(d.i. Constant Nieuwenhuys) Constant
* 1920 Amsterdam
† 2005 Utrecht
Constant Anton Nieuwenhuys was born in Amsterdam in 1920 and began to study art there at the school for the decorative and applied arts in 1939, transferring a year later to the Rijks Academy in Amsterdam. While still a student, Constant had encounters with the German occupation forces which remained a traumatic memory. In 1946 Constant met the Danish painter Asger Jorn in Paris and joined him and others to found 'Cobra' two years later. An international group of artists, Cobra was dedicated to developing forward-looking art informed by social commitment. The expressive pictures painted by Constant after 1945 owe a debt to children's art work because Constant wanted to express the hopeful idea of new beginnings after the war via spontaneous archaism. Scorched earth as a metaphor for past catastrophes looms large as a motif in Constant's painting. His initially figurative style was gradually abandoned for abstraction on the lines of 'De Stijl' and, on the other hand, a rough, Informel style. Living in Paris and London, Constant began to explore spatial and architecture-related issues from 1952. A friend, the architect Aldo van Eyck, brought Constant up to date on the urban-planning discourse. As a co-founder of the 'Internationale situationiste' movement, Constant took up the city as such as his theme and worked on the 'Nieuw Babylon' ['New Babylon'] project, an urban utopia in which every individual was to design his own and the broader environment as 'homo ludens'. In the late 1960s Constant returned to painting, applied the theme of the urban utopia to art and described the human environment as the mirror of man's inner life. In so doing, Constant returned to figurative painting, a step which ran counter to the prevailing art movements of the day and was, therefore innovative, attesting to Constant's originality. Besides numerous one-man shows in Germany and the Netherlands, Constant showed work at the Venice Biennale (1952/56) and Documenta (1964) to international acclaim. In 1991 Constant was awarded a prize by the 'Künstlerwiderstand' ['Artists' Resistance'] foundation. In his native Amsterdam, Constant has contributed substantially to reviving Dutch art since 1945.