Emo Verkerk (b. 1955)


Image from Vincent by Allen & Overy
Year: 2015
Material: Pencil on paper
Dimensions: 42 × 30 cm (12x)

Emo Verkerk is one of the best and most versatile draughtsmen in the Netherlands. His 2009 exhibition De 100 mooiste tekeningen (The 100 Most Beautiful Drawings) in the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague left no doubt about it. The drawings, made with (colour) pencil or in gouache, show his immense mastery. At the end of 2014, this impressive presentation was given a fitting follow-up by the same museum with the retrospective exhibition Graag of niet (Whether you like it or not), which was critically acclaimed in the press. It was the first time since his major 1988 exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, that his work was widely showcased. Rightly so. After all, over the past 40 years, Verkerk has been working on a diverse and fascinating body of work containing drawings, collages, paintings and sculptures that deserve to be seen.

Verkerk mainly makes portraits. Based on personal preferences, he portrays artists, writers, composers, friends and acquaintances from any and all centuries, from Shakespeare to Jimi Hendrix. He is not concerned with creating a good-looking portrait or excelling in capturing the character of the portrayed. Likeness is quickly sacrificed for expression, perception, reflection and projection. From a very personal perspective, he adjusts the portrait in various kinds of ways.

He uses photos or other types of pre-existing visual material as a starting point. For the Vincent series of drawings, he did not use the world-famous self-portraits as a starting point but one of the few preserved photographs of what is thought to be Van Gogh. He paints a youthful portrait that he changes as he sees fit and to which he adds attributes or a background. You can find references to 19th century artists admired by Van Gogh, such as Millet and Courbet. The oil lamp and the pollard willow are elements from Van Gogh’s own work. Apparently, the subject triggered the artist to incorporate a multitude of headgear. It remains largely unclear which leap of thought or (formal) associations lead Verkerk to make these additions. However, this lack of information does not bother the viewer. These are fascinating drawings that were created smoothly and confidently, with the eraser used only sparingly.

Rather than in its repetition – the “portraits” are quite different from one another – the power of Vincent lies in the idiosyncratic way of drawing. The lines are often rough and angular, alternated with wild scratching and dark shaded bits. Using this variety of textures, with only the colour grey at his disposal, Verkerk knows how to create vivid images.