PHOTOGRAPHY & TEXT HANS FONK

The renowned Dutch artist, Karel Appel, once described him in the following winged words: “Ger Lataster is the master”. Lataster (1920-2012) built up an oeuvre that can be found in the collections of leading museums throughout the world. Recently his old atelier in Amsterdam was restored in keeping with present-day requirements and today partially serves as exhibition space.

His work features in important collections in countries far beyond his homeland. Prominent Dutch museums like the Stedelijk in Amsterdam show his work, but it can also be admired in the Guggenheim and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Museum of the 20th Century in Vienna and the Kunsthaus in Zurich. International banks have purchased his work for their collections and the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Heritage (Instituut Collectie Nederland) possesses no fewer than 37 of the master’s works.

In 2012 Lataster’s work has been prominent at Art Basel- Miami, presented under the auspices of Paul Akkermans/artitudes.com. And a major exhibition is also being held in La Soledad Parkway (designed by Le Corbusier) in Bogota, Colombia.

From the nineteen-eighties onwards Ger Lataster worked in a simple atelier in the ‘Westelijk Havengebied’ or West Port Area of Amsterdam. He would be there from early morning until late in the evening, busy doing what he described as his life: painting. Recently the atelier was renovated by artist and collector, Geert Wumkes, in collaboration with Lataster’s two sons, Daniel and Peter, who administer his oeuvre. The rugged simplicity of the atelier is consistent with his work. There, he created invariably large paintings which are notable for their dynamism and colour, and all recalling his motto ‘Painting is my life’.

From the start of his artistic career Ger Lataster was to go his own individual way. It was a quest which resulted in expressivity accompanied by tremendous verve: his own version of spontaneous expressivity based on great restraint. Although he lived during the heyday of Cobra, with Jorn, Appel and Alechinsky as its icons, it was only the painting method of Appel and Jorn that appealed to him. In one of the books dedicated to his work, it is said: “Lataster combines the use of an abstract-expressionist technique, which would only seem to obey the material with subjects derived from the objective world. That unmanageable relation constitutes his unique strength. He brings out the drama of society and nature in his themes and elaborates on it.” Painting is his life – a constant tensionality between illusion and reality, technique and topic. As Rudi Fuchs described his art: “A militant attitude to reality.”

Not only does his creative struggle with his material play an important part, but the size of the canvases is also crucial: in the course of time, it increased. Although he is an artist of his times, Ger Lataster cannot be ‘pigeonholed’. His work is Lataster. It makes no difference whether it is the ceiling painting at the Mauritshuis of Icarus hurtling earthwards, or the Last Judgment in the courthouse of the Dutch town of Arnhem. It is, in fact, remarkable that he was asked to paint the ceiling at the Mauritshuis – it is a picture gallery in The Hague with primarily paintings from the Golden Age alongside 18th-century masterpieces. It is a relatively small, privatised museum with a world-renowned collection of altogether 800 paintings. The building beside the Hofvijver pond is the property of the State and is one of the top 100 UNESCO world heritage sites in the Netherlands. The fact that Lataster’s Icarus should feature there is remarkable, to say the least – and is a tribute to his explosive creativity.