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 (1920 - 2005)
Constant was active/lived in Netherlands, England.  Constant is known for expressionist painting, sculptor, graphics, writing, architecture.


Biography from the Archives of askART

Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys, better known as Constant, was a Dutch painter, sculptor, graphic artist, author and musician. He was born in Amsterdam on 21 July 1920 as the first son of Pieter Nieuwenhuijs and Maria Cornelissen. Their second son Jan Nieuwenhuys was born a year later. Both sons became artists although their parents had no apparent interest in art.

As a young child Constant drew passionately and showed great talent. He read literature with a special preference for poetry and played musical instruments. During his teenage years he learned to sing and to read music while in the church choir at a Jesuit school. In his later years, greatly inspired by gypsy music, he only played improvised music. He played guitar, violin and at 45 years of age also mastered playing the cimbalon.

Constant painted his first oil painting, De Emmaüsgangers, at age sixteen. It depicted the revelation of Jesus to two of his followers in Emmaus. With no money to buy materials he painted this painting on a jute sugar bag with pigments he had bought from a house painter. Many of Constant’s early drawings and paintings are religiously inspired, due to his Jesuit schooling. Yet at the age of twenty Constant turned his back on Catholicism.

After one year studying at the Kunstnijverheidsschool (Arts and Crafts School), Constant attended the Rijksakademie voor Beeldende Kunst (State Academy of Fine Arts) from 1939 to 1941. This education in craftmanship was put to use especially during his "New Babylon" period, when Constant built many constructions and models.

Constant lived and worked in Bergen from 1941 to 1943. Through the Bergense School he was introduced to the work of Cézanne, which impacted him deeply, as evident in Zelfportret (Self Portrait), 1942.

The city of Bergen was evacuated by the Germans in 1943 and so Constant and his wife Matie van Domselaer, whom he married in July 1942, moved back to Amsterdam. During this period Constant went into hiding and refrained from registering at the 'Kulturkammer' (Nazi Chamber of Culture) to avoid the 'Arbeitseinsatz' (labour supply for the Germans). Because of this he was unable to conventionally exercise his craft or to buy art supplies. To paint Constant used tablecloths and bed linen and had to rinse them out to start again.

During the war Constant's brother in law, Jaap van Domselaer, moved into the apartment to hide from the 'Arbeitseinsatz.' He introduced Constant to Plato, Spinoza, Descartes, Kant, Hegel and Marx. Especially the latter provided great inspiration to Constant regarding his later ideas on art and society.

During the winter famine of 1944 Constant's first son, Victor Nieuwenhuys, was born. After the war, Constant, his wife and son moved back to Bergen only to return to Amsterdam in 1946 where they lived in an apartment across from Artis (a zoo). When the war ended Constant was able to expand and grow as an artist after years of captivity and limitations. He liberated himself artistically and experimented with multiple techniques of art-making. He was inspired by Cubism especially by Braque. In 1946 his daughter Martha was born, followed by his daughter Olga in 1948.

In 1946 Constant traveled to Paris for the first time where he met the young Danish painter Asger Jorn. The friendship between Jorn and Constant later formed the basis for CoBrA.* July 1948 Constant founded Reflex Experimentele Groep in Holland (nl) with Corneille, Karel Appel and his brother Jan Nieuwenhuys. The first edition of the magazine Reflex was published with a manifesto written by Constant. For Constant art had to be experimental. He had deducted this from the French word 'expérience' and believe that art springs from experience of the artist and is continuously changing.
This manifesto would become one of the most important texts on art in the Netherlands after WWII. In this manifesto he states that firstly the process of creation is more important to the experimental artist than the work itself. It is a means to reach spiritual and mental enrichment. Secondly the work of experimental artists is a mirror image of changes in the general perception of beauty.

Constant, Corneille and Appel, three totally different characters and artists, were united in their quest for innovation. They exhibited their work together and were often seen together in the European art scene. This was somewhat to the annoyance of other experimental artists in the Netherlands. The wanderlust of the three is especially notorious.

Later in the year 1948 on the terrace of café Notre Dame in Paris the Experimentele Groep in Holland linked up with Christian Dotremont and Joseph Noiret from Belgium and Asger Jorn from Denmark to form CoBrA, a name which was made by Dotremont, formed by the first letters of their hometowns: Copenhagen, Brussels and Amsterdam. The members opposed aesthetics in painting and bourgeois art in general.

Constant had already outlined their ideas in his manifesto in Reflex magazine. This manifesto holds another of his famous quotes: "A painting is not a structure of colours and lines, but an animal, a night, a cry, a man, or all of these together."

In 1952 Constant received a scholarship from the Arts Council of Great Britain to study in London for three months. There he met, amongst others, Henry Moore, Anthony Hill, Kenneth Martin, Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton and Victor Pasmore. He found the art climate in London very welcoming. As opposed to Paris, Constant felt that art was judged more objectively.

At that time Constant lived near Kensington Gardens and as he walked through the bombed city every day he started to wonder how people live and how cities should be built. His stay in London raised his awareness of how the constructions that surround us influence us. He felt that the constructions of his time were mostly practical, immensely dull and provided no room to develop playful and creative lifestyles.

Back in Amsterdam after his stay in London, Constant started to focus mainly on architecture and the urban environment. The focal point of his work was finding out what potential added value art can provide in intensifying daily life, in which there is room for creative expression. He abandoned painting to work solely on his New Babylon project from 1956 to 1974.

With New Babylon Constant envisioned a "world wide city for the future" where land is owned collectively, work is fully automated and the need to work replaced with a nomadic life of creative play. New Babylon is inhabited by homo ludens, who, freed from labor, will not have to make art, for he can be creative in the daily practice of his life.

After ten years of only working on New Babylon, Constant returned to painting, watercoloring and graphics in 1969. Till halfway through the 1970s the subjects of his imaginary world New Babylon still crowd his work.

In the tradition of the Venetian Renaissance painters, Titian and Tintoretto, Constant applies himself to the technique of colorism. Following this technique the artist doesn't make use of charcoal or pencil sketches but applies colour directly on the canvas with the paintbrush constructing soft transitions instead of sharp contours. In this period Constant produces a mere 3 to 4 painting per year.

In 1949 Constant decorated a garden wall in Tibirkelunde, Sjelland, Denmark. In 1963 The Gate of Constant was placed at the entry of a sports park in the west side of Amsterdam. Constant designed the 40 feet high concrete structure as a commission for the Municipality of Amsterdam. For almost three decades the structure adorned the entry in anonymity until Rita Doets, a former employee of the municipality, left money in her legacy to construct an information sign next to the gate. Apparently she had been impressed by the work and had always regretted the fact that so few people knew of its origins. Constant's widow, Trudy Nieuwenhuijs, was present at the inauguration. She was pleased that the structure was now once again connected to Constant.

In 1966 Constant designed a fountain for the Kooiplein in Leiden. For years the structure didn't function and slowly withered. When the square was redesigned in 1999, the fountain was repaired. New equipment made sure that the shoppers were not bothered by the water.

Constant died on 1 August 2005 and was survived by his son and his three daughters, and by his widow and her daughter.

"Constant," Wikipedia, Jan. 2017

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About  Constant

Born:  1920 - Amsterdam, Holland
Died:   2005
Known for:  expressionist painting, sculptor, graphics, writing, architecture