First published: Summer 2015
For 23 years, Rotterdam’s Herenplaats studio has been championing the work of artists with developmental disabilities and psychiatric conditions through their professional, autonomous visual arts programme.
Herenplaats studio and gallery occupy a two-story building in Rotterdam’s Witte de With art district. At Herenplaats workshop, 37 artists with developmental disabilities or (since 2007) psychiatric conditions work daily – drawing, painting and creating graphic art at their permanent workstations. “We encourage people to come in at least three days a week, that way it’s work experience and not just a hobby”, says veteran mentor Richard Benaars who, like the other mentors, gives the artists bespoke tutoring and is aware of the thin line between providing support and guiding – a line the mentors are determined not to cross. “Only by respecting the individual creator’s artistic freedom can we learn what truly inspires them”, says fellow mentor Frits Gronert.
Untitled, Louise Guardia, 2005, 39.4 x 31.5 ins., 100 x 80 cm
Herenplaats promotes a philosophy that centres on artistic freedom. As Benaars explains, “Our practice is based on four pillars: the artists’ talent and motivation, professional tutoring, the availability of high-quality working materials and the right to education.”
Whether it is the dynamic townscapes of Jaco Kranendonk, Ben Augustus’s obsessive reproductions of cheap erotic material, or the dramatic proportions of Hein Dingemans’s aboriginal beefcake heroes, Herenplaats artists are free to develop their own unique imagery. In that respect, they are far less “pliable” than regular art students; they usually will not tolerate being told what to depict or what materials to use. Benaars says, “Collaborations with professional artists, with the ‘professional’ setting the tone and the ‘outsider’ expected to operate in the margins of the joint project, therefore often aren’t very meaningful.”