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Oeuvredescription of Harrie Maesen

It was a challenge to find striking pictures with the texts. I chose them from my travelling pictures, paintings and photographic work. Recognizable pictures distract, so often I opted for a less familiar world. Comforting, simple and modest. They give thoughts room and freedom to break new ground.

Learning to look, see, explore and transform, creativity will take care of all else.

Harrie Maesen in the book: On the road to...... yourself

Art is poly-interpretable. The story we read in it doesn't have to agree with what the artist wants to convey to us. In a wordless language shapes and colours speak for themselves. Shape and colour give us everything to find content in it.

Yet it is significant to be absorbed in the meaning behind Harrie Maesen's work. A better understanding of this artist's work focuses and sharpens the eye and exposes more than the eye meets at first glance. It is in his studio where his way of thinking and doing has been materialised and where for the first time I stand face to face with the expressions of his unbridled creativity.

Harrie Maesen went his own way. And yet he didn't. It took a long time before he could give his artistic expression – calling loudly from deep below – a place in his life. Everyday life took up all time. But he looked and kept looking. He looked further than the eye could see and absorbed all the impressions life let him experience. But deep inside it seethed.


In spite of the fact that Harrie Maesen already at a young age sensed that he could give expression to his artistic abilities after he had passed the age of 50, he looked through the eyes of an artist long before. A lot more happens in viewing things than we usually realise. Even if we think to see the world with a “fresh look” and see things as they really are, it still raises the question if we consider the world as freely and objectively as we think we do. The way of viewing and the judgement that automatically takes shape in our thoughts, determines how we experience images. Harrie Maesen was fully aware of this process. Sensitive to the time he lived in, he explored the relation between the inner and outer world through various worlds of imagination. The road he had to go with his art knew a 50 years' preparation of observation, discovery, and weighing. In the security of his own home he explored by drawing and shaping. Layer after layer was peeled off and excessive things thrown away. It was about penetrating into an essence, into an underlying structure or the deepest underlying emotion.

In the 80s of the 20th century his first aquarels appear on paper. The paintings have a transparant quality and a light key. Reserved and sounding out he explored his own artistic potential. His works testify of a curiosity of the medium in which he expresses himself, just like its unprecedented control. This combination of inexhaustible curiosity beside technical ingenuity leads to a singularity of Harrie's expression. Also in the photoreports he made of other cultures, landscapes, people and animals, this combination of curiosity and its technical control emerges. His works carry a promise.The promise of a different view on reality.


The great diversity of Harrie Maesen's oeuvre makes it impossible to “pidgeonhole” him
stylistically. A similar constriction would deny his diversity and talent. Yet influences can be perceived. A comparison could be made with Georges Braque for instance, not as regards style, but for his loyalty to his chosen technique. Once chosen there seems to follow an apparently infinite refinement. He created paintings and drawings, educated himself in architecture and landscape architecture. It was as if the world opened up for him, ready to be discovered. He created with an eager desire and gave shape to various worlds of imagination. His colour exploration shows a sensitivity to expressionism. In a powerful figuration the visible and invisible are connected with each other. In this way stories are born.

These stories, which are told through arrangement and forms, take the colour of his mood and appeal to our humanity. In an expressive but true-to-nature figuration Harrie Maesen shows us those emotions which make life so personal and which are typical of man. This search for human emotions culminated in his series about the flamenco dancers.


In 2008 Maesen visited New York. This lively city with its impressive architecture seemed apparently endlessly to be in motion and had a catalystic effect on his artistic development. The abstract lines of the fire escapes... The overabundance of classical facades... Everywhere he looked there was contrast and maybe a form of recognition happened here. Maesen took photographs of the fire escapes in Soho and manipulated them afterwards in such a manner that a new image arose, a new look on reality. The promise had been fulfilled and an apparantly endless series of variations of the theme followed.


The stairs series shows impressions of the urban surroundings of Manhattan, New York, in which particularly the steel fire escapes in combination with the classical facades form a recurring theme.
In caleidoscopic images in which architecture, perspective and space fade into each other, the observer is shown the miracle of reality. The impossible perspectives and repetitions make the image move almost as if it concerns film pictures edited one after the other. The result is disorientation. For just one moment the observer is affected by fear and nervousness. For how can you get out of this world of overlapping space, steps that lead nowhere and to apparently unattainable heights?

Similar visions of despair take us back to 18th century Rome, where graphician Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) transformed the characteristic rococo style of his time, in which phantasy and reality fade into each other in a theatrical and exuberant form language, into scary images of imaginary dungeons. His carceri (dungeons) are both full of phantasy and original, showing, just like stairs, impossible perspectives and steps rising high into heaven.

Piranesi applied ingenious effects to establish his characteristic depth. His illustrations are both bizarre and ingenious and show his architectural insight. Hooks, cogs, chains and pulleys evoke an atmosphere of torture and punishment. Just like Piranesi, M.C.Escher(1898-1972) also examined the relation between phantasy and reality in his work in an architecturial form language. The connection with reality has been released, the constructions Escher made can't exist in reality. However true-to-nature the details may be, a new but impossible reality has come into being.
The precarious relation between phantasy and reality, examined in stairs, gets a new dimension when it becomes clear of what occurred in the reality of Harrie Maesen's life at the moment the series took shape. It is December 2012, the month in which he was told that a terminal form of cancer will soon end his life. The unfairness of the given situation is inescapable. It becomes clear to him that he has to make a choice: reverting to self-pity or continue working in an attempt to reach a form of reality in which he can acquiesce.

Stairs is an everlasting movement. The works show a typical private reality. Harrie Maesen consciously chose for a particular imagination, for a dramatic use of light and dark combined with colour. He let his imagination work to stress the grandeur of the edifices. For that, realistic rendering was not the starting point, but to reach intriguing representations full of contrast and detail.

In the grand structures full of spacious ambiguity he knew how to create a world that is both confusing and fantastic. This world seems infinite, three-dimensional and surrealistic. It is a place where eternity and immeasurableness seem to come together and fade into each other and where the eternity he longed for but was not given to him, became reality.

Harrie Maesen's work doesn't show any sign of abstraction, but a development into the direction of a different way of rendering. Photography gave him the chance of penetrating into the essential. in which the essence of the image will not get lost. For, what is the essence of a staircase? Connection. In our abundance we connect with each other. Harrie Maesen understood that and kept creating connections: I am pleased my work will keep on existing and many can enjoy it, according to the artist.

Creativity will do the rest..

Every work is an attempt to initiate with the observer a train of thoughts of its own. It is impossible to put into words how such a process functions because of its intensely personal nature.
Yet art forms a universal language we can understand at “soul level”and as such connects us all.
The language of Harrie Maesen's work is that of the searcher. Of someone who has had to resist the call of art for decades to finally open the door and has gone the road of an indomitable hero, which the artistic expression showed him. This happened without quoting other artists at any time. It was his own private road. In that respect, in spite of his education at the Maasmechelen art academy, he has remained an autodidact. His own personal look on reality was always central and would later reach an apotheosis with stairs.

In his work Harrie Maesen moved between extremes: from phantasy to reality and vice versa. In his photographic art, reality changes into art and here arises the difference between reality and the realistic piece of art. Every realistic piece of art is the artist's vision on part of reality. The piece of art becomes his reality that doesn't completely coincide with reality on the spot.

During the creation of stairs Harrie Maesen seems to have come to fundamentally realize that no real truth can be found in reality. It is the personal experience that is of worth and gives things their singularity. When the borders between matter fade one thing remains: space. That is the connection.

The aim is to give my art a soul, evoking questions with the observer, to look at art in a different way and let experience a different reality.
To crown it all is when the observer can put his personal experience, feeling and story into my work and goes on a journey in his own unique realm of thought.(Harrie Maesen)

Through the autonomous power of Stairs reality can indeed be released and in the remaining space new connections can be made.

Eva Wetsteijn ( Art historian)