The Coincidence Man: The Art of Marcel Van Eeden

Since 1993 the Dutch-born artist, Marcel van Eeden, has been doing a drawing a day of events that occurred before November 22, 1965, the day on which he was born. It is a project that now encompasses some 6000 drawings, mostly in black and white (the medium is Nero pencil on paper), with the occasional foray into colour. The subjects run a dizzying range–including domestic scenes, urbanscapes, works of art, cartoons, doodles, fragments of sentences, single words and, most recently, drawings that constitute ongoing narratives populated by characters who weave from one story to another. The single, inflexible condition is that the subject of every drawing has to have existed prior to the artist’s birthdate. There have not been, nor will there ever be, any exceptions to this rule.

Van Eeden’s lifelong project has a tidy conceptual frame and a splendidly chaotic sense of narrative invention. His most recent protagonists are vocational polymaths; Karl Wiegand, described as “an ace pilot and a squire of beautiful women,” has had more lives than a cat. He is also a boxer, a gin supplier, a movie star, a soldier of fortune, a mountain climber, one of the husbands of Elizabeth Taylor, the Chancellor of Germany, an abstract painter and, in an early self-portrait, the spitting image of the young Edvard Munch. Oswald Sollmann, while no less accomplished, is more mysteriously named. He is an archaeologist whose name is a hybrid of Todd Sollmann, a little known American professor of pharmacology who died in 1965 at the age of 91, and Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assassinated JFK. He is also a surrogate for the artist, visiting a number of the places where van Eeden has himself turned up. Life and art, words and pictures, become involved in an intricate and unpredictable dance in these bodies of work.

Van Eeden admits that these drawings add up to a “healthy obsession.” What is most compelling about them is the way in which they comprise a story that comes into being without having been written. They violate all the tenets of conventional narration in their refusal to be linear. If drawing is taking a line for a walk, then Marcel van Eeden’s drawings take a story for a walk. It is, decidedly, a walk on the wild side.

Marcel van Eeden spoke to Robert Enright and Meeka Walsh at the Clint Roenisch Gallery in September, 2007.

BORDER CROSSINGS: Did you go back to your hotel last night to do a drawing so that you could satisfy the terms of your ongoing project?

MARCEL VAN EEDEN: It wasn’t necessary because I did one yesterday afternoon. But if it had been possible I would have drawn one last night because today will also be difficult. I started the whole series in 1993 with the idea of doing one drawing a day and at a certain point I started to making bigger drawings, twice or four times as large, and they took so much more time. It would take two or three weeks but I was getting really lazy. I had made so many drawings the first three or four years that I always had enough for exhibitions, so there was less pressure to make new work. It was normal for me to draw every day but I felt if I only did a few lines it would be okay. At a certain point–I think it was 1998 or ‘99–my production was really quite small and I wasn’t getting enough satisfaction. If you produce a lot of work you’ll make some not so good drawings, but the odds are you’ll also make a number of good ones. Then I discovered this form of the Weblog–it was in 2000 and I got my first computer–and at that time Weblogs were not as common as they are today. I thought it would be a good form to get back to daily drawing. It was also difficult to have this daily production when no one was watching because the temptation was there to skip a day. You might feel guilty but no one would know.

BC: But now you’ve created an expectation because people will look for a drawing on a daily basis.

MVE: The only problem now is that I’m traveling so much that I can’t update the website daily. I still make a drawing a day and when I get back to the studio where I have a scanner I do a whole week of scanning so I can prove there was a drawing every day.

BC: Why does it matter?

MVE: I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m Dutch and have some kind of Protestant work ethic. But it also seems natural to make a drawing a day. The size is exactly what I can accomplish, apart from the other things I have to do in a day. (See Issue 104 to read the full interview.)