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Willem Volkersz: The View from Here | A 25 Year Retrospective

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Willem Volkersz’s work is deeply autobiographical, “idiosyncratic and unforgettable.” Volkersz spent his early life under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands and immigrated with his family to the U.S. in 1953. He was a pioneer in the use of neon in art and developed early and sustaining loves for photography, travel, American roadside culture, Pop Art, and Folk and Visionary Art. His life and practice are steeped in “a graceful joy in human complexity” that relishes directness, innovation, and wonder.

The sculptural assemblages of Willem Volkersz are incredibly unique and unforgettable. Using a language of commercial and pop cultural aesthetics, he roots his works in the directness, accessibility, and magnetism of Pop Art. Paint-by-number paintings, neon, travel souvenirs, and other found objects and imagery provide familiar and intriguing entryways for viewers. Visual delight and mystery inspire a desire to know more, to discover meaning, to look for narratives. Like signposts documenting his path through life, Volkersz says his works represent frozen moments along one man’s journey of following his bliss. Through layered juxtapositions of symbolic elements, he presents a form of visual storytelling that is highly autobiographical yet open to broader interpretation.

The pieces contained in this show were produced over the past 25 years and draw upon the artist’s eight decades of life experience. They touch upon his early life in Holland under Nazi occupation, his immigration to America, and his current life in the Western United States. They incorporate his love of travel, collecting, and popular, folk, and visionary art. They share his love of domesticity, the beauty of the outdoors, as well as the cultural abundance of big cities. The works also suggest how these personal experiences and passions connect to wider social and political issues of enduring relevance for us all.

About the Artist

Willem Volkersz is a significant contemporary artist and renowned collector of Folk and self-taught artists. A native of the Netherlands, he immigrated to the United States with his family after WWII and studied art and architecture at the University of Washington before earning an MFA in painting at Mills College in Oakland, CA. After teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute for 18 years, he came to Montana State University-Bozeman in 1986 to direct the School of Art and teach until his retirement in 2001. Volkersz’s work has been featured in 46 solo exhibitions and in over 200 group shows in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, China, and Taiwan. He is the recipient of many awards, including a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, grants from the Mellon Foundation and Gottlieb Foundation, and a 2020 Montana Governor’s Arts Award. He’s been a visiting artist and lecturer at almost 100 institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and China.

Learn more about Willem Volkersz.

Credits

Willem and Diane Volkersz Contemporary Folk Art Collection: Courtesy of the Missoula Art Museum.