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Amsterdam - Utrecht

Amsterdam 1920, Utrecht 2005

Constant was born as constant Anton Nieuwenhuijs in Amsterdam on the 21st of July, 1920. He worked as a painter, lithographer, engraver, ceramist, draftsman and sculptor. At an early age, he showed interest in music and literature, but he preferred the visual arts. In Amsterdam he studied at the Applied Arts School (1939-1940) and the Royal Academy (1940-1942). In the beginning, his artistic development was mainly dominated by expressive landscapes under the influence of Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). Constant also experimented with a Cubistic language of forms, in which Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and Georges Braque (1882-1963) served as his role model. In 1946 he visited an exhibition in Paris of his new inspiration: the Spanish surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983). It is here that Constant got acquainted with Asger Jorn (1914-1973), through whom he would later come into contact with members of the prewar experimental Danish artists Høst (1942-1949). The Danish experimentalists felt that art had arrived at a dead end and had to become more innovative. To achieve this, the traditional art concepts had to be released. Jorn advised Constant to start a similar group in the Netherlands. When Constant got acquainted with Appel and Corneille in 1947 and 1948, he was able to set up a Dutch version of the Danish Experimental Group: the Experimental Group in Holland (1948). The magazine Reflex (1948-1949) was the focus of this group. For the first issue of the magazine, Constant wrote the famous manifesto of the then yet to be established CoBrA movement. Later in 1948, he went to Paris with Karel Appel. This was the moment where the Experimental Group in Holland would become CoBrA (1948-1951), which is a group of artists who foregrounded experimentation in art as significant. Within CoBrA Constant, along with the Belgian Christian Dotremont (1922-1979) and the Dane Jorn, fulfilled the role of theorist. He wrote various manifestos and articles on a new and better society with no limits on artistic freedom and creativity. He also dwelt on issues about the nature of contemporary art and the social role of the artist. During his CoBrA period, Constant was just like Appel, mainly influenced by children’s drawings. He was in search of liberty through creativity: spontaneity was during the working process was of crucial importance. In the 50’s this resulted in colorful performances with motile, loose lines and fantasy figures. Constant enjoyed experimenting with shapes and colors, with the result that viewers experienced his performances as very lively and spontaneous. Recurring symbols in Constant’s work are the wheel motives and birds. In the 60’s Constant posited his revolutionary ideas about a new society with his project named New Babylon (1959-1964), a utopian vision of a world in which humans is free to play and create. With this project, he discovered a connection with L’Internationale Situationniste (IS) (1957-1969), an international avant-garde movement from which Jorn was also a part of. After the project New Babylon, Constant returns to painting again, but even in his later works, the common thread remains civic engagement and innovation. In the 70’s he painted more from his imaginative perspective and less from a direct nature-based perspective. Because of this, symbols and a storytelling characters strike up. Up until this day, Constant’s artworks have been internationally spread over many museums and private collections, such as the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Tate Modern in London, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in California and the MACBA in Barcelona.

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