Herman Makkink: Syntax

frescos in dust
summer refectory
Plasy Monastery 1993

"Second definition of syntax: That branch of logic which studies the various kinds of signs that occur in a system and the possible arrangement of those signs, of which complete abstractions are made."

Herman Makkink, 1993

Herman Makkink was a Dutch sculptor, graphic artist and illustrator. Born in the Netherlands, October 1937, died in Suffolk UK, October 2013. Makkink became interested in art in 1961 when he was living in Japan. Later, in southern California, having seen the art boxes of Joseph Cornell, he began to assemble pieces of scrap iron that had fallen off the freight cars he was shunting for Pacific Electric Railway. That was in 1965. He gives an account of these early years of travel and his evolution as an artist in his graphic memoir THE SHORTEST WAY HOME. He settled in London in 1966, where he first met up with the writer Julia Blackburn. He learned basic sculpture technique while working as technical assistant in the 3D Department of the London College of Printing. Together with his brother, the painter Cornelis Makkink (1940-1993), he acquired a studio at St. Catherine’s Docks from SPACE, an organisation headed by the artists Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgeley. It was there that Stanley Kubrick saw his work and bought two pieces which were used in A Clockwork Orange. Through SPACE, Makkink took part in several group shows and from 1971 he had a one-man exhibition at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Returning to Amsterdam in 1972, Makkink began constructing boxes in which dramatic human events had just happened or were about to happen. In 1978, he had his first Dutch solo exhibition at Galerie Balans in Amsterdam and later at the Wetering gallery, where he had bi-annual shows for the next twenty-five years. By 1980, he had moved from boxes to free-standing sculptural work, often based on the wild landscapes and desert ruins he had seen on his travels. He also produced an increasing number of drawings, often with images of disintegration and chaos. His daughter, the photographer Fiona Makkink, was born in 1983. From 1980 until 2000, he taught 3D Art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam and during this period was commissioned to produce some twenty large works in public spaces at various locations in the Netherlands. In 1995, Makkink bought a ruin in the mountains of Liguria in Italy, with the idea of retiring there. In 1999, he and Julia Blackburn were reunited and married and so he divided his time between Suffolk, Liguria and Amsterdam. He produced his last public space work for the Westerpaark in Amsterdam in 2003. After a serious bout of cancer in 2004, he stopped making sculpture and concentrated on drawings. The focus of his work had by then come full circle and he was once again fascinated by the juxtaposition of disparate images that imply a secret link. 

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