I remember that I was very young when my parents first took me to a Dutch castle, where I admired the weapons collection. I was very impressed. Even more so when my mother told me that, in the old days, people actually wore the armors displayed. My father had a printing company and he specialized in printing music books. My mother loved art and, in fact, in the 1930s she had been a student of the Dutch sculptor Haverman. My mother might be responsible for my great interest in art and weapons. Next to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam is an old swimming pool. After my swimming lessons we often went to the museum to look at the armors and swords. I must have been seven or eight years old.
Sometimes I also visited antique shops. This was where I first saw Japanese swords. I was so fascinated by all this fantastic metalwork that I started saving money, to buy something for myself one day. I was completely taken by antique weapons and, by the time I was nine, I bought my first knives and sabers. They were pretty cheap, back then, about fifteen guilders apiece. A beautiful Katana cost sixty guilders, at the most. Knives, swords, armors and knights, that was my whole life back then.
A little while later, in 1959 or 1960, I went with my parents on Easter-holiday to Denmark. I was ten years old. We went there to visit my family, who I had never met before. I found out there that my uncle was a village blacksmith with a fantastic smithy. At that time, I already made most of my toys, myself. I nearly freaked out when I realized what a great opportunity this was to make my own swords and knives. My dream world was even more complete because of the fact that my uncle Georg even looked like a Viking. He was a hero to me. He taught me how to light the fire and how to handle the welding equipment. My mother found it dangerous; my father was not worried. He was happy that the almost forgotten family ties were re-established again. It was paradise for me. I worked day in day out, hammering, welding and grinding. I still have some of the things I made, like the guillotine and the letter-opener.
The first guillotines I made have a special story attached to them. One night during our stay in Denmark, I saw a movie about the French revolution. I think it starred Errol Flynn, and of course the guillotine. I was so impressed with this device that I spent the next days fabricating steel guillotine models which actually worked. I took three of them back to Amsterdam. One I gave to my nephew, the other one to a friend from school. I got both of them back within a couple of days. Their parents forbade them to see me any more. I still have one of the guillotines. What happened to the others I dont know. (See photo)
The guillotine came back into my life many years later, in 1995, when I visited my friend H.R. Giger in Switzerland. We have known each other for many years and our styles and ideas are very different. For some reason, which neither one of us understand, some people do not see this. They are simplemindedly fixated on only one thing: Horror, a genre they seem to associate both of us with. At the time, Giger was working on concept sketches for a small budget German film called "The Killer Condom", for which he had designed a guillotine called the "St. Gallen Necktie". It is strapped to the body, has a steel band around the neck with sidebars down to the groin area where a metal ring grips the penis. He commissioned me to fabricate it following his drawing. I worked on it back home in Amsterdam and we stayed in communication with faxes. In spite of his detailed sketches, it was impossible for me to keep 100 percent to Giger's strict design schematic and, eventually, a bit of my own style found its way into it. After all, we are two different artists. My guillotine, "Hoopla I" as Giger named it, has a razor-sharp spring activated blade that comes down in less then a tenth of a second. It has an antique looking side trigger of partly blue steel and the axe is made of high carbon steel. I don't think Giger was very happy with the overall antique look of my guillotine. Out of fear of the strict delivery schedule for the film project, as a protection, Giger had also hired somebody else to work on a second model, at the same time. "Hoopla II" turned out closer to his own style and made it into the finished film for exactly three seconds. As it often happens in the film business, the movie was awful and was released directly on video with none of Giger's other excellent designs in it.
In school I quickly earned the reputation of having a weapons-shop and was accused of possessing sadistic devices such as guillotines! My room was full of swords, shields, helmets and other weaponry. Very convenient was another uncle, who was a property man for up in my collection. My father didn't care too much one way or another, to him the only thing that was important was that I would take over his business when I was old enough. My mother, however, liked the fact that I was involved with art.
In the beginning of the Sixties, at age 13 or 14, in high school, my interests changed. With adolescence, the Beatles, Stones and girls became slightly more important than art. I went through the Sixties pretty calmly. Every once in a while, when I passed a smithy and smelled the burning coal, I got a nostalgic feeling. Unfortunately, nowadays there are no smithies left in Amsterdam. After a failing school career, and having disappointed my father because I didn't want to take over his business, I spent six months with friends in Sweden. When I came back, my old attic room at my parents' house was still available. In spite of the quarrels with my father I stayed and found myself a job as an assistant window dresser. My father still wanted me to come and work for him, which I failed at even after making several serious attempts. Somehow I could't ever make it clear to him that I wanted something else. I understood his good intentions but I felt I had to go my own way. The only thing I wanted was to make and sell my own work.
In this time I met an older Lady who was a Silversmith, Helena Rubens, also known ase Leo van Rijn. She taught me the first steps in working with silver.
I started a tiny shop in the antique-center of Amsterdam on the Spiegelstraat. Very soon I came in touch with antique weapons again. I became especially interested in Japanese weapons and started collecting and trading them. In 1985 I made a knife that was meant for a movie, Celtic Dreams, that was, unfortunately, never made. It had to be a real Barbarian dagger with tribal patterns. I made a dagger out of soft steel with a cutting line out of hard steel. I had lain in the cutting line later to approach the Japanese technique. It failed completely. That is why I later made a blade with a spiral motive etched into it. Afterwards, I attached the grip with the hair. The Japanese technique has always fascinated me. Not the shape, I want to decide that myself. The design is always in my own style. Between 1985 and 1992 I made only three daggers, mostly out of steel from a truck, and decorated them with silver.
In the end of 1992 I bought a piece of Damascus steel. It cost me too much, nine hundred guilders, but I had neither the experience or the space to make it myself. I made two large daggers out of this piece, the Lord of the Rings inspired Morgul Dagger, and the Inca Mummy dagger. The sheaths were made later in 1995. After having shaped and polished these blades I tried to create a hardening-line (hamon), which failed every time. There was not enough Carbonite in the steel for it to harden properly. The Damascus I make now is folded between seven and fourteen times.
At the end of 1995 I started making a lot of daggers. It is actually quite logical that daggers and swords are associated with legends and magical powers. The profession of a swordsmith has, through the centuries, always been very specialized and respected. It is not to be compared with a "simple" blacksmith. The profession has always been somewhat mysterious. In some countries swordsmiths were considered to be a kind of priests. There was even a Japanese emperor, Go Toba, who was a swordsmith. In Indonesia the smiths who made the krisses were also considered priests. In fact, nowadays near perfect krisses are still made, often more beautiful than the old ones.
With jewelry it all went differently. I read J. R. Tolkien's, The Lord of the Rings in 1968 and was so inspired by it that I made jewelry based on it until well into the Seventies. Now and then it still comes back, mostly in my sculptures. These stories have made such an impression on me that they have changed my whole artistic life. The white side of it was appealing, but the dark side too. Until today, my work has shifted between these two sides. During the course of time however, Tolkien's influence on my work has become less dramatic.
A big shock to me was when I first became aware of H.R. Giger - who I first met in "What are you doing here?" Our work had many things in common and had a similar feel to it, without us ever having known of each other's existence. At that time, I did not know that he had become very famous with the film "Alien". Sometimes people still compare our work, but to those who pay closer attention and know about art, the differences will be obvious. Unfortunately, till this day, I often have to hear "That looks like the work of Giger". In any case, Giger and I have been very good friends for a long time and we realize that there is a world of difference between his views and mine. There are others, not only Giger, especially in the music and film world, who I consider true "Gothic Artists". There are not many, but the few who do exist are very committed to their work, just as I am.
In the beginning of the Eighties there were quite a lot of unoccupied shops in Amsterdam. Because the owners of these shops were afraid that they would be taken by the many squatters of that era, many times, they put "anti-squatters" in there, mostly artists, who used the shops as exhibition space. Sometimes, the shops were sold and then the artist would be offered a different but similar space. This whole process would be managed by small agencies that would charge only the absolute minimum in rent. This, of course, came with the condition that we would have to move on a very short notice when it became necessary.
In those days we had a lively community of artists moving from building to building, like a tribe of nomads. That is how I first got the idea for the name, Tribe Gallery. Not only did I instantly like it but, very soon after, there were four other different locations in the city that also called themselves by the same name and exchanged art with each other. This was just how I had envisioned it. After having had the first Tribe Gallery on the "Overtoom" in Amsterdam for three years, I was told that I had to move. This came as no big shock and, by that time, I had already started working on getting another place I knew and liked, in the center of Amsterdam on the Grimburgwal. After a year I could finally make the transition. Sadly, none of the other Tribe Galleries still exist, except for my shop at Grimburgwal 4. I still use this name as a legacy of those times.
The Tribe Gallery has now been open for 14 years on the Grimburgwal and I guess it has won itself quite a reputation. Perhaps because of its location in the center of Amsterdam, it has attracted many international musicians and actors, such as Richard O'Brien, Dennis Hopper, Gwar, Chris Stein, Jonathan Davis, to name just a few. I am often surprised by all of this attention. On the other hand, in all due modesty, I have worked very hard for many years to build my reputation and reat collection of artworks.