Reijer Johan Antonie Stolk was as elusive and opaque a character as his work is bold.
Born on Java in Indonesia. it’s known that Stolk, the future graphic artist, painter, sculptor and inventor migrated to the Netherlands between the ages of 3 and 12. By 1910 he’d enrolled at the Applied Arts School in Haarlem, Amsterdam. At this particular school, he was in illustrious company.
One of his schoolmates was the genius Maurits Cornelis Escher, and for his teachers, he had the equally brilliant but ill-fated, Samuel Jessurun de Mesquita and Chris Lebeau, a multi- talented artist and anarcho-communist. Being surrounded with and inspired by such talent, he excelled. His teachers later described Stolk as the most talented student in the school. From 1922-1926, Stolk lived in Vienna and whilst there he created designs for aircraft and wrote patents for some of them. From 1927-1939 he taught at the Institute of Applied Arts in Amsterdam.
In 1930 Stolk embarked on an African trip – two months to the Gold Coast and in Nigeria on behalf of the Deventer textile factory Ankersmit, studying local patterns on clothing fabrics. The trip wasn’t a long one but it had a major influence on him and his work.
From 1939 to 1945 he in Amsterdam. Stolk was not commercially minded, didn’t exhibit often and rarely printed large print runs. It was often enough for him to send a print or two to Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and the RKD in The Hague.
Stolk’s brilliance lies in his ability to thrive on the outside, to survive whilst not fitting in. If he’s discussed at all today, it’s in this context. Perhaps he deliberately set out to confuse, making himself and his work so hard to pin down. Today his name is sometimes listed as Reijer Johan Antonie Stolk or Reyer Stolk. He also signed work with the name Reyer Stolk Soegima. Soegima was his mother ‘s maiden name. Sometimes he signed work in mirror writing. He was ambivalent about money, about exhibiting. He seems to have wanted to fade, to recess into history’s mist.
The work he left us however, is loud and clear. Brutally strong, intriging and elegant, all at once.