IO – Pierre Guillaume’s paintings are filled with an almost blinding joy of life, nature and people. The vitality, warmth and passionate optimism of his paintings come at first as a shock and then a slowly increasing delight filling the viewer with a warmth and energy that comes from trusting life. It is very clear from his paintings that Guillaume trusts both people and life and indeed he describes himself as an optimistic painter who likes to show joy and happiness. And as for the many critics that fill the world who despise any art that is naïve enough to be happy, his attitude is simply that he doesn’t care. “Art is about the freedom of doing what you want to do,” explains Pierre Guillame. “I have mastered all the styles and this is what I truly want to be doing. Once, if ninety-nine people liked my work and one did not, I only thought about that one critic but as you grow older you have more experiences in life – and that has changed me. I have seen people die – family and friends and when you have seen that you start to understand what is really important in life. Life is a gift and time goes by so quickly…”
Guillaume comes from a long tradition of Western painters who have succumbed to the “magic of the East” and who after the War have been disparagingly referred to as “Mooi Indies” or “Beautiful Indies” artists and impressionism is a style especially conducive to the beauty of eternal summer. At the moment Guillaume has a collection of sixty-five pieces of art on display at the Duta Gallery. Didier Hamel who is the curator of the charming Mediterranean style art gallery in the middle of Kemang responded in even stronger terms to the Mooi Indies criticism., “It was Sudjojono who created the moniker but you must remember that he was not only an artist but in a sense also a politician – he was after all in the middle of a revolution – but he was wrong because he used this sobriquet to differentiate between Dutch and Indonesian artists and in the history of art at the time of Sudjojono the term was used as an insult. It was used to say, “You are Dutch and I am Indonesian. It was a label used by the nationalists and those who were anti-Dutch.
But of course, Dutch artists coming to the Indies were attracted by the beauty of Indonesia and mostly painted landscapes. Sudjojono himself painted landscapes – for Indonesia is indeed beautiful. That is something that cannot be denied”
Pierre Guillaume was born in the Netherlands, sixty-four years ago under the name Peter Willemse. The name Pierre Guillaume was adopted by him much later for his “plein air” paintings. He had his first success with his art at the tender age of four when he drew a windmill so well that his teacher took him to every class in the school to show them his wonderful drawing of a windmill. “She did me an enormous favour,” says Pierre, “for that teacher triggered both my confidence and my creativity. My mother was also extremely supportive of my creativity. Both she and my father were very creative people. My father was a musician and my mother was a housewife but she was always trying things out, she painted and was very clever with her hands. My mother could make something beautiful or funny from nothing. Once together with us children, she made a sort of kaleidoscope from a simple box with a hole in it. It was wonderful.”
Guillaime remembers his father as being rarely at home for in the daytime Pierre’s father worked in a factory. “We did not have much money so he worked very hard. He would come home after work: eat, shower and then off to work again this time as a saxophone player. It was only at the age of ninety that he could finally no longer play the saxophone. He no longer had the breath,” said Pierre gently. Then turning his attention aside, he continued, “I, myself hated school and often played truant. Then I would escape into nature. There was a wild piece located in a triangle created by a junction of several railway lines where I would immerse myself for hours with the birds, butterflies, small animals and plants. Now it is difficult to find such places in Holland. I was a very romantic kid,” remarked Pierre with an apologetic grin.
Mooi Indies art was not Impressionist. Most of the Dutch artists of the late nineteenth century were of the Hage School which was heavily influenced by the realist painters of the French Barbizon school. Later they were mostly influenced by the Expressionists. This is why Hamel finds Guillaume’s Impressionist style so refreshing. It is an interesting vision of Indonesia for as far as he knows there were only three Impressionists painters in Indonesia namely Ernest Dezentje, his son Djupriany and Adrien-Jean Le Mayeur de Merpres. Today of course nearly no Indonesian painters are Impressionists. It is not fashionable.
Impressionism is not an easy style for it needs a lot of concentration and I like this style,” admits Hamel. “Impressionism and the Romantic are typically French. It is a question of feeling. The Germans had it for literature and music but not in art. The Impressionists had that romanticism especially with the play of light. They express the romance of light in nature. Pierre is involved with the play of light in the landscape. The light between 3 and 5 pm especially in Java is a very soft light with a great luminosity. It can almost be described as an Impressionists dream light.
There is a certain intimacy in Pierre’s Indonesian paintings; an intimacy between people and nature and the artist. Then there is that soft atmosphere in the air created by Indonesia’s equatorial light; speckled light under trees creating purple shadows. His light sparkling on water tenderly recreates his subjects delight as little boys splash and frolic amongst the waves. Pierre likes to paint the emotional liquidity of water: the blues and greens with dashes of orange light like so many gold fish; so much so, that at first many of his paintings were beach scenes. At the time he explained that the beaches are right on the border where land stops and where the ocean begins. People are also different on the beach. The beach gives you the safe feeling that we remember from our youth…. and in Pierre the child spirit is very strong.
Hamel holds that the Romantics were looking for the beauty in things: in people, in the landscape. The Impressionists tried to express the romance of the light of the cosmos. Every artist has a message. Pierre’s message is peace and volupte or sensual pleasure. “If everyone looked at their surroundings like that developing; their romantic side,” says Hamel, “there would be no wars. There are many styles but beauty is a treasure and an artist should give that to people. Beauty is important for life and people who buy paintings are trying to put themselves in harmony with life. The artists job is to provide them with another window or dimension on the world… a spiritual dimension…”
Pierre Guillaume appears to have done just that.