“Egideo and Sergio’s lambs are skipping on my carpets”
The second time I started working in CAM Celleno was the most intense period of my career.
I worked in great happiness. The self-chosen loneliness helped me reach deep concentration. I
worked six long days a week and on the seventh day I always made a trip to the art treasures
in the neighbourhood. It is both complicated and simple to explain how this was possible after
the death of Mattia, our eldest child. But look, I know that she is fine, in the mystery of where
she is, and therefore I can fully experience happiness.
Because of my early morning walks I got to know the near surroundings much better. I
experienced the connection with nature like never before and that inspiration became visible
in the designs.
I have been an Artist in Residence in Celleno twice. The first time, in 2011, I was fifty years
old and I had got an assignment that I could not manage in my own studio: a tapestry for the
Abbey Church in Middelburg, the Netherlands. It had to happen in Celleno. In these three
months I would create the biggest work of art I had made so far.
The second time was eight years later. I had ended up in a different life, after Mattia’s death,
and three and a half years later I went back to designing new tapestries in Celleno for over
The atmosphere of the house and the ground around it are so nice that I immediately felt
good. I moved some furniture and knew the owners wouldn’t mind. Life in this secluded place
made it a sanctuary for me from where new images could flow.
During my first visit there was some pressure on. The tapestry was a complicated job, what
with a large surface and a technique that was quite unknown to me: weaving. Designing it
worked out well. Everything in Celleno was stimulating, and I finished the drawings – they
fitted well in the large space of the house, and from the top of the stairs I could overlook the
drawings. Then I put them on the floor in the hall and the kitchen. The eleven metre high
carpet was going to be made. A year later it was hanging in the Abbey Church. It had taken
months to make the drawings and after a hundred weaving test strips the carpet was woven in
three days in the TextielLab in Tilburg. Then, for four months, a large group of people
embroidered it by hand.
The second time, in 2019, I really wanted to go to Celleno again to design a series of new
carpets. I was there a little later in the season (March and April) and my idea was to design
four tapestries about life. I had had ideas for this project for years, but I did not know what
this series should really be about. I designed four carpets: Adam Swims, Resurrection, Vista
and Wonderful. The carpets were woven in the Netherlands in the summer of 2019.
Looking back, I notice that the colours of the house and the interior have entered my work.
The early morning view from the French balcony in the bedroom has been literally translated
in the work “View”. Egideo and Sergio’s sheep and lambs had already appeared in the carpet
of the Abbey Church, and one of their lambs is hopping on the “Resurrection” carpet. When I
met the wild boar shown in this carpet face to face in the nearby bushes, I was shocked. The
irises and blossoms are a reflection of the Celleno surroundings. The bordered landscape and
the layered skies and all kinds of other details from the region found their way to my work.
I live in Middelburg, in the province of Zeeland in the south of the Netherlands, near the sea.
It is quite a long journey to Celleno. On my two journeys my car was packed with the tools I
would need. The day of arrival I moved some furniture and decorated my studio, in the high
part of the room next to the stairs. I assembled the drawing board, put the supply of paper
upstairs, hung the lights, put a chair by the doors next to the stove, dragged a big table to the
right of the drawing board for my books and materials. I had brought my workbook with
sketches from home and from day one I started writing in a new one. I wrote about my
experiences and questions and ideas developed, from which eventually the images arose.
Every day I took my time for a long walk. During the first weeks in the afternoon, and later on
from sunrise. Then breakfast, while the sheep were guided past the house into the valley by
Sergio or Egideo.
During my first visit I walked to the bar in Celleno Vecchio nearly every day, to be among
people and check my mail. On my second visit I only went for the groceries and the weekly
excursion, by car. I could now receive email on my phone.
In 2011 I alternated work with gardening, in 2019 I had no time for that and I was so much
involved in my work that I went on working, even in my dreams at night. In the early
afternoon I cooked a simple Italian meal and put it on four plates so that I had something nice
to eat for two days.
On my arrival in 2011 the heating was not working properly, which took me straight to
Monica and Rosario, who helped me solve this problem. My daily hour at the pub brought me
in contact with the locals, just like buying groceries in the local supermarket did. I got in
touch with Monica’s friends, I was invited to dinner and asked her friends to come over and
eat with me, and I showed them my work.
I was also invited to the Cherry Blossom Festival on the hill, it was of great beauty.
In 2019 there was less contact with the outside world apart from a few visits to Monica and
from her to me, and apart from the chats with Egideo, Anna-Maria and Mikaël. I had taken on
a bit too much work and I wanted to finish it. But I did make an excursion every Sunday. First
of all, I wanted to see my beloved Giotto in Assisi again. My work has always been much
influenced by the Italian medieval and Renaissance painters. The Interbellum is also a period
in Italian art that I like to see. During my last trip I also went to look at carpets, for example in
the Vatican museums in Rome.
In 2019 I spoke to Lorenzo, the son of Enrico Castellani, who lived and worked in the castle
in 2011. He came to visit me while Dieuwke and Aad were in Celleno. I spoke a lot to Monica
and Rosario in 2011 and 2019, also about work. Too bad Rosario was no longer in Celleno in
In Rome I got in touch with the cultural attaché of the Dutch embassy. He came to visit
me in Celleno in 2011. Furthermore, my gallery owner from the Netherlands, Jacoba Wijk,
came to stay in 2011, together with the artist Maria van Kesteren. Unfortunately, they
couldn’t come in 2019. Moreover, there were countless dead artists whose work I marvel at
and whose quotes I used in my work. E.g. I borrowed The Head of Christ in the “Grape
Harvest” scene in the big carpet for the Abbey Church from Fra Angelico from the Duomo of
Orvieto. And I used the reliefs on the front of this church for “Adam Swims”.
The feet of the balancing boy and the dead man in “The Severe and Bitter Death” come from Giotto. And so on.
In Italy I listened to the funny CD collection that is present in CAM and I always sang along
with my heart, that was wonderful. I had brought my favourite composers such as Arvo Part,
Douwe Eisenga, Benjamin Britten, Olivier Messiaen with me from home. The spiritual charge
of it appeals to me. But at CAM, the exuberant earthy tones actually worked better… that
change worked out well.
My favourite colour is blue. The colours of the house CAM, the olive green, the Sienna red
floor, the ochres of the earth and the outer walls match with Italy. The iris blue and the
variegated April flower colours also all suit Celleno. But for me, the way I have experienced
Italy twice in winter and early spring for a long time, the gray scrub, the bare ochre-coloured
land and the blue mist of the view are part of this, too. The pink and purple of dawn and the
incredible sunsets in the vastness of the Tiber valley.
Yes… hmm… if I think back now: Of course the mimosa yellow of the tree beats everything!
Both periods of work have been particularly successful. The large carpet in the Abbey Church
has had many positive consequences for my work and has generated an interest in it. This big
project has received much publicity and is described in books and magazines. I have shown
the 2019 series of carpets in the exhibition “View” at Jan van Hoof Galerie in den Bosch and
at PAN Amsterdam. Three out of four design drawings have found their way to customers. In
the near future I will be showing the carpets more often in all kinds of places.
Being an AIR in Celleno has led me to my deepest self. The work I was able to make in this
house in these circumstances goes beyond pride to grateful happiness.
Translation Hans Kal