5 Minutes With Bouke de Vries

In our new feature Five Minutes With… we ask artists to take 5 minutes out of their day to answer some questions through which we get to know them better.  What is their go to song while working in the studio? Which single work of art would they choose to live alongside in their home? And what projects are they currently working on?

Today we have 5 Minutes with Bouke de Vries.


Which single work of art (from ancient to modern) would you choose to live alongside in your home, and why?

Its a terrible cliché but its Vermeer’s Milkmaid but what a wonderful cliché. I always visit it when I m in Amsterdam. I love its quietness, the colours, it’s mundaneness

What is your go-to song when you’re working in the studio? How does it make you feel when you’re working, and how does it connect to your working process?

I don’t really listen much to music in my studio but listen to BBC radio 4 which has lots of documentaries, plays and news. It gives me the feeling that although I’m on my own in my studio there is a world going on out there.


What is your favorite gallery or museum space around the world, and why?

I really love the Neues Museum in Berlin, the way David Chipperfield has rebuilt the war damaged museum but incorporating this part of its history is breathtaking.

Top three art or photography books?

About modern art by David Sylvester
Athanasius Kircher’s theatre of the world by Joscelyn Godwin
Artempo catalogue of Axel Vervoordt exhibition at Palazzo Fortuny

What projects are you currently working on?

I’m working on a big ceramic installation using a family’s historic collection of ceramic for the beautiful Palladian House outside London and planning an exhibition for 2023 at the  ‘Legion of Honour’ Museum in San Fransisco

ABOUT Bouke de Vries

Bouke de Vries (1960) was born in Utrecht, NL
He lives and works in London, UK

Bouke de Vries studied at the Design Academy  Eindhoven, and Central St Martin’s, London. After working with John Galliano, Stephen Jones and Zandra Rhodes, he switched careers and studied ceramics conservation and restoration at West Dean College. Every day in his practice as a private conservator he was faced with issues and contradictions around perfection and worth: “The Venus de Milo’ is venerated despite losing her arms, but when a Meissen muse loses a finger she is rendered virtually worthless.”

Using his skills as a restorer (c.f. Ron Mueck’s model-maker skills), his ‘exploded’ artworks reclaim broken pots after their accidental trauma. He has called it ‘the beauty of destruction’. Instead of reconstructing them, he deconstructs them. Instead of hiding the evidence of this most dramatic episode in the life of a ceramic object, he emphasises their new status, instilling new virtues, new values, and moving their stories forward.

The more contemplative works echo the 17th- and 18th-century still-life paintings of his Dutch heritage, especially the flower paintings of the Golden Age, a tradition in which his hometown of Utrecht was steeped (de Heem, van Alst, van Huysum inter alia), with their implied decay. By incorporating contemporary items a new vocabulary of symbolism evolves.

These ‘dead natures’ – natures morts – give everyday household objects, a plate, a milk jug, a teapot, a modern poignancy that refers back to the vanitas and memento mori paintings of that period. An installation in de Vries’s London house is arranged in the manner of Daniel Marot with white Delft domestic pottery rescued in fragments from 17th- and 18th-century rubbish tips, now dug up and partially pieced together. Among them are two small artists’ paint pots with the pigment still in them, as possibly once used by – who knows? – Vermeer or Rembrandt.