Portrait of Alex van Houwelingen

Portrait of my brother, Oil on Panel, 2020

The past weeks I made this portrait of my deceased brother Alex. At the one hand it was a painful process, but at the other it was good to be busy with it. In the background I painted some of his own illustrations. I chose those illustrations which tell something about his life. He liked to sneak in some elements from his own life and family into his book illustrations as little inside jokes. So for example our father shows up regularly in his illustrations.

These drawings of our parents appear in some of his storybooks, only for us to recognize.

Some other pictures are inspired by his wife Ilze and their two kids, Robin and Madelein

Alex was an art teacher at the Dirk Postma High School. He was very passionate about his job and enjoyed working with children. In his books the coat of arms of his school appears sometimes. He liked the kids with all their different characters. Here he drew a schoolboy who can’t wait to eat his sandwiches.

He became famous for his illustrations of the Zackie Mostert books.

He was awarded with a “Woordveertjie” for the book “Spaghetti tussen jou tone”.

When Alex was admitted the hospital nobody could imagine the corona virus becoming such a big crisis by then. By the time of his death, a few weeks later, because of the lock down we were not even allowed to have a normal funeral. I came across this ‘prophetic’ illustration in one of his Zackie Mostert books.

In one of his books there is a sign “Elsje Fiederelsje Pannekoeke” on a restaurant selling pancakes. This is an inside joke referring to a Dutch children’s song we used to sing when we were little children and our mother was baking pancakes.

I didn’t have the honor of featuring in Alex’s work. But if he can make inside jokes … so can I. So I used this old photo of us and tried to draw it in his style 🙂

My artist brother died

about, trivia

Early Sunday morning April 5th my brother Alex van Houwelingen passed on. He battled with oral cancer that had returned for the third time beginning of this year, this time in his jaw. He did not survive the impact of the operations he had to go through.

Alex is my little brother, nine years younger than me. We shared a lot. We both made art our profession and studied art at the same university. In his résumé, he wrote that he had learned his art from me! I think this is too great an honor, as he usually did his own thing, rather than listening to the advice of his elder sister. We probably shared an art gene, although a very different one. He excelled at illustrating and I always was amazed to see the ease with which he could draw anything under the sun out of his head – always with quick, daring marks and lots of humor. His work bears witness to the keen eye with which he observed people around him. He was an extrovert, he loved people and people loved him, and you can see this in his art. I am more introvert, in personality as well as in my art. I rather look for the fine nuances of light and dark in the world around me, recording it with great patience. Still, we had a lot in common and I was many times surprised to find that he had read the same book, loved the same art, or thought about the same things than me. There’s probably a part of me that I could only share with him.

It was a tradition that every Friday afternoon at four o’clock, Alex and I visited our mother, for the company and to have some of her delicious soup. Thanks to that we saw each other every week. Prior to his last surgery, we as siblings took turns to walk with him, in order to get him fit for the operation. During our last walk we talked about art and faith and about a hundred other things. How much will I miss him!

My heart also goes out to his wife and two little children to whom his passing on is even more a daily reality. And of course to my parents, losing a child is one of the worst things imaginable.

“We can’t understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.” (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)