claire begheyn

"The continuous changing process of my work only knows a beginning. The rest is thinking, criticising, changing and finally choosing the image. " – Claire Begheyn

artist statement

Archaeologists, working in southeastern Spain, recently reported that they have found signs that Neanderthals were using seashells in a decorative and symbolic way. So it seems that employing seashells in art is not an original idea. But as an artist, I bring things up to date and by doing so I bring the mysteries of the seas bottom up to the surface. 

Shells have a ground in childhood. To be on the beach and see and find all the treasures is a feeling that does not leave us as adults. Who does not have (memories of) shells? Who does not have (had) shells? 

When I was a child we went on vacation to the Dutch South West coast. There were big piers with huge basalt blocks. In between these blocks were little square openings and the sea made little lakes of them. I loved to sit on my feet with bended knees to look for the treasures the water was hiding. And I found little shells that I took to our vacation home. Being there with my treasures the deception began: when the shells dried the colors were almost gone! In the Netherlands not many shaped and decorated shells are found on the beach. So color was my main reason to collect them I suppose. I found a way to make these shells more beautiful and glued little glass beads on them. I always had a lot of patience to do this kind of work. It took forever and I loved doing it. Maybe I am trying to retrieve lost innocence and a feeling of my nostalgia for my early years! 

The first shell piece I made as an adult, many years later, was in 2007. How come is untraceable but I had been working with the content to fuse the manmade with nature. In 2000 I had a show in the new Museum of Natural History, Naturalis (to show and prove the immeasurable inspiration of nature on artists), in Leiden and the first pieces with this content were on display there. I used baroque pieces of furniture and animal type additions. 

I do come from a long European history regarding decoration, Baroque and Rococo elements and living in the centre of Amsterdam confronts me daily with this unique heritage. In my parent’s home a lot of paintings, sculptures and objects were hanging and standing. Not my taste and I did not like it, yet the unconscious influence had a bigger impact than I ever could imagine. 

Katharine Park: ’Grottoes and Wunderkammern were prime sites for artificial nature: Palissy planned a grotto encrusted with casts of shells and reptiles for the Tuileries. Descartes’ physiology may have been inspired by the automata in the Grotto of Perseus at Saint-Germain-en Laye. The technique of casting snakes, frogs, lizards, and shells in bronze spread from Padua to Nuremberg to Paris in the early sixteenth century. Palissy used casts in ceramic and enamel, shells and animals, to decorate gardens and ornamental platters’. One of my wishes is at one point to use the shell as an on it’s own standing medium in a complete room and cover all walls and maybe the ceiling. But maybe it is wise to first make a ‘cabinet of wonders’ on a smaller scale! Although all my shell pieces are ‘cabinets of wonders’ or ‘kunst und wunderkammer’ on its own! 

Shells have been used in painting a lot too. I live around the corner of Museum Rembrandt’s house. And they reconstructed part of his studio where he kept his ‘curiosa’. At those times we could travel over the sea and bring treasures back we had never seen before. On the shelves of Rembrandt ‘treasures’ are a lot of shells. Also there are numerous paintings by many different artists on which shells can be found. Often they are part of a still life. Each of my works is a still life on its own. It is a microcosm of what is found on the bottom of the sea or on the beach. The frame embeds the curiosities nature composed. 

Shells served as a source of inspiration for art, literature and architecture (Guggenheim?) and are even used as objects of value, to indicate status (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam has a few), and as money. We built an unbreakable band with seashells which influenced many aspects of our culture. Museums are having huge collections and we encounter shells in art, architecture, religion and as food. We bear them, collect them, traded with them and use them as decoration upon our bodies and in our houses. 

Symbolic meanings of shells: Greek mythology: attribute of Venus. Wagon of the god Neptunus, seanimph Galaea and sometimes of Fortuna. Christianity: attribute of the Virgin Mary. Attribute of the pilgrims. Sometimes in the hands of Joan the Baptist when he is baptizing Christ. Also used in Catholic churches to carry the water when you enter the church, to make a cross with. 

The largest shells found today are the giant clams, Tridacna gigas, of the western Pacific-up to four feet in length. The large fossil Nautili are believed to be about 360,000,000 years old. 

Nature, plants, animals and shells especially, provides the inspiration for Claire Begheyn, resulting in works that comment on the ways in which contemporary Western society transforms plants, animals and shells, into ornamentation. With her floral, animal and shell works Begheyn wryly explores the boundary between our dependency on land and sea animals for our survival and plants as food for animals and human beings. In the baroque pieces of furniture Begheyn freely uses, combined with the bodies out of nature, the appreciation for and exploitation of natural forms come together and get a relationship with the human body. Source unknown. 

Making of the work. The shell pieces do have their origin in the manmade. The frames are made of beautifully carved pieces of wood; shells are having an only decorative function next to leaves, grapes and other decorative elements. Actually the furniture comes from ‘Kitch’ pieces of furniture: couches and chairs. In the smaller pieces frames that are what they are, with baroque elements, are used. F.e. mirror frames, picture frames and so on. I took the couches and chairs apart and assembled them in new ways. Sandblasting has stripped off all paint. At that point I am totally black about the content and color of the piece in the near future. The first idea how to start the piece will be shells. They have to be able to make a connection to the frame regarding seize, shape and color. I arrange them and the beginning is there. In total concentration I build the piece on and on until I am satisfied about the complexity, total composition, color and so on. In the last phase I paint the frame and often glue goldleaf on it to give it a beautiful lustre. 

Nature is unbelievably impressive. Every shell is a piece of sculpture on its own. Looking at all the piles of shells I possess I am wondering all the time about the infinite variety of shapes, colors and seizes and about their history. The thought that a small weak animal made these houses is a true miracle to me. The resulting wall hanging objects after choosing the shells is amazing looking at the variety and complexity of forms and nuances of colors in the shells. My compositions are as organic as is the material. Beauty in art is very questionable if one uses it as a starting point. I strongly believe in this quality. I want to make the world more beautiful. This is a metaphor for all the suffering and cruelty. The complexity of the totals overcomes the ‘being only beautiful’. Beauty is not just there: it is created with a lot of effort. The works invite the viewer to connect to what is seen. It takes time to become one with what invites you to look at. The effect is hopefully that the viewer thinks about what is there, what is the invitation? Where is this work about? It will be an interesting analysis to read or hear by other persons than the maker. I am curious. We always wanted to create beauty. We started 30 – 40.000 years ago to treat, craft and use shells. Cut and treated shells are discovered in different early cultures in the USA, Africa and Europe. Also in ceramic art of many early American cultures, like the Aztecs and inhabitants of the early Peru. Almost nobody stays untouched by looking at the beauty of shells. The enchantment touches us deeply. 

Shell Shapes and Patterns.:
From: What shape is a Snowflake? Weidenfeld & Nicholson. The growth is only at the border of the shell. When a pattern is formed it does not change anymore. In every phase of the process a new layer of shell is added to the existing one. This means that the pattern is a graphic in time and space of the chemical dynamics of the pigments that are resided. The shell grows because the inhabitant resides minerals which are deleted from its outer ‘coat’. The patterns are varied but can be divided into some basic types. F.e.: stripes, dots, waving stripes and semi-rhythmical patterns with triangles and zigzag-lines. With simple mathematical recipes we can construct shells in three dimensions. Nature must play similar games! 

Shells and Art:
From: Shells. Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d’Argenville. Taschen. Shells have always been considered ‘artifices of nature’ and therefore a tangible reflection of the wonder and perfection of Creation. George Perry, in his introduction to the Natural History of Shells, reflected on how these objects with their astoundingly complex architecture based on a logarithmic spiral; invite the viewer to contemplate divine excellence. In Christian tradition, the shell that produces a pearl without the need for male insemination became a symbol of the virginity of the Madonna. 

Decorative aspects. First we ornamented ourselves with shells. These days I decorate spaces with sculptures made with shells. By their bizarre shape, incredible colors and beautiful drawings on them shells are one of the most attractive creatures of nature. Not only are they beautiful; to hold them and look at them and feel the ‘holding’ aspect of one of them is a very especial feeling. In nature all the aspects we consider as decorative have a function. We can look at it as decoration but pure function is what it is about. We use natural shapes as decoration and make it into a use for our homes and environment. F.e. on the wooden frames I make you can see many beautiful leaves, shells, grapes and other decorative elements. So nature is brought back on the wood, which is nature itself, and we are enjoying this (recycling) thought by buying these items. From: The sense of order. E.H.Gombrich: There is no tribe or culture which lacks a tradition of ornamentation. Only the 20th century has witnessed the final elevation of pattern-making into the autonomous activity of ‘abstract art’. From: The Mediation of Ornament: Decoration: anything applied to a structure or an object that is not necessary to the stability, use, or understanding of that structure or object. Ornament: any decoration that has no referent outside of the object on which it is found, except in technical manuals. 

House of Animal: 
At Cranbrook Art Academy (MI) I studied architecture as a minor for two years (the second one Daniel Libeskind was the teacher). I studied spaces we erect around us to protect ourselves, seizes, scale, light etc.. (this research resulted in commissions for public buildings when I went back to the Netherlands after graduation). We need air so we have a lot of space around our physical bodies and windows and doors to be opened and closed. But the creatures that live in these shells are one with their house in the water. They increase it when they grow and need more space. Or they have one opening to go out and in from or there is a muscle which can open their house. The work is very much about the vulnerability of the soft animals protected by hard shells they make themselves to protect themselves. The houses of the sea animals are also a metaphor for us and the protection our house gives to our vulnerability and doing so us as human beings. Protected by it yet there are always many dangers: nature: water, wind, fire, earthquakes and people who can steal or betray you. The manmade structures around the shells protect these ultimate breakable shapes and forms. The shells are bound together as a huge shield against danger. They will never be alone anymore! 

The shell pieces are about life itself. To live and to survive. Eat and be eaten. The fragile soft animal makes its own house to resist all dangers. Architects in the sea. Houses made out of chalk. The animal has a lot of enemies. I do have a bunch of shells with a perfectly drilled hole in it: the drilling animal outside sucks the soft creature through the shell to feed himself. So being a creature living in the sea is very much a matter of survival and flight. The work is crafted a lot. Crafts have always helped in our survival as mankind. Actually we would not have survived as species without them. All shells are crafted in a genius manner. I cannot believe how it is done. 

All About Nature and Use: 
In every shell the whole evolution is contained. All life derived from the sea. Not only where there sea animals, also plants and corals live there. And we use nature in many ways. In the museum of the American Indian in New York I saw a spoon made out of shells. They were also used to drink from, weight for fishing nets, means of communication to give signals through like a trumpet, water carriers. 

artist BIO

BORN | Amsterdam Dutch

1977 - 1979 | Master of Fine Arts, Cranbrook Academy of Art. Bloomfield Hills, MI. USA. 
1973 - 1974 | Nd (Bachelors in drawing, teaching degree), Tilburg
1968 - 1972 | Ns (Bachelors in textiles, teaching degree), Tilburg

* group show

Bill Lowe. Atlanta. USA White Show. Kasher Potamkin. New York. USA *
Arti & Amititiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *
De Kring. Amsterdam *
Studio exhibition annually since 1989

Framed. New York. USA. Ongoing

Tierrafino. Amsterdam *
Arti & Amititiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *
De Kring. Amsterdam *

Bill Lowe Gallery. Atlanta. USA. Contract. Work sent to gallery
Gallery ‘Artist Unlimited’. Bielefeld. Germany * Art Noord. Amsterdam *
Art Route Diepenheim *
Arti & Amititiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *
2012 Museum de Speeltoren. Monnickendam *
Stedelijk Museum. Schiedam
Kunstroute de Wijk. Drenthe *
Link Art Company. Amsterdam * 
Musictheatre. Amsterdam *
Arti & Amititiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *

Headquarters Shell The Netherlands
Worldmuseum Rotterdam *
Arti and Amicitiae. The Salon. Amsterdam
Toonkamer. Center for Interior Design. Utrecht *

Toonkamer. Center for Interior Design. Utrecht *
Riele. Design Clothing. Amsterdam Arti and Amicitiae. New Members *
Arti and Amicitiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *
Watertower. Utrecht

Arti and Amicitiae. The Salon. Amsterdam *
Wonderwood. 10 Years. Amsterdam *
Saxion Enschede. Kunstcabinet
Design Hotel Artemis. ‘Twist’. Amsterdam *
Design Hotel Artemis. ‘Puur’. Amsterdam *

Miami Bridge Art Fair. Go Go gallery. Miami
Museum KUNSTPAVILJOEN. Nieuw Roden

Bridge Art Fair. London. Go Go gallery, Miami *
artKITCHEN gallery, Whisper in the West * 
Hot house. Cranbrook Museum of Art, MI (USA) *
KOP van WaZ. Arttrack. Amsterdam *

Save a Melting Iceberg in One day. OT301 * Beaumont gallery. Berlicum *
Ormeau Bath Gallery. Final selection Biennale. Belfast. Ireland *

Het Glazen Huis. Amstelpark. Amsterdam ARTkitchen gallery. Amsterdam.
“Who is the best” Watertoren. Vlissingen. “Bisons against Bush” *
Kunst Kijken. Monnickendam. Installation in church Collection of the city of Weert *
Landgoed ‘De Horst’, Driebergen. “Beauty” 

ARTkitchen *

ARTkitchen gallery, Amsterdam. “Handle with care” *
Kunstcentrum. Haarlem *
Willem 3 Kazerne. Vlissingen Museum ‘De Tiendschuur, Weert’. From the Collection’. *
Ignatiushuis. Spiritual centrum Amsterdam. Photographs.

Studio exhibition, in collaboration with ‘Open Studio’s Nieuwmarkt’ (annualy since 1989). Photographs.

Holland Tunnel Art Projects. Installation ‘Still life’. NY (USA) De Boterhal. Hoorn. Installation. ‘Inside out’ 1999
Naturalis. Museum of Natural History. Leiden De Meersse. Hoofddorp.

Colon Siegal Galleries. Santa Fé. NM (USA) *
Kunst aan huis route’. Edam.

Musée Saint - George, Liège (Belgium)*
Pulitzer Art Gallery. Amsterdam ‘Klick’, Quartair Gallery.The Hague *

De Nederlandse Bank’.Installation. Amsterdam Museum Gorkum, ‘The Smell of Wood’ * 

Museum ‘De Tiendschuur. Weert *

Kokon Gallery. Tilburg Nanky de Vreeze Gallery. Amsterdam *

Artikel Gallery. Tilburg * Nanky de Vreeze, Gallery. Amsterdam

Museum ‘De Tiendschuur’.Weert Gooiland. Hilversum

De Hooge Vuursche Castle. Baarn * Artikel Gallery. Tilburg

‘Het Reliëf’. Gallery Magenta. Dordrecht *
De Bewaerschole. Burg-Haamstede Dis Gallery. Maastricht

Birnie. Deventer Linea. Gand. (Belgium) *

Het Kruithuis. Den Bosch * 
Het Oude Raadhuis. Aalsmeer Dis Gallery. Maastricht

‘Beeld en Vorm’. Weighing House, Leiden * Bozar Gallery. Antwerp (Belgium) 

van Kranendonk Gallery. The Hague * 

Nouvelles Images Gallery. The Hague ‘A New Image’. Gallery Lambert Tegenbosch. Heusden * 

Studio Exhibition

Fiberworks, Ferris State, Big Rapids, MI (USA) *
Cranbrook Academy of Art Museum. Bloomfield Hills. MI *
Fiberworks. Interlochen. MI *
Mixed Media, Focus Gallery, Detroit MI *
‘Pliable Structures, Focus Gallery, Detroit MI *
‘Photography’, Focus Gallery. Detroit, MI * 

‘Cranbrook’. Bloomfield Hills, MI * 

Domino Gallery. Maastricht

Textile Museum. Tilburg *

Arti & Amicitiae. Weduwen en wezen fonds Loft New York. Mondriaan Stichting

Loft New York. Mondriaan Stichting

Loft. New York. Mondriaan Stichting

Voorzieningsfonds voor kunstenaars. Den Haag Basic Stipend. Fonds voor Beeldende Kunst. Amsterdam Loft. New York. Mondriaan Stichting

Ceramic shell workshop, Technical University. Eindhoven

Basic Stipend. Fonds voor Beeldende Kunst. Amsterdam

Materials Funding Foundation

Djerassi Foundation, Woodside, CA (USA) ‘90 /’91 Production Budget Women Artists, City of Amsterdam

Materials Funding Foundation ‘89-’92 /’93 Ministery of Cultural Affairs, Rijswijk

Pollock - Krasner, New York. NY (USA) 

MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH (USA) 

Kunstraad (Council for the Arts), Amsterdam

Cranbrook Academy of Art, MI (USA)