Carel Visser was a visionary sculptor renowned for his minimalist masterpieces. Born in the Dutch town of Papendrecht, he was the sixth of seven children who were raised in an environment known by a strong work ethic and religious upbringing. His father, Arie Visser, was a man of diverse cultural interests and ran a successful construction company with his brothers. He had a deep appreciation for both the technical and artistic aspects of building.
Of all the siblings, Carel and his brother Martin were closest to their father in their shared interests and artistic inclinations. Martin went on to become a renowned designer, but Carel took a different path. He discovered his passion for drawing as a child, and his parents encouraged this talent. His childhood sketchbooks are filled with charming sketches of lions, tigers, birds, dogs, and other creatures that have been captured with skill and grace. Some of the sketches show a clear connection to nature, with captions revealing that several were drawn during a visit to a circus in Dordrecht. One of the sketchbooks also displays his early interest in architecture. Besides drawing, the family's construction business allowed him to experiment with various tools and materials, providing valuable experience that would later inform his artistic work.
Between the ages of 18 and 22, Carel was introduced to the world of contemporary art, architecture, and design by his brother Martin and his associates. This pivotal experience transformed him from a passionate amateur to a professional artist. With a keen eye for detail and an unwavering commitment to his craft, Carel Visser transformed seemingly plain steel sheets and blocks of metal or concrete into stunning works of art that exuded power and beauty.
Carel's talent for sculpture developed gradually during the post-war years. What is remarkable is that even his earliest preserved sculptures are predominantly abstract, indicating that he did not follow the traditional path of many 20th-century artists in gradually stylizing and abstracting natural shapes. Instead, his figurative sculptures often followed or coincided with his abstract works. This unique approach to sculpture helped establish Carel's reputation as a visionary artist who pushed the boundaries of what was possible in his craft.
By the year 1960, Carel Visser had already established a solid reputation in the art world. His work was frequently featured in exhibitions both in the Netherlands and abroad, making him one of the defining figures of modern Dutch sculpture. His pieces were showcased at numerous international art events, including the Venice, Antwerp, Paris, and Tokyo Biennales, as well as the 1958 Expo in Brussels. In 1960, he was honored with his first solo museum exhibition, hosted by Willem Sandberg, director of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. This exhibition displayed works from as early as 1949, displaying the impressive body of work that Carel had accumulated by the young age of 32.
Between 1969 and 1972, Visser's artistic focus shifted towards creating more substantial sculptures, a departure from the previously more delicate pieces made of materials such as sheet iron and leather. This new phase of his artistic career saw an increase in the size and stability of his sculptures, including works such as solid blocks laid flat with carved sections, an example of which is Less, Less, Less. This entirely abstract piece shows Visser's mastery of sculptural principles such as mass, space, and balance, and is further developed by its horizontal orientation.
When asked about what makes a good image, Visser said, “An image should not be too busy. For me, an ideal image is horizontal. The strength must be as much in the length as in the width. They should not cancel each other out but reinforce each other.” This horizontality can also be seen in his sculpture Lake Powell, which exemplifies his technique of involving the ground on which the sculpture stands, akin to the style of his admired sculptor Constantin Brancusi. Visser believed that this “earthly aspect” was important, as the earth is the only reality we can truly know, being the surface we walk on. In his words, “We don't know the supernatural. Maybe it's there, maybe not. Nobody knows.”
Nature remained a constant source of inspiration for Visser, as also demonstrated by this sculpture. The visual motif of Lake Powell is strongly tied to water, as the sculpture takes its inspiration from the winding streams of the eponymous lake, located near the Grand Canyon. The whimsical patterns of the waterways, formed as water naturally follows the path of least resistance to the lowest point, and the quirky contours of the lake's basin, shaped by the surrounding mountains, provided Visser with a wealth of material to draw upon. Lake Powell exemplifies Visser's ability to transform natural elements into beautiful and powerful sculptures.
The 1970s saw a shift towards greater freedom of form. Abandoning the geometric visual language, Visser began experimenting with pretty much any material he could lay his hands on. In 1992, Carel Blotkamp wrote: “The sculptures of the last fifteen years pull together all the threads of his earlier work. Visser now freely makes use of the various sculptural principles he followed in successive periods in the past and draws equally freely from the varied repertoire of form that he has built up over his long career.” During this period, especially starting in the mid-1970s, making collages became more important to Visser. He attached images from magazines to paper that had been scratched with a black pencil, which gave the surface a metallic sheen that corresponded to his images. It was significant that since the end of the 1960s, Visser has not only had his house and studio in Amsterdam but also a second home: a farmhouse in the Betuwe area of Holland. Gradually, the farm and its surroundings became a source of inspiration, and he found there the material that he incorporated into his art.
The artwork Fruit bowl with shoulder blades by Carel Visser showcases his constant pursuit of innovation and love for his materials. The piece features four cow shoulders that have been stripped of flesh and are presented in natural tones, with a silver mount that serves as the centerpiece. The stark contrast between the natural bones and the polished silver highlight the tension between the two worlds of nature and culture. The intricate details of the work, such as the natural neatness of the circumferential bands conforming to the protruding bones, paired with the soft and supple silver, create a shocking image that was previously unseen in the art world. This fusion of opposition and unusual materials can be compared to the work of renowned artists like Joseph Beuys and Mario Merz. Despite the elegant framing of the piece, the shoulder blades still retain a level of roughness that fits into Visser's concept of a “compelling image.”
With this unique and surprising style, Visser distances himself from the dominant art movements of his time, Throughout his career, he continued to receive international recognition and attention. His versatility and ingenuity, as well as his passion for the sculptural form, the relationship between elements, and the connection between art and reality, have earned him a place in the pantheon of great sculptors. With his sharp perception, Picasso-like versatility, and voracious use of available materials, he has proven himself to be a worthy successor to the great sculptural traditions of the past century.
UP FOR AUCTION
Lake Powell (c. 1998)
Iron, H. 18.1 x W. 114.6 x D. 24.8 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, then by descent Note: Geertjan Visser (1931-2010) was, together with his brother Martin (1922-2009 ), one of the main and most influential collectors of his generation in the Netherlands. Today, the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo houses over 400 works ...
Fruit Bowl with Shoulder Blades (1988)
Signed and dated '88 on the underside Cow's bones and silver, H. 37.4 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, thence by descent Literature: - Una Giornata al Mare - A choice from the collection of Geertjan Visser ( exhibition catalogue), Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1992, no. 71 (ill.) - C. Blotkamp, Carel Visser. Genesis, The Hague/Scheveningen (Museum ...
Less, Less, Less (Less, Less, Less) (1990)
Iron, H. 20.4 x W.80.5 x D. 20.2 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, thence by descent Literature: Una Giornata al Mare - A choice from the collection of Geertjan Visser (exhibition catalogue), Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, 1992, no. 73 (ill.) Exhibited: Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Una Giornata al Mare - A choice from the collection of ...
English Riding Crop (1979)
Riding crop with leather and woven reed, insulation tubing, strip-iron, metal wire and tin, L. 208.4 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, thence by descent Literature: - C. Blotkamp, Carel Visser, Images/Sculptures 1978-1979, Groninger Museum, Groningen, 1979 (ill.) - C. Blotkamp, Carel Visser, Veen/Reflex, Utrecht-Antwerp, 1989, p. 169, no. 141 (ill.) - Una Giornata al ...
Untitled (Eagle and Stars) / (Untitled Eagle + Stars) (1998)
Signed, dated '98 and numbered 4/5 lower center Printed by Steendrukkerij Amsterdam Woodcut in colours, 116.2 x 98.2 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, thence by descent
Leopard in Dark Africa Under the Rainbow (1991)
Signed, dated '91 and dedicated for Geertjan lower center Titled on the reverse Graphite and collage on cardboard in perspex frame, 60 x 48.3 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, then by descent Exhibited: Kröller-Müller Museum , Otterlo, Una Giornata al Mare - A choice from the collection of Geertjan Visser, 27 June - 1 November ...
Crooked Tree with Clock (1991)
Signed, titled, dated '91 and dedicated for Erdal lower center Graphite and collage in artist's frame, 43.7 x 46.7 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, then by descent Note: Geertjan Visser (1931-2010) was , together with his brother Martin (1922-2009), one of the main and most influential collectors of his generation in the Netherlands. Today, ...
Romulus and Remus (1984)
Signed, dated 84 and dedicated for Erdal on the feather Collage on cardboard in artist's frame, 50.5 x 70.3 cm Provenance: Collection Geertjan Visser (1931-2010), Retie, thence by descent Note: Geertjan Visser (1931-2010) was, together with his brother Martin (1922-2009), one of the main and most influential collectors of his generation in the Netherlands. Today, ...
Monte Pellegrino, Palermo (1957)
Signed and dated 57 lower right Colored pencils on paper, 35.3 x 50.4 cm Provenance: - Collection Kees Donker - Private collection, the Netherlands Note: Carel Visser received a scholarship from the Italian government in 1957 and embarked on a six-month study trip to Sardinia.