Interview with Ben Sleeuwenhoek

“We wanted to see the land of the Etruscans again and see what Etruria would mean to us now, half a lifetime later. Would it inspire us again, like it had before”

The first journeys Henny and I went on together were journeys to Italy in the 1970’s. The very
first one was a study trip to Pompei and Tarquinia to look at Roman and Etruscan wall
paintings. At the time we could still visit all Etruscan graves. The curator of the Etruscan
Museum in Tarquinia (Tarquinia National Museum) showed us all the paintings there.
We had already been active as artists for some years and had made installations and artist’s
books. Because of our study trips in Italy we started painting and discovered colour. Being in
Italy we discovered colours.
For me Italy was red, Pompeian red. After visiting Italy we have made several journeys
abroad and symbolically we assigned a colour to each country we visited. However, these
colours were not necessarily to stay the same forever.
In 2012 we had the opportunity to spend some weeks at CAM. We really wanted to see Etruria
back and find out what the land would mean to us now, half a lifetime after our previous visit.
Would it inspire us again, like before?
This time we didn’t bring too many materials for we did not come by car. We usually travelled
with little luggage. I brought drawing material, notebooks and sketchbooks, and a small
I took photographs but mostly made drawings, paintings and collages in books.
By staying at CAM making artist’s books has become an important part of my job again.
Isn’t it funny that due to my visit to Italy in 1976 I started painting more often whereas
making books disappeared to the background? Our stay at CAM in 2012 brought about the
After making these books in Celleno I have been busy making artist’s books the past few
years. This has resulted in a solo exhibition at the Zeeuws Museum in Middelburg, the
Netherlands in 2018-2019.
Apart from making long walks in the surroundings of Celleno, we have returned to Tarquinia
once. Not to see the Etruscan paintings this time, but to see the marble floor of Chiesa Santa
Maria in Castello. Seeing this floor was a big inspiration for us to create new work.
At the Incontro 2020 exhibition I am going to show an installation containing one or several
books. This installation was inspired by the marble patterns in the Italian church floors.
There will be a large inkjet print of a flowering mimosa tree. It is the tree that was standing
next to Casa Amenta Maria. I was told this tree is dead now. With this print I am bringing it
back to life for a while.
In it, the yellow blossom is depicted with mirrors. To me yellow strongly represents Italy.
During my time in Celleno, Italy was yellow for me, and not red. Northerners like us tend to

project all kinds of romantic and exotic ideas into Italy. The mirrors, however, reflect reality
and they show nothing that isn’t there.

Translation Hans Kal

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