Elysium Gallery invites you to the latest of its series of special online artist zoom talks.
Speaker: Julian Rowe
Topic: Hetty Van Kooten – Walking in Two Worlds
Date: Mar 24, 2021 7:30 PM time
Julian Rowe is an artist based in Kent. His work is a multidisciplinary engagement with weighty, and even epic, narrative themes drawn from history and literature.
The subject of this talk is Dutch born archaeologist/artist Hetty van Kooten (1908 – C.1958). In her early twenties she moved to the Lot Valley in France. There she was introduced to Amédée Lemozi, priest and amateur archaeologist, who had recently discovered the prehistoric paintings in the Pech Merle Cave. She became his assistant and, despite her lack of formal training, Lemozi gave her the task of making tracings and copies of the paintings, some of which were later published. Presently Hetty became ill, suffering fits and hallucinations whilst working underground. Despite psychiatric treatment the attacks continued even though she no longer visited the cave. Eventually it was her physician, Dr. Noiret, who suggested she should try to draw or paint her visions. What began as a therapeutic exercise quickly became an obsession for Van Kooten. She claimed that she had been exposed to “energies” whilst working in the caves and that she was channelling the spirit of the very rocks themselves into her remarkable paintings. Hetty became accepted as an eccentric in the village where she had made her home, but it was only after her disappearance that her hoard of several hundred paintings came to light and details of her fragmented but remarkable life began to emerge.
“I first discovered the artist Hetty Van Kooten (1908-1958) four years ago in an old exhibition catalogue that I found in a second-hand bookshop in Tunbridge Wells. The exhibition had been held at the now defunct Brandenburg Gallery in London in 2001 and it had the portentous title of “Primitives and Mystics: Twentieth Century Outsider Art”. There was something of a vogue at that time for the sort of art that escapes the usual critical labels, and I felt sure that the gallery in question had been making a determined effort to cash in on this. Nevertheless, I was sufficiently intrigued by the little snippet of Hetty’s biography, and particularly by the inspiration she reportedly found in prehistoric cave art, that I decided to find out more about her. This proved more difficult than I had expected. I soon discovered that, apart from one article in an obscure art journal called Sgraffito, almost nothing had been written about her. And so, in that perverse sort of way that an enigma always demands, it started me on a mission.”