Born in The Hague, Netherlands, Marion Kunstenaar grew up surrounded by the love of art and music. Her passion, interests, and career as an artist and humanitarian can’t be boxed into one category. While in her artistic process she explored the versatility of watercolor and, later acrylics and shifted towards abstraction, Marion spread her vitality wherever she activated. Since meeting the renowned painter Derek Stein, she became his student and friend and never stopped painting. In memory of her late husband Elie, who passed away in 1999, Marion founded an organization to feed malnourished Jewish and Arab children in and around Jerusalem, called YAD ELIE. The profit of sold paintings goes to this organization. To this day, music remains her great love, playing the piano, participating in a wonderful choir, performing concerts around the country, mostly she feels extremely blessed with her three daughters and her three grandchildren.
To learn more about her fascinating story as an artist and humanitarian, we recently sat
with Marion for an interview.
You and your family survived the Second World War and yet, you were deeply exposed to art in such difficult times; how did this affect your artistic persona?
Of course, surviving World War 2 and being exposed to art are two different stories, although not necessarily always contradictory. My mother had the most beautiful voice, she loved opera and operetta and I adored it when she sang special songs for me! My father had an antique Persian carpets business. I grew up between the piles of those beautiful pieces of art, all handcrafted, all works of art in their own way. After being evacuated to Amsterdam in the third year of World War 2, I discovered, at a friend’s house, this impressive instrument, a real Grand Piano! I fell in love immediately and it became the love of my life! I knew that’s what I wanted and so my father took me to music school for my first piano lessons. Sadly, it didn’t last longer than a month or so, as we had to flee to a safer place. Of course, that was the end of my introduction to art, or rather the possibility of loving art. The rest was about surviving. After the war had ended, as soon as it was possible, my father bought an old piano and found me a teacher. Slowly back to normal life, art became an intrinsic part of my life. Attending the concerts of Leonard Bernstein, Isaac Stern, Stefan Askenase and many others, discovering musea, traveling to Paris to see the Louvre, to go to l’Opera de Paris (La Traviata!) and for ballet shows to see Serge Lifar, later Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, and others. In short, it was a life centered around art and beauty! Maybe an answer to the earlier years of anxiety and loss.
I could never thank my parents enough for having me fed with art and beauty!
You have dedicated a great amount of your life’s purpose to humanitarian work and the community; would you say that the life experiences you’ve had resulted in such a path?
I suppose that goes without saying. A human being is formed by many different elements and the experiences, happy or traumatic, shape that person. Moreover, I have been deeply involved in studying and teaching Jewish tradition in its many different aspects and it has surely inspired and influenced me!
Is there a fulfilling and gratifying experience you’ve had as a humanitarian, that stands out in your heart?
There are so many stories and experiences! I remember the kids preparing vegetables in the school kitchen, after harvesting what they planted themselves in their school garden, these proud faces! A little boy, after eating for the first time a proper meal together with his pals, running into school the next day, radiant and asking “When do we eat.?”.
Has your humanitarian work affected your art in any way?
Difficult to say! I am with all my heart and soul in whatever I do. And my passion to transmit love and joy to those around me, hopefully, resounds in my paintings! Maybe that’s for others to see?
Has your artistic method and style changed over time? If so, why?
Yes, it has changed quite a lot! From watercolor, little flower paintings, all kinds of still lives, let’s say sweet and gentle stuff to abstract works, much bigger strong, vivid, sometimes ‘wild’ paintings, all in acrylic. Discovering the possibilities of this material, discovering my own possibilities, the freedom, being liberated from the ‘should’ and the ‘must’, finding the courage to jump, to explore the unknown, allowing the colors, the brush strokes to find their own way, just to happen. My way of being in search of my own language!
You have founded an organization in your late husband’s memory to feed mal-nourished Jewish and Arab children; what inspired you to make such a decision?
Being confronted with the problem of malnutrition, I felt something should be done. I spoke with some friends and we started the organization without any long deliberations or questioning, just with the courage to jump! Beginning with one check for one child, we have succeeded to provide far over a million meals! Of course, my experience of the Dutch hunger winter of ‘44/’45 in World War 2, lays at the basis of this work. And knowing that even in our time so many children are suffering and even dying from hunger, it drives me mad!
Did you have to overcome any obstacles while following your path as an artist?
Luckily, no. As an artist, I only was constantly confronted with the lack of time and a proper studio, but I’m convinced that where there’s a passion, there’s a solution!
Did you ever consider becoming a full-time artist? If so, what stopped you from it?
“Full-time artist” sounds like a title or a doctorate. I never had enough time, and I surely never thought of my painting or my art in such a way! But from the scribbling in my school books until the present days, I’m painting whenever and wherever, as much as I can. And by the way, my age doesn’t really let me consider the concept of “becoming”.
Are you inspired/influenced by any specific artwork trends?
I am inspired by so many artists, rather than by trends! A German painter, Marlis Glaser inspired me to switch to abstraction. I also love and am impressed with the works of the Russian-Israeli Lea Nikel and the German-Israeli Steffa Weis, but being Dutch, I’ve always had a deep admiration for Vermeer – my first visit to New York is to the Frick Collection ‘to be with’ Vermeer! – Rembrandt, Van Gogh, and so many more. After all, those are in my genes!
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What does your art aim to say? Are there any socio-political messages conveyed? What do you wish to communicate?
If I would wish to communicate something at all, maybe just, however ‘soft’ it may sound, is for people to be themselves, genuine, authentic. Find your own possibilities, accept them, learn to develop and to love them. Sadly there is so much pain and suffering in our tormented world, but even so, be aware of all the beauty in and around you, love it, spread it, it’s all we can do! Just don’t be afraid to JUMP and to love life!