkermans strife to be realized. Dozens of styles tumble over each other.

Existence is a mystery.
I do not know what or who I am.

When I was young, I thought that I should actually do everything that crossed my adolescent mind. As a young painter I wanted to experience everything. Thanks God I had the brainwave to canalize that chaos within the boundaries of one single subject: the self-portrait. And Bob Ross whispered in my ear: “This is your painting and you are free to do with it whatever you want”. That is the essence of the studio-painting: the triumph of individual freedom. And I let it all happen to me. I tried to be as naive as possible. Doesn’t a self-portrait always, inevitably, tell the truth?

But gradually the boundlessness of this attitude exhausted me. I felt the urge to concentrate on one single manner of painting. But every time, when I had decided to paint for example strictly realistic self-portraits, there was a little devil deep within me who, after some weeks, pressed me to produce completely crazy paintings. And I obeyed. A few days later, the same devil, or another one, wanted me to change again to some other style. And again and again and again I obeyed.

Style can be defined as the distinctive manner of a specific period in the history of art. In that sense I am a true post-modernist, grabbling and using in an eclectic way whatever I want.
Style can also be defined as the imprint of a person’s character on his or her work. In this sense I have been consistent in style for the last 25 years.

So today, after 25 years of zigzagging, picking up and dropping again, moving forward and backward, after 25 years of writhing, I have finally decided to finally only paint really beautiful paintings. If you want to achieve something you will have to get your teeth into it and not let go. And that is what I want; to make truly beautiful, divine, routinous paintings. Yes, routinous. For truly beautiful paintings do not come into being through struggling, they come into being through complete control of technique.
And, by the way, what does it matter to find out who you are? Such nonsense!
This time, I am convinced, honestly, to pick just one manner of painting and to stick to it... (Do not believe it).

And, from now on, I am going to occupy myself only with the technical aspects of the work.

Style happens to you, you can’t help it, in fact you’re a victim of it.
But craftsmanship can be achieved. With rational thinking, a human being can learn to overcome technical problems. The manipulation of paint, brush, ground, color, line, volume etc. can be controlled.
I like to divide technique in two different parts. First comes the technique of the materials: the pigments, the oils, resins, grounds etc. When you do not control this part, you can’t even make an ugly painting. (Yes, you can!) The other one is the artistic technique. I consider the eye, the retina as a part of the skin. The skin can be beaten, caressed, pinched, licked, scratched, spitted at, tickled and a lot more. These things can happen to the eye as well. The painter has to stimulate the retina with contrasts. Contrasts between light and dark, warm and cool colors, sharp edges and soft gradual transitions, straight lines and circular ones, transparent parts and opaque parts, rough and subtle, wildness and control, finished and unfinished, colorful and colorless areas. A myriad of contrasts and they can be applied in various gradations.

A painter can intentionally employ such contrasts with the result that the spectator is forced to look at the painting whether he or she likes it or not. The painting has taken the spectator’s retina in hostage.

Philip Akkerman
8 June 2006