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Monday, September 19, 2011

Kees den Breejen

Also while in California I got the chance to visit Kees den Breejen's studio in Oakland. He is the father of my first Pencil in the Studio visit, Erik den Breejen. I spent the afternoon with Kees (pronounced "case") talking to him about his paintings and profession through the years, learning about his ancestry and life spent in California. He had some fascinating stories for me. His studio is nestled in their wonderful home in the Montclair Hills with a great view of the bay and all of its activity. We even got the chance to visit the Legion of Honor museum together for the exhibition Dutch and Flemish Masterworks from the Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Collection. I saw many connections between this show and Kees's paintings. Kees, having moved to California (by way of Canada) from Holland (Delft to be exact), comes from a long-standing tradition of painting.


Kees's work spawns from his interests in history, his extensive travel, his love of photography and his daily life in the bay area. While I was there he was working on finishing up a self-portrait from a photo he had taken on the subway while visiting NYC. He is currently working on a group of paintings that depict various transit systems. A painting of a trolley car in San Francisco stood out in particular, again reminding me of some of the Dutch paintings we had seen earlier that week. They are like Kees's contemporary take on the Genre paintings of the 1600's.  There is a concentration on narrative and theme. This painting depicts a man and a woman crossing the street in front of the trolley, portaits of an urban society, regular folks. We also talked about his influences, from Thieboud to Vermeer; from Van Gogh to Oakland's Anthony Holdsworth. Kees's work deftly combines elements of California realism, Impressionism, and Golden Age Dutch painting.



His illustrations are just as impressive as his paintings. He explained how for many years he had been making cards for people at the office. Once he made his first, the requests just kept coming.  I was so delighted when he made one for me, a "Jenuwine Kees Kard." What a talent to have. I asked if there were other artists in the family. He told me that when his father first moved to Canada and couldn't speak English he would draw pictures of the things he was looking for at the store in order to ask for them.
    Kees's father, also named Kees, or Cornelus, made the clock on the right by hand, down to the gears.  
    Kees Jr. helped by painting the face.

Kees worked in the graphics department at The Oakland Tribune and, later, The San Francisco Chronicle for many years before retiring, and now concentrates on painting. He explained how things changed from one decade to the next, remembering when they first set an Apple computer in front of him and told him that this was what he would be using from then on, with no word of it beforehand. Can you imagine? The year was 1988; he was also studying painting with Holdsworth and (with help from his father) rebuilding the family house they have in the Sierra foothills. A real Renaissance man!
    Rotterdam Haven, 1970


I adored my time spent with Mr. den Breejen, as I always do. We got the chance to visit the house that he rebuilt with his father in the 80's. In the midst of loaded blackberry bushes there is a petanque court. As always Kees schooled me in a game of it. One of these days I'll take the court. Heres to one of my favorite painters and petanque players! To see more go to http://keesgraphics.com/Paintings/Home.html.

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