A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
A VISIT WITH ELLEN LORIEN
Ellen Lórien began life as Ellen de Jonge, born in Utrecht on the 16th of March 1924. At the age of seven, her family moved to the countryside, close to forests, sand dunes and the sea. She began expressing her interior life through drawing, water colors and pastels at a very early age. She also spent so much time in the nearby forests that she soon started to sense a powerful contact with Nature and the earth, later describing it as feeling united with all living things. But, that Ellen Lórien, who would eventually paint mystical images of Nature with great sensitivity, had not yet been named.
Unfortunately, her parents had other plans for the young artist. Though she wanted to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, her father insisted that she pursue a more practical course by becoming a legal secretary. Ellen de Jonge left home at the age of eighteen and began her own life.
Shortly after the war, in 1948, she travelled to France and explored its various regions, making studies of its landscape. Finally, in 1950, she came to live in Paris permanently. Together with a musician named Sjoerd de Jong, she lived a more Bohemain existence in Paris on a houseboat on the Seine near Porte de Plaisance.
At first, Sjoerd de Jong earned money as a street musican while Lórien made watercolour portraits of children. But with time, Sjoerd was performing at the Moulin Rouge under the name of Serge Singer, and their boat the Siegried-Eric was home to guests like Charles Aznavour and Julietta Greco. Or, theyd visit Maurice Chevalier, whose boat was just down the quai from theirs.
The couple toured through Italy with Josephine Baker, and Singer performed during the intervals. A Dutch television studio even recreated the inside of their boat to film a special on the couple in 1952.
In 1954, Lórien broke with Singer, and continued on her own in Paris. She began studies under Mac Avoy and Max Friedlander at la Grande Chaumière, a renowned art school in Paris where each artist ran his own studio. To survive, she worked as a model in the Madelaine fashion district and lived for a time in a house on stilts in the forests outside Paris at St. Germain-en-Laye.
During these years, Lórien searched for a style of art in which she could express herself completely. She even pursued abstract art for a while, but eventually returned to figurative art and the techniques of the early Flemish masters.
While the pursuit of art satisfied one of her greatest longings, certain spiritual questions remained unanswered. This brought her back to Holland and to the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, where she ended up studying for six years.
Through the Lectorium, she made the acquaintance of Johfra and Diana, and undertook to study their Old Masters techniques. Meanwhile, Johfra and Dianas relationship declined. Lórien left for Amsterdam, and Johfra eventually followed her there. The couple found an apartment on Helmerstraat 8, moved in and started painting. They would continue to paint and inspire each other for the remainder of their lives.
In 1964, Lórien returned to France. She and Johfra settled in a mountainous region in the South of France. At first they lived in a small wooden cabin on the cliffs north of Nice. Then they moved into a slightly larger cabin made of stone. Despite the crampt quarters, they both painted and shared a happy existence. But, after ten years, the expansion of Nice and its destruction of Nature eventually drove them away.
In June of 1973, Lórien and Johfra bought a property in the West of France. One year later, they moved there, to an old mill at the foot of a chateau in Dordogne. They renovated it, preserving the stream that ran under the home, and called it Moulin du Peuch.
All this time, she signed her works under the name of Ellen Lórien. She chose the name Lórien in hommage to Tolkien, and his land of elves, Loth lorien - a name that evokes the rich country of flowers and dreams.
Along with Johfra, Lórien participated in a large travelling exhibition in 1974. As one of the Seven Meta-Realists, her paintings garnered much attention, and she was soon known throughout Holland.
In 1975, a meeting with Gyalwa Karmapa led to Lóriens increasing involvement with the Tibetan community that had settled in the hills near their home. She studied Tibetan and immersed herself in their customs and beliefs. Her paintings, which continued to manifest a deep fascination with Women, Nature, and Spirituality, began to incorporate more Buddhist motifs.
A journey to Venice in 1977 made a profound impression on both her and Johfra. Eventually Venetian motifs would begin to appear in their respective works. That same year, Lórien founded Galerie la Licorne on their property. Aside from their own work, this gallery exhibited French and Dutch artists, most notably Carjan (Car and Jan Verheul). Lórien also continued to exhibit her works in Holland at Galerie Kamp.
But, through Galerie la Licorne, her involvement with the arts community in Dordogne increased. She joined the Societe des Beaux Arts de Dordogne, exhibited at their annual Salon and, in 1985, walked away with first prize (defeating even Johfra...). Galerie la Licorne continued to mount exhibitions and expanded into publishing cards and posters under the imprint Le Chants des Toiles (now continuing as Sidh and Banshees).
In 1985, her contribution to the arts in France was recognized when she was awarded with a disinction of le Société Arts-Sciences-Lettres. Her paintings continued to express an equal fascination with Nature and Spirituality. During this time, Lórien travelled through Egypt and India, and motifs from these cultures also appeared in her works. Many of her paintings were reproduced as book covers or were printed in magazines. Along with Johfra and Carjan, she also continued to produce fairy paintings, and these were gathered together in the book Elves, Fairies and Gnomes.
Johfras fascination with Lórien is reflected in a series of portraits which he made of her over the years. The largest, The Lady and the Unicorn (1984), captures her as she appeared when still a young woman. She is surrounded by lotus flowers and water lilies, while Buddhist ruins appear in the background. The style of imagery is derived from her works, and Johfra seems to be rendering homage to Lórien both as wife and as painter.
Two year laters, Johfra created four large portraits of Lórien titled Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night. In each, she appears with a symbolic animal (unicorn, swan, cat) and has fairies flying round her. Different moods and different facets of her character are revealed in each work.
In the last five years of his life, Johfra created a whole series of paintings dedicated to her. The Ellen in Wonderland Series eventually ran to nine paintings, culminating in The Apotheosis of Ellen in Wonderland. In each, she appears in a broad landscape or architectual setting with many characters. The paintings are humorous, playful, and full of joy.
After Johfra was diagnosed with cancer, the couple spent more time together at Moulin du Peuch. The Old Mill had expanded over the years to include gardens, forests, streams and a waterfall. On the morning of November 6th, 1998, Johfra died.
Intensely feeling the loss of her husband, Lórien stopped painting. When she finally took it up again, it was to express Johfras memory in a series of allegorical images. Many of these involved the Venetian motifs that they shared and which Johfra, at the end of his life, had returned to. Lórien also became increasingly involved in preserving Johfras legacy, helping to organize a Life Retrospective in Holland and publish a large monograph.
But, being of strong temperment and now, at the age of 78, still a very active and energetic woman, she has turned her energies once more to painting her own vision, producing fascinating works.
A book on her life and works is now being prepared by Gerrit Luidinga. Fortunately, her fascinating life and uplifting works will receive the attention they deserve.
To supplement this article, I am appending an account of a visit with Ellen Lórien which I recorded in my Journals. It offers a glimpse into her life as she is leading it today.
NOTES FROM MY JOURNAL:
A VISIT WITH ELLEN LORIEN
Moulin du Peuch, Fleurac
June 8, 2002 (early morning)
Florence and I are now in Dordogne, visiting Ellen Lórien. On the journey down from Paris, our train passed through Dordogne, with its beautiful mountains, cliffs, and rolling hills with vinyards. Florence said this region is known throughout France for its Perigord cuisine, its Bergerac wine. For me, its the landscape that inspired Johfra and Ellen Lóriens work for the past twenty-five years.
Since we were the only people to get off the train at Les Eyzies, Ellen had no trouble recognizing us. Driving to her house we passed some stunning cliffs with caves - le village troglodythique. This is, after all, the region with some of the most fascinating paleolithic caves - Lascaux, Grotte de la Madeleine...
Ellens home is amazing - an old mill (moulin) from the castle above (chateau du Peuch) transformed into their home, studios and gallery. A stream with goldfish runs under the house. Theres a Japanese garden. Another stream on the border of their property forms a beautiful waterfall with a bridge over it. Ellen showed us a tree which she had grown from a seedling brought over from Aspremont.
Taking the suitcase upstairs, I noticed and remarked upon a mandrake root (in the shape of a man) set into the corner of the stairs. Ellen said that, yes, she used that because she was a sorceress...
Inside the house, we were immediately struck by the cosy atmosphere. Large wooden beams running across the ceiling. A huge fireplace with stone mantlepiece and an iron plaque identicial to one from the Chateau de Blois. Cosy couches around a low wooden table - all facing the fireplace. Hanging from the ceiling over this table, a mirrored glass sphere which reflected everything microcosmically. Long narrow French windows with shutters, some set in a Gothic arch, some in a Romanesque. Between the windows, paintings by Johfra. In particular, a self-portrait with a small scarab. Near it was hanging a metal Byzantine cross with candles (identical to one hanging in Fuchs studio in Castel Caramel...)
Statues of Vishna, Ganesh, and Shiva which Ellen had brought back from India. A large patch of white crystal which Ellen received in exchange for a painting. A small illuminated grotto of amethyst. A shrine to the Buddha. A high-backed wooden mediaeval chair with a tapestried pillow of la Dame et la Licorne.
Over the door: Johfas self-portrait as a satyr. On the wall: his painting of a gryphon. Further down the wall: drawings given as gifts, including a Fuchs engraving of a Horned God. A glass display case with small statues of fairies, gnomes, and sorcerers. A library crowded with books. Near that, a round table with many potted flowers. On the wall here, a portrait of Ellen with a unicorn (and lotus flowers and water lilies). Among the books near the fireplace, a German/Dutch translation of Wittgensteins Remarks on Colour - which Johfra was reading close to his death. My Manifesto...
We were introduced to Gerrit Luidinga and his wife Emmy. Over dinner and a bottle (of course) of Bergerac wine, we all got to know one another better. Gerrit is very open, direct, lively, and full of boisterous humour - a Falstaffian character. His wife Emmy is beautiful, senstive, intelligent. He writes poetry and she sculpts. He is Johfras literary executor and they both collect art as well as organize evenings for artists at their home.
Ellen radiates with warmth. The charm and beauty of her youth still shine through. She has the wisdom of old age (reminding me at times of my grandmother), but above all shes an artist - looking, feeling, observing. Shes still open to new experiences (such as meeting us). Now almost eighty, shes still full of life.
After dinner, Ellen took us to Galerie la Licorne where we could see her work hanging. Most of these were works shed done after Johfras death. One, of a woman on the beach trying to break free from her pain and regain her joy for life. Another of a vision in an ancient Egyptian setting - of a woman walking down the stairs and encountering another woman looking in a pool. The pool had lotus flowers and the woman on the stairs was also holding a lotus flower.
After questioniong her, Ellen explained that many of her visions came to her while walking down the stairs.
A larger painting, executed after Johfras death, depicts the artist in three natural scenes: on the right, he is caressing a unicorn; at the centre he is being ferried across a river in a Venetian gondola; and on the left, Johfra is walking up some stone stairs towards the light.
On another wall was an older painting by Ellen - Passage Through the Night, of a meditating pyramidal figure within a glass sphere, traversing a dark ocean. And on top of the sphere, an angelic being who is a source of light in that darkness. Ellen explained that she saw this image when she was in a very dark time in her life.
Emmy showed us some of the books where Ellens work had been used on the covers. I was particularly struck by one work of a standing figure rendered in classical Greek style, but with a Buddhist visage. This figure was standing amid vegetation, shining with light. In fact, rays of light where shining outward from the visage to flowers emerging from the dark, dense vegetation. The whole composition showed a deep spiritual connection with nature.
Another striking image showed a woman crouched down upon a rock, surrounded by a kind of aura. Within this aura was an inner light and the flowers were growing. Only when you looked a bit closer at the background did you notice that everything around her was dark and dead in cold winter. Ellen explained that the Springtime and its growth, like the sun, must come from within.
We sat together in the living room before the large fireplace and talked. Ellen told us how she used to live on a houseboat on the Seine, while involved with a singer who sang at the Moulin Rouge. From photos, it appeared to be a very bohemian atmosphere.
Most importantly, we talked about visionary art and what it was all about. The attempt to capture visions in paint. I asked her where the inspiration for many of her images came from - particularly her works of Nature. And she said it was all feeling - that you had to have the feeling for Nature first, and then images like this naturally appeared to give those feelings form.
She didnt remember her dreams, like Johfra did. But many of her images came from these strong feelings. When she was painting, those feelings returned to her and guided her as she painted. Gerrit lamented that Johfra was not here, as it would have been wonderful for me to meet him.
Ellen went to bed, but the four of us stayed up a bit longer. From the works of Johfras Ive seen so far, and from talking to Ellen, it becomes clear that there is much more to his oeuvre than the esoteric works for which he is best known. There are times when he allowed a free play of his imagination. The surrealist works, the humour, the spiritual search in the later works, using not so much esoteric symbols but images of striving and transcendence nonetheless.
June 9, 2002
On the train back to Paris
The next day, Saturday, Gerrit and Emmy, Ellen, Florence and I went out to play Boule at the front of the house. Ellen and Florence made a formidable team and defeated Gerrit, Emmy and I miserably - twice.
From there we had a nice lunch out on the terrace. The only problem is that it began to rain, so we ended up in her solarium. There, as the rain poured outside and the wild cats devoured the last of our lunch, the conversation turned to our beliefs. I expressed a fairly Gnostic outlook, saying that we are not at home here on this world, but trying to remember our origins. Ellen seemed quite familiar with esoteric teachings, but prefered to express things more directly. She touched me hard on my heart and said very affirmatively, Everything comes from in here! Thats where the sun is, in here. Thats the inner light.
Then we went into her studio where Ellen taught me a thing or two about her and Johfras techniques. She underpaints in grey, making the grey from raw umber plus red and blue, plus white. Then, for the shadows, she uses burnt umber. As a medium she uses 1 part linseed oil and 1 part turpentine.
She said Johfra often smeared brown paint on a grey ground. Then, he drew or defined the forms, using brown to accentuate the shadows and white to make the highlights. At the point of transition, the grey would remain between the brown shadow and the white light. All of this was glazed with a colour.
Having told us before that she was a sorciere, Ellen playfully showed us her magic wand - a curved piece of wood given to her as a gift, which showed up later in her paintings.
Ellen also told us about the conditions working in their hut in Aspremont. They had no electricity for seven years. The powerful mistral would whistle through the holes in the hut. It was too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Eventually, they became dissatisfied with life near Nice. Johfra couldnt tolerate the destruction of nature all around him.
After that, Florence and I went for a walk, following the road until it became a path through the forest. Along the way we admired all the little frogs hopping about. In the forest, we marvelled at the beauty of the nature here - the moss and vines growing on the trees, the sunlight shining through the branches. I pointed out a particular plant (fougères) that grew behind my home in Toronto.
Coming back, we met Gerrit in the gallery, so we had another look at Ellens paintings. I was struck once more by the painting of one woman coming down the stairs holding a lotus, and another woman looking into a pool with lotus flowers. Is one having a vision of the other - each locked in their own time?
That evening, we had dinner in the kitchen. I commented that it seemed like Ellen had lived quite an eventful life. She said that she managed to do a lot of things because she didnt say no to people. She was open to experience. Gerrit amused himself by taunting Ellen, saying she was a hard woman, an authoritarian. She said it was only the authoritarian men who said those things about her.
We spoke of Paris, the city as she knew it then and I know it now; of struggling, living, and painting. The feeling in the room was marvellous that evening, and Ellen gave me a hug several times and shared her warmth, humour, and joy.
On the last day, Sunday, we drove to the market in Rouffignac, where fresh goats cheese was bought for lunch, and Florence and I picked up a couple of bottles of Bergerac for Paris. Once again, we got caught in the rain, and ended up huddling under the vendors stalls, joking...
Coming back to Moulin du Peuch, we had a wonderful lunch together, again full of warmth and laughter.
After that, I visited Johfras studio alone, which is above the gallery. Near the window was a telescope which he had built himself, and near the easel were other optical instruments for painting. I examined the specimens hed collected from nature - the skulls of cats, foxes and so on with their curvilinear forms. Old gnarled tree trucks showing the patterns of growth. Coral, crystals, and many different textures of earthly and underwater growth. His books as well reflected these fascinations - for example a Dover book on Natural Forms of Growth for Art.
The paintings there, unfinished, showed me how he began first with a smaller painted sketch. Then, this was enlarged (with an overhead projection device hed built himself) and transfered onto a canvas or board. Then came a grey or light brown underpainting, establishing especially degrees of contrast and atmosphere. After that, he started glazing colour.
His bedroom was attached directly to the studio. Aside from the single bed, this was primarily a library. It was clear he had collected every possible book on Surrealism and Fantastic art, as well as more the more Classical periods. Many reference books on anatomy, nature, and so on. He also had a large collection of esoteric works - the Kabbala, Tarot, Astrology, etc.
One of the more interesting and surprising finds - for me - was the same books which fascinated me as a child and teenager. For example, Giffords A Pictorial History of Horror Movies, Creepy magazine, Heavy Metal (Druillet) and Omni. It was so strange to find those books and magazines from my childhood here.
Before leaving, Florence and I said thanks and gave Ellen a couple of presents - a catalogue from the Parfums de Femmes exhibition and a drawing I made for her. She liked the gryphon very much and said she would hang it between Johfras Gryphon painting and the Fuchs etching. I also gave Gerrit a signed copy of the Manifesto. Ellen presented us with the large monograph on Johfra and another book on the Meta-Realists. We all began writing dedications in the books wed exchanged...
Then, Ellen said goodbye because Gerrrit and Emmy were driving us to the train station. Very warmly, we took our leave of each other - giving a strong heartfelt kiss on the cheek and promising that wed meet again.