I met Bouke de Vries in the mid-80s just after my magazine colleague and good friend, Miles Chapman had come from London with Tina Brown to edit Vanity Fair. He and Miles had just met themselves and I was working for the magazine as a designer. One day Miles wore a fantastic shirt, silkscreened in black on white with blaring Mick Jagger/ Jerry Hall Sun headlines. I asked him where he got it and he said, “My boyfriend, Bouke made it.” I wanted and got one and I still have it. Bouke studied at St Martin’s in London and worked for John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zandra Rhodes before switching careers and studying ceramics conservation and restoration. He became a private ceramics conservator and was – still is – quite in demand to fix the very best broken stuff from the past. Being constantly faced with issues and contradictions around perfection and worth, the thought occurred…
‘The Venus de Milo’ is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.’
So, using his skills as a expert restorer, he began to make ‘exploded’ artworks reclaiming broken things after their accidental trauma. He calls it ‘the beauty of destruction’. Instead of hiding the evidence of the trauma of breakage, he emphasizes it and “moves their stories forward”. Originally from Utrect in the Netherlands, Bouke’s somewhat contemplative works echo the 17th- and 18th-century still-life paintings of his Dutch heritage, especially the flower paintings of the Golden Age, a tradition that Utretch was once steeped (de Heem, van Alst, van Huysum inter alia), with their implied decay. He incorporates contemporary, often pop culture items and references and a new vocabulary of his own symbolism has evolved.
I just visited Miles & Bouke (& their dog, Sonny) in their recently renovated townhouse which is beautifully and stylishly appointed. An installation in their living room, seen here, has all-white Delft domestic pottery rescued in Among them are two small artists’ paint pots with the pigment still in them. For all we know, Vermeer or Rembrandt could have used them. One new addition to their very deep garden was a free-standing, modern studio for Bouke, where he happily commutes 50 meters back and forth each day. He was working on a Goddess Marge statue when I was there, with the rest of the Simpsons to be attached in various locations on her personage. This, when completed he says, might need a whole altar to go-with. I agree.
When there is even an invisible hairline crack, a tiny rim chip or a broken finger, a once-valuable object, be it first-period Worcester, Ming or Sevres, is rendered nearly worthless, in most cases, not worth the cost of restoring. It becomes consigned to the dustbin of history. One of Bouke’s illustrations of this is a wide and low glass vitrine, with a plastic dust pan completely filled with broken bits of all sorts of beatific works, plus bit of dirt and garbage to drive home the “just-swept-up” look. Bouke, recycling in the MOST creative and inventive way, has shown his works in galleries, museums and art fairs around the world. His traveling installation seen above, "War and Pieces", was originally made for the Holburne Museum (with the support of the Arts Council) and has just opened at the Taiwan Ceramic Biennale, where it will be seen by half a million people in the next 5 months. He'll be big in Taiwan! To see more, yourself, go to his website here.