Constant (Constant A. Nieuwenhuys) 1920-2005

Artist biography

Dutch painter, printmaker and writer. His work was initially conventional in style and included religious subjects. From 1941, however, he became deeply interested in the work of Cézanne, Cubism and German Expressionism, all of which he learnt of through books. During this period he also developed theories concerning art and society, inspired by Marxism.

In Paris in autumn 1946 Constant met Asger Jorn. He found confirmation for his ideas in Jorn's work, which was more advanced in its development. As a result fantastic animals appeared in his work from 1946. In November these three artists were the co-founders, in Paris, of the Cobra movement. Constant set forth his ideas in a manifesto, published in the first issue of the periodical Reflex (1948).

Constant's primitivistic work of the Cobra period (1948–51) was based primarily on children's drawings. After 1952 Constant's priority was no longer painting and he evolved ideas about a playful living environment for the future. The forms that he used in his work in this period – a few paintings and metal sculptures – are geometric and delineated in flat planes of colour.

By this time Constant had resumed painting; for some time his work was devoted to frequently disturbing visions of life in the future. The extreme contradictions that the viewer confronts in Constant's work were explained by the painter in Marxist terms as an expression of the dialectic contrast that supposedly governs all life.

C. Dotremont: Constant, Bibliothèque de Cobra (Copenhagen, 1950) [Dan. and Fr.]
Constant, Amsterdam (exh. cat., Bochum, Mus. Kstsamml., 1961)
Constant: New Babylon, imaginäre Stadtlandschaften (exh. cat., Krefeld, Mus. Haus Lange, 1964)
Constant (exh. cat., The Hague, Gemeentemus., 1965)
H. van Haaren: Constant (Amsterdam, 1967)
Constant, von Cobra bis New Babylon (exh. cat., Munich, Gal. Heseler, 1967)
C. Lakerveld: ‘Constant', Künstler, Theorie, Werk (Keulen, 1971)
F. de Vree: Constant (Schelderode, 1972)
F. Kelk: Constant, een illustratie van vrijheid [Constant, an illustration of freedom] (Amsterdam, 1974) [pubd on the occasion of Constant's award of the David Röell Prize and used as a cat. for the drgs exh. at Amsterdam, Stedel. Mus.]
Constant, schilderijen, 1969–1977 (exh. cat., Amsterdam, Stedel. Mus., 1978)
Constant, schilderijen, 1940–1980 (exh. cat., intro. J. L. Locher; The Hague, Gemeentemus., 1980)
Constant, 1945–1983 (exh. cat., intro. K. Honnef; Bonn, Rhein. Landesmus., 1986)
W. Stokvis: Cobra: An International Movement in Art after the Second World War (Barcelona, 1987) [contains complete manifesto]


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