Themes of transition, like diaspora and identity, define the semi-abstract works of Dutch artist and sculptor, Yetty Elzas. Her highly intuitive and anecdotal bronze sculptures seek to depict the sentiments of journey and exploring the unknown. They reflect on or question the fate of these people, whether the survivors of war or those undergoing an introspective struggle, and how their journey will ultimately end.
Elzas considers sculpture a narrational form of art. Every work created by her is inspired by a different experience and has its own story to tell. As she explains, “My sculptures are like enactments of what I see around me, sometimes happy, sometimes sad, but always understandable even when experimenting with the limits of three-dimensional creation.” The artist acts as a spectator observing the scenes around her and translating them into three-dimensional silhouettes that are both elegant and replete with meaning.
We spoke to her to know more about her artistic journey and how her life experiences have molded her art.
You sometimes mention being a child of WW2 and the impact it had on you. Without a doubt, those memories and experiences helped shape the person you are today. Could you talk a little bit about the Memorial Levenspoort Wageningen* and how designing and seeing it come to life changed your outlook?
When asked to create the Memorial, my first thought was that it should not express negative feelings and clearly show hope for the future. The gate, through which the group advances, is a kind of Gate of Life. Those who stand at the back of the gate, unfortunately, did not make it through the war. Those who come out at the front survived and are determined to start a new, better, life in which there is no room for atrocities. Realizing what the commission entailed, looking into my own past and the nature of other memorials, made me feel a touch of what all those victims went through, how fickle the human nature is and the need for a more positive attitude in our society.
Located opposite the spot where a synagogue once stood, this memorial was designed and created by Yetty Elzas in 2000.
Some of your more current work seems to preserve the memorial theme. For example, in the Gare du Nord, Exodus I, and The Jewish Bride, people are passing from one period of their lives into another. Could you tell us a little bit about that?
That is not the way I think or feel about these works. Of course, Exodus is an exception to this statement, having been made in the period commented on in my answer to your first question. Gare du Nord shows how people that hurry along in daily life, suddenly come to a pensive standstill while waiting for the things to come (e.g. a train, a travel companion …)
The Jewish Bride depicts the warmth and poetical nature of the traditional Jewish marriage. Somewhat inspired by Rembrandt’s painting with that title and my own experience of a number of such marriages.
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Why is there a recurring theme of diaspora in your sculptures? Have you had a personal experience?
This theme has only been present since the eighties. In the nineteen eighties and nineties, an unprecedented influx of fugitives into Western Europe took place due to the advent of internecine wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Sudan, Ruanda, Burundi, Congo, etc. It made my generation remember the miserable fate of the countless fugitives during, and immediately after, the 2 last world wars. Indelible memories, empathy, and strong emotions had a profound influence on my work in that period.
Could you describe your artistic journey and methods in a few words?
My artistic life was born during my stay in Berkeley in the fifties. I took courses in visual arts and art appreciation with Professor Benes. I instantly became captivated by the possibility of creating new objects with your own hands and expressing your feelings this way.
In the beginning, it was also a way to get rid of some frustrations caused by daily life. Eventually, I found my own style and technique.
The first step of creating my sculptures is kneading wax into the shapes that I ‘feel’ and are in my mind at that moment. Following the process of making a cast, I produce the piece in bronze. I also make use of compacted concrete, stone, and wood, sometimes. The endless, subtle possibilities of these materials make the shapes that I have in my mind flow through my fingers. The process of hacking in stone or wood is much slower and more cumbersome and a reproduction of the piece is also impossible. Even then, I use these means to make unique sculptures where the shape is, for a considerable part, naturally dictated by the material in which I work.
What moves and inspires you today? Should we expect a different theme?
A short time after the Monument was inaugurated, we moved to the center of town from our former location in the middle of the woods. This change was an eye-opener: suddenly I did not work in isolation anymore, but became ‘part of the crowd’ and came to the conclusion that sculptures can be used to tell a story understandable by all without losing its artistic value. Taking this idea a step further I even found that a literary form could be replicated in sculptures: the aphorism.
Although I increasingly have problems with my hands, and now prefer painting, this will stay the mainline of any sculpting that I may undertake.
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