Borstbeeld Joop den Uyl (SK86)
Vries, Erwin de
Erwin de Vries
(1929, Paramaribo)
Royal Academy of Art, The Hague 1950-1953
National Academy of Art, Amsterdam 1957-1960

Thirty-five years ago the Amsterdam public was introduced to a remarkable artist. He put an exhibition at Krikhaar Gallery, had a Dutch name and came from Suriname. The opening of his exhibition was so crowded that many people were obliged to catch a glimpse of the event from the outside. After all those years, it is still not clear what caused this happening. Was it the fascination evoked by the word Suriname? It must have been, for it cannot have been the name of Erwin de Vries. Hardly anybody knew it. But that was to change soon, for the vigotous work he showed made a profound impersion. Three years later, in 1966, Erwin de Vries, already moved in varied international circles, because he was invited to take part in ‘Sonsbeek’. At this important sculpture exhibition in Arnhem, in which artist like Brancusi, Picasso, Ernst, Calder, Giacometti, Marini, Moore, Cadwick, César, Caro, Couzijn, Tajiri and Visser participated, Erwin displayed two bronzes, of which his design for the Alonso de Ojeda monument, in particular, attracted attention. Although the expressive, totem-like figure was meant as atribute to the Spanish discover of Suriname, there was no doubt about it that Erwin de Vries had made a statue of liberty. It also symbolized the artist’s freedom, a freedom which he had gained and made the most of outside his native country. His Alonso -originaly rejected- is now situated in the vicinty of the mouth of the Suriname River near Paramaribo, where Erwin de Vries was born in 1929 and, after all his wanderings, has again lived and worked since 1984. It also seves as a monument to modern Surinamese art. The sculptures and paintings Erwin de Vries made a name for himself with in the 1960s, visibly followed the vitalism of, among others, Karel Appel and Wessel Couzijn, which Willem Sandberg, director of the Municipal Museum, Propagated internationally. They were alternately abstract and figurative in a natural manner, but always exuberant signs of life. The vitalism that Erwin de Vries added to the Dutch art of the time is frankly erotic. It glorifies love, potency and fertility. Erotica and Erectus are the names of two sculptures he made in the 1970s for the city of Amsterdam. As if the evocative language does not speak for itself. But the fact is that Erwin de Vries”will let the drums reverbarste” as his friend Corneille characterized his exotic zest for life. If the vitalist from Suriname had been a little older or had been around at the right time he would certainly have joined the Experimentalists. The large exhibition that Edy de Wilde granted Erwin de Vries in the Municipal Museum in 1970, left no room for misunderstandings on this point. But by then vitalism had already have to give way to new trend like Pop Art , Minimal Art and Arte Povera. What Erwin de Vries could not know was that his painted plaster sculptures heralded the New Expressionism of the 1980s. After he had withdrawn to the privacy of his studio, feeling rather depressed, and had completed some commissions, he decided to return to his native country to once again draw inspiration from his roots. And close to his magical ‘Alonso’ his exotic imagination did in fact receive new stimuli. The painting and sculptures created since then demonstrate that Erwin de Vries has affirmed unequivocally his love for Suriname. This new, mature work with its compelling plastic form and magical colours is the symbolic self-portrait of an artist who had the courage to go his own way and by doing so found himself again.

© 2013 Guus Isaak / www.surinaamsekunst.nl