Wednesday 18 May 1994
LUCEBERT, the Dutch poet and painter, was an autodidact in art and in literature. In both his poetry and his paintings he adopted an assault on the accepted aesthetic of respectable society, finding it productive to focus on what is ugly, repellent and reprehensible. He explored and experimented with the primitive and unrefined elements in his visual imagination.
A key formative experience was his discovery in 1943, in the public library at Dessau, in Germany, of the Romantic poet Friedrich Holderlin (1770-1843), whose rich, imaginative and free pindaric lyrics, with their originality of expression, provided Lucebert with a lifelong poetical inspiration.
In 1948, Lucebert made his public debut as a poet in Amsterdam, reading his 'Loveletter to our tortured bride Indonesia', a ringing poetic protest against the Dutch assault on its former colony. The poem is a Guernica in Dutch, a wild torrent of images somersaulting over each other, in an original and expressive language which, like Holderlin's, breaks free from all conventional grammatical and logical order.
The key to Lucebert's poetry is his self-proclaimed freedom to experiment - with words and images, with sound and rhythm, even with the syntax of the language. These experiments were aimed at restoring the primordial power of the word, freeing it from the stifling conventions of what is acceptable in society. Thus, Lucebert's experiments, deeply poetical in themselves, were at the same time radically political. For him, poetry was freedom, the freedom to break the rules of bourgeois society and its literary, aesthetic, religious, sexual, social and political discourse. Taking his inspiration from Blake, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Dada and the Surrealists, he became a master word-
fabricator, writing verse of linguistic virtuosity, freely experimenting with sound and meaning.
In the Fifties, Lucebert became the leading poet of the Dutch Experimental Movement. Known as 'the Emperor', he published eight volumes of poetry between 1951 and 1959 and, after a period in which his painting was more dominant, another four volumes between 1981 and 1993. His collected poetry forms an exuberant eruption of the imagination ranging from his defiant poetical programme in 'School of Poetry' and 'Defence of the Fifties Poets' through the raw force of his love lyrics and the passionate rap of his 'Spring Suite for Lilith'. In between, poems inspired by jazz music, modern art and fellow artists such as Miro, Klee, Brancusi, Max Ernst and Henry Moore vied with the chiselled economy of his Japanese epigrams and his spellbinding tribute to the poet Gerrit Achterberg at his death in 1962. And throughout, we find his poetico-political manifestos for the freedom of imagination and expression, the last of which, a short poem for Salman Rushdie, was published in February.
In the last lines of the final poem Lucebert wrote in 1993, 'Defeat', the fight seems to have gone out of him; he looks ahead and sees an eternity 'without dawn without the harbingers of spring without love / without the red morning sky without seasons without language'.
As a painter, Lucebert belonged, with Karel Appel and others, to the international CoBrA Movement and took part in its first group exhibition in the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam, in 1949. His painted world is stuffed with disconcerting creatures; the uncanny sits alongside the revolting; and lyrical colours clash with the grim humour of his aggressive cartoons. His first exhibition was at the Galerie Espace in Haarlem in 1958, and in the same year his work was shown in the Arts Council's touring exhibition 'Trends in Modern Dutch Art', which visited London. This was followed by one-man shows in London in 1963 at the Marlborough New London Gallery and in 1966 at Marlbourgh Fine Art.
While Lucebert saw his poetry and painting as two very different and separate activities, the two were, in fact, often interconnected: modern art inspired quite a few of his poems, he made his own book covers and illustrations, he inserted poems into his paintings and welded images to his texts. And, as could be seen in the special Lucebert Exhibition in 1985 in the Stedelijk Museum, in both mediums he produced a dazzling wealth of compelling images. In 1990 he was awarded the Jacobus van Looy Prize of the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem, in recognition of his unique double talent.
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