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THE VISIONARY REVUE
Spring 2003

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THE UNKNOWN JOHFRA
L. Caruana


      Until now, Johfra has been known primarily as a painter of Esoteric subjects. His association with the 7 Meta-Realist painters and his suite of twelve Zodiac Signs garnered him recognition as a master Hermetic painter - not only in his native Holland but also throughout the world. All of that has changed recently.
      Since his death in 1998, many of his unknown works and a fair sample of his writings have been gathered together and made public for the first time. The first of these, his autobiography Symphonie Fantastique, appeared in 1998. Then, in October of 2001, a major Life Retrospective was held in the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, Holland (with an opening speech from Prof. Ernst Fuchs).
      At the same time, a large monograph of his life’s work was launched: Johfra: Highest Lights and Deepest Shadows (Johfra: Hoogste lichten en diepste shaduwen) from Kosmos publishing. Not only were many new, surprising works included in this book, but now appeared the long-awaited excerpts from his Journals - spanning some sixty years of creative activity.
      Meanwhile, a Dutch museum of Fantastic Realism, showcasing Johfra’s works, is presently in the works.
      As a result of these events, the Esoteric painter Johfra has emerged as a complex and multi-facetted personality with touches of genius. Surrealism, Classicism, and Mannerism mingle throughout his oeuvre. Humour abounds, but so too do minute studies of Nature worthy of his acknowledged master, Da Vinci. His knowledge of Alchemy, Kabbala and the Tarot remains profound, but the Journals now reveal a fascination with optics, atmosphere, anatomy and patterns of growth. Above all these influences stand those figures and forms invented by the artist himself and unique to the world.

      Not long ago, I had the good fortune to visit Moulin du Peuch, the converted mill in the hills of Dordogne where Johfra and his wife Ellen Lorien made their home for the last twenty-five years. His wife, an artist in her own right, continues to paint there while preserving Johfra’s legacy. Also present that weekend was the poet Gerrit Luidinga and his wife Emmy. Gerrit was a close friend of Johfra’s and is now his literary executor.
      These three have done much to bring Johfra’s work to the attention of the public in his native Holland. But the artist’s work deserves broader recognition. My own small contribution, through the Visionary Revue, is to present Johfra’s work on the net and in English - hopefully informing a larger audience. Of course, this electronic medium does not do justice to the depth and complexity of his output. But, by presenting an overview of his life and a summary of his works, more people may at least have a glimpse into this neglected Visionary’s astounding creations.
      The article, Johfra: The Life, delves into the eventful life of this artist who left his native Holland just when that country had begun to recognize his works. He lived for the remainder of his life in the mountainous regions of France - experiencing a kind of self-imposed exile. Johfra also shared his life with two extremely talented women. First, in Holland, with Diana Vandenberg, and then later, with Ellen Lorien in France. The lives and works of these two visionary artists also deserve better recognition, and so are presented in the two final articles.
      In the article Johfra: the Works, we begin to piece apart and admire the many stages of Johfra’s development. The earliest stage, unfortunately, was entirely destroyed when a bomb struck his home in the Hague in 1945. Though 400 paintings were lost, the artist started afresh. Inspired by the twisted metal and molten steel of the ruins, he began painting ‘drummels’ - those organic, amorphous forms that populate many of his Surrealist works after the war. But, nine years at the Lectorium Rosicrucianum also inspired an entire series of Esoteric works, characterized by the Zodiac paintings.
      After moving to France, more Classical and Baroque elements asserted themselves, evident particularly in the drawings from his Journals and his series of Fountain paintings. Meanwhile, the artist had grown spiritually. Turning away from Hermeticism, he embraced a more Pantheistic view of the world. And so, in his later works, we find a fascination with Nature’s infinite detail and the awe-inspiring vistas of alpine landscapes. Yet, these are no ordinary landscapes. Elves abound, as do Elementals such as sea nymphs, water sprites and woodland fairies. An obsession with witches appears, and their sabbath creates large, stunning panels which culminate in a huge triptych dedicated to the worship of Pan.
      Rounding off our presentation of Johfra, two articles delve more deeply into selected works. The Hermetic Johfra examines major works from the 70’s in light of the Hermetic teachings that inspired them. And the Pantheist Johfra takes works from his later period, attempting to decypher much of their earthbound imagery.
       Through all these articles, a vision gradually emerges of an artist who intensely observed the visible and invisible worlds, questioning each in turn. He was as familiar with the varieties of plants in Nature as he was with the arcana of symbols in Esoterica. Each offered a different answer to the spiritual questions that tormented him and this conflict drove him to explore the countless possible solutions in his art. With untiring energy, he observed, sketched and painted, producing a huge body of work which, even if the questions were not finally resolved, offers a stunningly beautiful view of the world. For Johfra, a world full of mystery.

      Two books containing Johfra’s works may be ordered.

Symphonie Fantastique - Johfra’s autobiography, Dutch text, illustrated with 30 b&w reproductions of drawings, paintings, and photos. Soft cover, 160 pages. Euro 20.00

Johfra, hoogste lichten en diepste schaduwen - The most comprehensive collection of Johfra’s paintings and drawings available. Hundreds of color reproductions of his paintings, plus excerpts from his Journals (Dutch text) and a numbered register of his complete works. Hard cover, 509 pages. Euro 55.00

Please send all enquiries to:

Mr. Rardy van Soest
RvS Agenturen
P.O. Box 380
3994 XZ Houten
The Netherlands
Tel 0031 (0) 30 6350870
Fax 0031 (0) 30 6341182
Callers from outside the Netherlands must drop the (0)
      

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