When Johfra died in 1998, he left behind a large oeuvre encompassing almost a thousand finely detailed paintings, thousands of completed drawings, several sketchbooks loaded with preparatory images, and twenty volumes of diaries, written in a fine hand from eighteen years of age to his death at the age of seventy-eight.
Perceiving some kind of order among this complex, organic, ever-evolving body of work is no easy task. The artist’s life invites one possible order, since he shared love, discovery, and the artist’s struggle for survival first with Diana Vandenberg for sixteen years, and then with Ellen Lorien for the remainder of his life. As well, at the age of forty-four, he left Holland and settled permanently in France.
This becomes a starting point. And indeed, the subjects in his works do begin to change, depending upon the woman he lived with and the place where he worked. But more important is a slow evolution in the artist’s view of the world which is evident in the artworks themselves.
Strangely, Johfra was capable of returning, at any time, to all periods of his development. On the other hand, a surprising consistency of expression also persists throughout his life’s work. A glance through any volume of his Notebooks reveals that his handwriting did not change from early youth to old age. Stylistically, his paintings also preserve this consistency. His mastery of line, shading, and figure began at an early age and remained throughout his life.
What evoloved was his finesse of rendering - an increasing awareness of nature, light, atmosphere, and composition. Especially in the notebooks we see how certain developments began with many sketches and drawings, and only reached their final expression in painting after years, indeed, decades of study.
But it is particularly Johra’s themes and subject matter which manifest the artist’s greatest striving, movement and discovery. His view onto the world shifted gradually from imagination to spirit to nature. Or, to give them their proper names, from Surrealism to Hermeticism to Pantheism. It is, as if, he began his explorations in the unconscious, moved on to higher consciousness, and then settled finally onto a view of nature enriched by all that had come before.
And so, in examining his works, it is the artist’s own quest that shall guide us. He described his life as a Symphonie Fantastique, and the metaphor is also apt for describing the development in his works. As in music, an opening phrase must first be announced before it may be developed over time in successive variations. For Johfra, each new subject in his painting became an opportunity for further exploration. An ‘opening work’ announced a new theme of interest which was then picked up and expanded in succeeding canvases. It is particularly the evolution of Johfra’s outlook, as announced in these ‘opening works’ that will describe his life journey here as a quest for ever-expanding vision.
1919 - 1945 - YOUTH AND ACADEMY TRAINING
When examing the works from Johfra’s youth and academy days, it must be kept in mind that the greater part was destroyed by a falling bomb one fateful day druing World War II. The few black and white photos that we have do not convey the rich colours revealed by the few surviving works.
But, above all this, in the early works we find the initial annunciation of certain themes which would then resound throughout his life. The first of these is his unique fascination with the substance of the imagination, and its many expressions in form, growth, and movement.
IMAGE - Out of the Egg (1943)
(Uit het ei - J 45)
In Out of the Egg (1943) we encounter a dense mesh of organic, coralline, and aquatic growths, some like sea anemones, others more transparent and glowing. At the top of the composition is Johfra himself in an egg that is cracked open and pierced through by a nail.
Like the interior landscapes of Tanguy or the early Dali, these organic forms take root in the artist’s own mind, giving shape and figure to the substance of his imagination. It is, as if, the canvas has become a mirror that momentarily holds still the ever-transforming mindstuff behind his open eyes.
IMAGE - Psychological Self Portrait (1996)
(Psychologisch zelfportret - J 460)
And indeed, a late work painted two years before his death harkened back to these earlier interior landscapes, which we shall call ‘Mindstuff Landscapes’ or even ‘Mindscapes’. The late work, appropriately entitled Psychological Self Portrait (1996), presents the aging Johfra amid the fibres and fungi that constitute his mind’s dark interior.
Throughout Johfra’s career, the substance of his imagination will manifest itself in these varying combinations of organic forms, be they mineral, vegetable, animal or human. Shape, texture, growth, and movement - all will fascinate him to no end. But the intense colours we see in the early works will soon disappear forever.
IMAGE - Birth Dream (1945)
(Geboortdroom - J 68)
Another work from the early period reveals, beyond this fascination with the mind’s interior forms, a striving for spiritual transcendence and an ultimate union with the light. In Birth Dream (1945), the organic rocks form an upward-mounting stairway. Meanwhile, from their summit, a singular figure leaps into the light. Such obviously esoteric themes will not appear in his work for atleast another fifteen years.
1945 - 1962 - THE HAGUE YEARS
After seven years of study at the academy in the Hague, Johfra acquired a studio on Willemstraat. Shortly thereafter, in 1946, he met Diana Vandenberg, whom he was to live and paint with for the next sixteen years. Together, the two of them broadened their knowledge of classical art through summer travels in the Mediterranean. And, at the Lectorium Rosicrucianum in Haarlem, they pursued indepth studies on Hermetc subjects over the course of a decade.
But the paintings that emerged during this period were neither esoteric nor classical. It was only at the end of his relationship with Diana that a few Hermetic paintings appeared. As well, though numerous studies of antiquity were made in his sketchbooks, particularly during his travels with her, these classical figures only surfaced intermittantly in painting.
IMAGE - photo of Johfra and Diana before gallery (1955) (J 121)
Instead, the predominant figure in his works of this period became ‘the drummel’. This word describes the bizarre, combinatory figures which abound in one dream landscape after another. The drawing of drummels offered here is taken from a page in his sketchbooks.
IMAGE - Drummels, sketchbook page (J 218)
These so-called sketchbooks are, in fact, standard hard-bound books minus the text. With a clear pencil line, never erasing, Johfra filled page after page and volume after volume of these books with drummels - the thousand and one variations that are possible when combining human or animal forms. Some pages are pre-occupied with human anatomy exclusively - how an ear may be glued to a hand, a hand to an eye, and and an eye back to the ear. Others are more interested in human and animal forms: how wings may sprout from ears, or serpents from a nose. The variations are endless. All emerge spontaneously and alive in figure after figure of amazing human invention.
IMAGE - Nostalgia for Lemuria (1961)
(Lemurisch heimwee - J 168)
IMAGE - The Dispute (1972) (J 267)
From these sketchbooks, the drummels then began to invade his paintings. During Johfra’s life with Diana, these humorous and bizarre reconfigurations of human anatomy became the dominant theme. The organic growths of his earlier interior landscapes had undergone a transformation. While the coralline textures and fungus growths moved into the background of his painting, the drummels now advanced into the foreground.
Which is to say, Johfra became more obsessed with organic growth as manifest in human and animal forms, rather than the earlier plant and mineral kinds. The substance of his imagination had now acquired eyes to see, hands to grasp, and mouths to gape, kiss, or devour.
However, it should be stressed that the pure ‘Mindstuff Landscapes’ also persisted during this time. Though the drummel was the major evolution in subject matter, his interior landscapes also showed a slow but remarkable advance in the rendering of mineral and vegetal forms - here appearing like petrified wood, there like frozen ice, or elsewhere as liquid crystal.
IMAGE - The Lonely Life (1961)
(Het eenzame leven - J 169)
or IMAGE - Spring Morning (1957)
(Lentemorgen - J 139)
The other dominant theme to be announced in the early Hague years was the erotic female nude. Even before he met Diana, Johfra was producing drawings of women that betrayed (despite their classical poses and delicate rendering) a more definite eroticism. Such is the case with Sweet Seventeen (1946), produced shortly before he met Diana (in fact, the drawing is dated 24.03.1946 - one week before their first encounter).
IMAGE - Sweet Seventeen (1946) (J 78)
Throughout the Hague years, Johfra executed the occasional canvas with more Baroque and Mannerist themes. Some were Alpine landscapes, others were views of Roman ruins. But a classical nude such as Bacchante (1951) shows that, after five years, the eroticism in his works was mounting. If we view such a canvas as a mirror onto his mindstuff - giving shape to the substance of his imagination - then his dreams and visions had now become clearly focused onto atleast one unified shape - the erotic female nude.
IMAGE - Bacchante (1951) (J 88)
Towards the end of the Hague years, a new theme was announced in his work - a theme that would increasingly occupy him for years to come. In the late fifties, after nine years of study at the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, Johfra produced his first Hermetic works, such as Pistis Sophia (1959) (J 157) and The Woman of the Apocalypse and the Beast (1961). In this latter creation, his style of rendering changed remarkably, manifesting an undeniable visionary quality.
For the first time, Johfra created a strongly symmetrical composition with central focus and strong contrasts of light and dark. As well, traditional sacred symbols were combined in a creative way. Granted, the subject matter is taken from The Book of the Apocalypse (Rev 12:1), but Johfra’s vision elevates this scene into a blinding moment of revelation.
IMAGE - The Virgin and the Beast of the Apocalypse (1961)
(De apocalyptische vrouw en het beest - J 172)
During this time, the Mindscapes and drummels continued, as did the erotic nudes. But now, a new form had emerged from his mind’s interior. Not only had his ever-flowing mindstuff become focused onto a unified shape, but the strong symmetry, contrast, and symbolism in this work had now fixed it into an image of contemplation. So, the purpose of art was not only to manifest the mind’s interior, but focus it into fixed forms. And through his Hermetic studies, he would elevate those forms into contemplative symbols - into, that is, new doorways in the mind for spiritual awakening. An important evolution in Johfra’s work had begun.
1962 - 1973 - ALPES MARITIMES
The year of 1962 marked a major transition in Johfra’s life. He broke with Diana Vandenberg and began living with Ellen Lorien. This also required a move away from the Hague to Amsterdam. Two years later in 1964 Johfra and Ellen left Holland permanently and settled in Aspremont, an area north of Nice in the Alpes Maritimes.
In fact, they lived in a wooden hut no larger than a small room. The cold and dampness of winter made painting so difficult that Johfra had to wear fingerless gloves while working and kept his sleeves tied closed with string.
The drummel paintings continued in abundance until about 1973. So also the Mindstuff Landscapes which expanded in several directions. Sometimes the horizon was lost entirely, creating strange energy configurations. Other times, the growths of green moss and stone lichen gave way to a more recognizable landscape of Alpine mountains and the Mediterranean sea. The occasional esoteric symbol appeared in the Mindstuff Landscapes.
His finished drawings in red and black pencil were another matter. These announced a new theme in his work: the classical hero battling a monster. This could be Hercules defeating the seven-headed Hydra, a serpent enwrapped about the limbs of the Laocoon, or a winged angel defeating a fallen demon.
IMAGE - The Fight between a Servent and a Demon of Understanding 2 (1964)
(Gevecht van een dienaar met een demon van het verstand 2 - J 203)
And slowly, these classical figures began to invade his Mindscapes. Now, more traditional monsters such as griffons and winged horses appear in the foreground of what was, otherwise, a growing organic amalgam of telluric vegetation. More fascinating still, classical nudes could also be found, now reclining in the foreground of these otherwise chaotic inscapes.
IMAGE - Et mon petit dejeuner? (1969) (J 243)
During the Alpes Maritimes years, the classical nudes also increased in their erotic quality. Though Daphne (1966) still portrays a mythic subject, the woman’s figure is more modern than classical. Her arching back and exposed breasts invite the eye’s appreciation and the mind’s caress.
IMAGE - Daphne (1966) (J 220)
The most interesting image to emerge during this time is, in fact, Johfra’s own Self Portrait (1965). He is now 46 years of age, and crossing over the threshold of mid-life. The conception of the image is classical: its triangular composition with the collars forming the base of the triangle and his eye at its apex, Johfra is seeing himself in the tradition of the Netherlandish masters such as Van Eyck. The landscape with aerial perspective, meanwhile, harkens back to Da Vinci.
Only one small detail - the scarab beetle with its ball of dung in the foreground - implies a more symbolic aspect. Has he placed there a symbol of rebirth to indicate his hopes for renewal after death? Or does it indicate instead that he has just emerged now - at this point in his life - from a moment of self-renewal?
In any case, the Self Portrait marks a new step in his life quest through painting. Though the artist had already portrayed himself countless times as a minor figure in the midsts of some Drummel or Mindscape, this was the first time he had rendered himself clearly and self-consciously, without self-facing humour. The mindstuff mirrored in his works, we might say, has now assembled itself into a clear, well-defined image of himself as artist in the tradition of the old masters. His identity is established, and the work mirrors his mind’s gaze unto itself, as the source, creator, artist, and indeed, master of that gaze.
IMAGE - Zelfportret (1965) (J 214)
Towards the end of the 60’s, Johfra and Ellen built a slightly larger hut in the Alpes Maritimes, this time from stone rather than wood. In this new home, warmer and somewhat larger, he began a new kind of painting which took form, most noticeably, in The Guardian of the Pearl (1971). The Mindscape is still there with its strange telluric forms growing on either side. The mountains and seas inspired by the Alpes Maritimes are also present in the distance. But now, the landscape has become populated by numerous minute figures in ever-constant movement - dancing, singing, celebrating. Some are drummels, others more human - all participate in a monstrous parade of human folly and vanity.
The explosion of figures here evokes the earlier works of Bosch and, more accurately, of Bruegel. With the central figure who beholds the pearl, a kind of allegory emerges. Though our eye is invited to roam, scan and wander over the thousand amusing diversions and distractions, it is also invited to fix its gaze at the centre and, like the wise old man, contemplate the pearl.
A canvas such as this is the first in an ever-increasing series where human figures multiply into huge masses of detailed figures. A new and important theme is announced. If the canvas is a mirror of the mind, then we see that the artist has now fixed his gaze onto humanity as a whole. The first of the ‘Infinite Figure’ paintings is attained.
IMAGE - The Guardian of the Pearl (1971)
(De behoeder van de parel - J 264)
As the sixties came to a close, the number of Hermetic works increased. In part, this was due to the fact that these works were ordered as commissions, both in the form of illustration and painting. But, Johfra obviously delighted in these commissions, integrating them in his own quest for spiritual transformation.
Two admirable examples of Johfra’s illustration work may be seen in his plates to The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz: The Game in the Sun House: Lion and Griffin and The Image of Nebuchadnezzar (1968). Rendered in pen and ink, the linework is very assured; the gradations of light and shadow through stipling and hatching is very accomplished. But, more than that, Johfra’s studies with the Rosicrucians has given him a complete grasp of symbolism: alchemical, ancient, bibilical and kabbalist systems of thought and imagery all intermix in these works. The Orphic/Mithraic figure on the right, encircled seven times by the serpent, will soon become the focus of his next major work.
IMAGE - Illustrations to the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz: The Game in the Sun House: Lion and Griffin (1968)
(Illustraties van De alchemische bruiloft van Christiaan Rozenkruis: Het spel in het zonnehuis: de leeuw en de griffioen - J 239)
IMAGE - The Image of Nebuchadnezzar (1968)
Het beeld van Nebucadnezar (SF 86).
In 1970, Johfra executed a large painting called The Vision of Hermes Trismegistos (which, two years later, he reworked). Like all the Hermetic paintings, a powerful feeling of revelation pervades. The strong symmetry and central figure invite us to still our wandering eye and focus it onto a more contemplative symbol. The colours are subdued so as to increase the contrasts of light and dark, thus emphasizing the brilliant, light-infused serpents wrapped around Hermes’ shadowy figure.
Another fascinating work from 1972 is Johfra’s dual portrait of Ellen and himself, titled Animus en Anima. Each holds the child-like soul of the other in their arms - Johfra’s in a clam shell, Ellen’s in a lotus flower. On Johfra’s chest is the scarabus. And between them appears the yin / yang symbol, where each contains a particle of the other as a circle in its centre. More than that, the two are separate but integrated parts of the greater circle: together they form a higher unity.
IMAGE - Animus and Anima (1972)
(Animus en Anima - Enneking 121).
But the greatest Hermetic work to emerge during the Alpes Maritimes years is undoubtedly his Unio Mystica (1973). A broad triptych measuring more than two metres across, it brings together many of the painterly obsessions which had occupied the artist up to this point in his life. The composition unites a multitude of mythic symbols and their more ancient philosophies onto a single sacred and timeless centre. The triptych became the crowning achievement of a period otherwise marred by struggle and poverty.
(For a deeper analysis of Hermes Trismegistos and Unio Mystica, see the article The Hermetic Johfra.)
1973 - 1983 - PERIGORD NOIR
In June of 1973, Johfra and Ellen bought an abandoned mill in Fleurac, Dordogne, a region of south-western France known as Perigord Noir. Over the course of a year, they converted the mill into their new home, Moulin du Peuch. In this rustic setting, the two would live and paint together for the remainder of their lives.
The Perigord Noir period is characterized by increasing recognition both in Holland and abroad. This began with the touring exhibition of The Seven Meta-Realists in May of 1974. Suddenly, Johfra, Diana Vandenberg, Ellen Lorien, Victor Linford, Han Koning, Johan Hermsen and Frans Erkelens were the centre of a lot of media attention in Holland and Belgium. A book by Hein Steehouwer further promoted the group (De Zeven Metarealisten), as did a book exclusively dedicated to Johfra by Pierre Borgue (Johfra, op de grenzen fan het avontuur).
The number of commissions increased. In December of 1973, Engel Verkerke commissioned the twelve Zodiac pictures from the artist, while Walter Kamp commissioned a cycle of seven paintings called The Maldoror Series.
In his new studio in the tower of Moulin du Peuch, Johfra worked hard and fast. By April of 1974, he had completed Cancer, Leo, and Virgo. Four months later, in August, he completed Scorpio and Libra. In October and November came Sagittarius and Capricorn. January 1975 witnessed the birth of Aquarius, and in the following months he completed Pisces, Aries, Gemini, and Taurus.
These twelve paintings, which are now known throughout the world, manifest Johfra’s skills as a painter just when he had reached new heights of accomplishment. Thanks to years of study at the Lectorium Rosicrucianum, his grasp of the astrological symbols was profound. As he made clear later in his own commentary (Astrology: Signs of the Zodiac), the paintings are more than illustrations of the traditional Zodiac. They combine signs and images from Kabbala, Magick, Alchemy and the Tarot to become a complex and graduated series of meditations. An acquaintance with the doctrines of Neo-Platonism, Hermeticism, and the Kabbala underlies their composition, and invites the viewer to contemplate these works as doorways to self-transcendence.
In his Unio Mystica, Hermes Trismegistos, and The Zodiac Series, Johfra’s Hermetic works reached their resounding climax. He unerringly displayed a singular talent, indeed, a genius for symbolic thinking. For, the artist not only penetrated into the meaning of these traditional esoteric symbols, but aligned and arranged them in new, unusually creative and meaningful ways.
Iconography aside, these major Hermetic works are also high artistic accomplishments. His years of sketching and painting permitted him to render anatomy, drapery, poses, light, atmosphere, texture, clouds, landscapes, and nature in a masterly way. The telluric and organic textures from the Mindscapes are here, both in the backgrounds and the framing elements; they provide the paintings with a fantastic quality. But his fine studies from Nature are also in evidence: accurate animal anatomy, plants, leaves, flowers and trees all rendered with exactitude. In the Pisces, we even behold once more the underwater coralline growths and anemones that so fascinated him in Out of the Egg thirty years ago.
The Maldoror Series which followed, painted between 1976 and 1978, are his strangest and darkest works. Full of cruel, repulsive and macabre images, they break the floodgates of reason and spill over onto the canvas from the artist’s darkest unconscious. With the exception of the interesting The Hermaphrodite (1976), these paintings display an ugliness otherwise unfound in Johfra’s oeuvre - they are brazen, garrish and graphic. He seems more inspired by American comic book art than his usual Baroque sources.
IMAGE - Maldoror Series: The Hermaphrodite (1976)
(Maldoror-serie: De hermafrodiet - J 313)
From this time forward, Johfra’s Hermetic works turn away from the light above and focus on the darkness below. Whatever transcendental symbols he used before - transparent to a higher light - he now seems obsessed by shadow, the occult, and the darkness that dwells below.
For example, in 1979, he completed a series of Witches’ Portraits. Where woman before offered him the allure of her arching nude figure, now it is her hooded face that fascinated him, with a dark expression equally licentious and dangerous.
IMAGE - Witches’ Portrait: Mary Magdalene
(Heksenportretje: Maria Magdalena - J 335)
IMAGE - Witches’ Portrait: Arachne
(Heksenportretje: Arachne - J 335)
In March of ‘77 he painted Witches’ Sabbath I, a theme that intrigued him enough to reprise it with Witches’ Sabbath II in June of ‘78. Then, in March of ‘79 he completed the huge Adoration of Pan, a triptych measuring two metres high and three metres across.
IMAGE - Witches’ Sabbath I (1977)
(Heksensabbat I - J 316)
IMAGE - The Adoration of Pan (1979)
(Aanbidding van Pan - J 328)
A profound alteration in his vision has occured. The upward striving Hermes has given way to the downward pointing Baphomet. The Hermetic works have come to an end; the Pantheist works commenced. What is more, the erotic nude has now been combined with the ‘infinite figure’ painting to express this new Pantheism. Where sexuality was concentrated before on a single nude form, now it has exploded into a swirling mass of human figures.
These large disturbing works offer a vision of humanity caught in the darkness below. No sacred symbol, no higher light guides them upward, toward heavenly ascendence or self-transcendence. Instead, at the eye of the maelstrom appears the great god Pan - his curled horns and cloven hooves, his full breasts and huge phallus bringing together and embodying their longing for orgiastic union. The only light in this world below is the torch that blazes between the devil’s horns. And in the absence of spirit, the only unity to be consummated is in the flesh, as humanity’s sexual striving for universal procreation.
And yet, the Occult elements must not be mistaken for a form of Devil worship. The Horned God in this work harkens back to older Pagan traditions, where Nature was worshipped through midnight fertility rites. The witches’ sabbath was a celebration of the all-pervading Life-power which flowed through Nature, and manifest itself in the growth of plants, the engendering of animals, and in humanity’s own sexual striving. Johfra’s Pantheist works express, above all, the Life-force that flows through Nature.
(For a deeper analysis of The Witches’ Portraits, The Witches’ Sabbath and The Adoration of Pan, see the article The Pantheist Johfra.)
In his autobiography, Johfra quotes from Faust and his lament that “Alas, two souls dwell within my breast, and each longs to sever itself from the other.” (Faust l.1112) On the one hand is the love of Nature as grasped through the senses, on the other is a higher longing for Heavenly existence. Johfra felt this dual longing in himself accutely - a dualism which he had inherited from his studies in Hermeticism, which polarized existence between body and spirit, earth and heaven, Nature and the Transcendent.
It is for this reason that Hermes Trismegistos, in Johfra’s rendering, points upward with one hand and downward with the other. Hermeticism sought the reconciliation of opposites by transcending them in favour of a higher union. The god Pan, meanwhile, sits firmly upon the earth and with both outstretched hands he knowingly gestures downward. For, he knows that - all that exists, exists here! This is the only world.
A closer examination of The Adoration of Pan reveals an order amidst the swirling chaos. There are in fact four distinct groups of figures. On the left, they emerge from the earth, in the middle from the water, on the right from the fire, and at the top left from the air - the four fundamental elements. All swirl towards Pan (‘the All’) in the centre, as if toward the unified source of the elements. In the future, Johfra will become obsessed with these four elements - as the fire spirits, fairies, water nymphs and woodsprites that invisibly inhabit and enliven nature.
Without a doubt, a darkness pervades these first Pantheist works, as if Johfra felt accutely the absence of light from the earlier Hermetic paintings. But as his painting continues, the light returns. Except now, it is a new light. Not the higher light which shines through Hermetic symbols, but the light of Nature with its many moods - cloudy, misty, or diffused through branches of trees, the light of the sun dispersed by so many shadows.
By the early 80’s, he was painting subjects such as Pan, Bacchus, or a Family of Satyrs. But the Pan who appears in this painting is not the pagan god blazing with darkened light, surrounded by masses of orgiastic worshippers. Instead, we behold here a horned god who is at home in Nature. From now on, in all of his works, Johfra will render nature in infinite detail. Each rock and stone, each leaf and flower is painstakingly rendered with loving attention. The central figures - even the more fantastic beasts such as unicorns and griffons - are not only in nature, but integrated in it, as an organic part of the living whole.
IMAGE - Pan the Woodland God (1980)
(Pan de bosgod - J 346)
1983 - 1998 - MATURITY
In the last decades of their shared lives, Johfra and Ellen Lorien continued to paint and exhibit together, both at home and abroad. She managed Galerie la Licorne on their property, created le Chant des Toiles for reproductions, and published the book Elves, Fairies and Gnomes (1989). Their home Moulin du Peuch continued to expand, and their property became a rich garden with its own waterfall, meditation ponds and enchanted forest.
The final years of Johfra’s output are marked by more autobiographical works, particularly portraits of Ellen, but also of Johfra himself. In the Fountain pictures and Elf Series, he investigates the play of light over the elements. His earlier interest in organic textures and growth now becomes a painterly fascination with earth, air, fire, and water in all their natural and symbolic forms.
This leads naturally to a series of broad landscape paintings with their stunning panoramic vistas. More fascinating still, Johfra returns to all his earlier periods, reprising Mindscapes, Drummels, Infinite Figure landscapes and even Hermetic paintings. The final works display an increasing awareness of his death and the journey that awaits.
The first important work to emerge in this period is Johfra’s last self portrait. In Self Portrait as a Faun (1985), he appears entirely at home in nature and, indeed, recognizes himself as part beast. Now Pan’s horns and cloven hooves have taken over the artist himself. Not as a great pagan god, but a more lowly satyr with a smile and side glance that betoken much humour and wisdom. He is the wise old man of the forest, mischievous, lusty and playful - a trickster.
IMAGE - Self Portrait as a Faun (1985)
(Zelfportret als faun - J 377)
Parallel with the self portrait are a fourfold series of Ellen portraits called Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night and a ninefold series of landscapes called Ellen in Wonderland. In 1984 he painted the large La dame a la Licorne, which portrays Ellen as the lady who has tamed the unicorn. Much of the imagery and even the style of painting in this picture are taken from Ellen’s own works, as if Johfra wanted to render hommage to her not only as wife but as artist in her own right. (For more on Ellen Lorien, her painting, and these portraits, see the article Ellen Lorien).
IMAGE - La dame a la licorne (1984) (J 379)
Viewing these works in the greater context of Johfra’s evolution as an artist, we see that his perception of himself and his wife has become fixed as distinctive personalities at home in Nature - Nature that is not only rich in detail (the Pantheist view), but also has profound symbolic qualities (himself as a satyr and Ellen as encircled by lotus flowers and waterlilies). The two types of flower in this painting - the lotuses behind her and the waterlilies in the pond below - are rich in their associated symbolism of Buddhist wisdom and awakening. The unicorn, we may surmise, is Johfra himself, making this a kind of wedding portrait. According to legend, the unicorn is a wild and untamed beast which nevertheless may be captured and tamed by a virgin.
The years of Maturity were also marked by a whole series of Fountain paintings. Finally, the fountains of Rome which he had first sketched with Diana in their travels through Italy forty years ago explode in abundance. What fascinated the artist above all was the play of water through air and light and over stone. The element of water in all its fluid forms has become a painterly challenge, and he renders its movement with absolute mastery.
IMAGE - Esedra Fountain. Triton (1987)
(Esedra fontein. Triton - J 370)
But the other elements are not forgotten. His Phoenix (1982) is more than just a symbolic picture of death and rebirth - the phoenix which immolates itself in the fire and arises reborn from the ashes. The notebooks reveal the painstaking efforts which Johfra took to render in paint the glowing, undulating movement of fire.
IMAGE - Feniks (1982) (J 343)
Similarly, the rich verdure of vine and vegetation invades almost all of his works from this period. A fine example, aside from the earlier ones of Pan or the Self Portrait as a Satyr, is The Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon (1994). This is the apex of a whole series of Elf paintings, which examines the gnomes, fairies, and woodsprites in their own element. The mushrooms, ferns, ivy and rocks are all rendered with loving attention to the marvellous shapes and patterns which emerge from the earth.
IMAGE - The Reconciliation of Titania and Oberon (1994)
De verzoening tussen Titania en Oberon - J 445
The last decade of his life also bears witness to the birth of a whole series of broad landscape paintings (several of which were left at the grey underpainting stage when he died). Three times wider than they are high, the concern here is to represent nature as a panoramic vista. Mountains, seas, cliffs and trees - these are all present. But the prinicple preoccupation is to render atmospheric light, and the numerous shades of grey and blue which intercede between horizon and foreground.
A page from the notebooks reveal how Johfra has indeed worked out the twenty possible contrasts of light and dark which create atmosphere. In the panoramic landscapes, he applies these variations one after another. Having mastered the rendering of water, fire, and earth in earlier canvases, he has now turned to the most ethereal and invisible of elements - air. Despite the obvious, these paintings do not depict mountains, seas, cliffs, and trees. They are studies of the air which interposes itself between the viewer and these objects as atmosphere and light.
IMAGE - Compositional Possibilities of Landscapes in Four Planes
(Composotie-mogelijkheden van landschappen in vier plans - J 965)
Thus the four elements which swirled around Pan in the great triptych have become, each in their own way, a gripping obsession for the artist. His last years are spent, like the Magician of the Tarot Arcana, trying to master earth, air, fire, and water through their representation in art.
The years of Maturity are also an opportunity for Johfra to return to earlier periods of his development and reprise certain themes. The earlier Hermetic phase is revisited with the canvases Crossing Over (1989) and The Resurrection (1988). As in Hermes Trismegistos, the concern here is to offer an image of heavenly ascendence and self-transcendence. Death is not depicted, in a Pantheist manner, as a return to the earth from whence we came. Instead, it is a resurrection and indeed a return to the ancestors, who join hands in a garden paradise to welcome the newly departed (or newly arrived).
IMAGE - Crossing Over (1989)
(De overgang -J 406)
IMAGE - The Resurrection (1988)
(De opstanding - J 407)
Johfra also returns to the Mindscape paintings of his youth, which we have already seen in the Psychological Self Portrait (1996), a late work which belongs, nevertheless, with the Mindstuff landscapes of forty years ago. The Erotic Nude is also reprised in images of Leda (1994) and The Litle Circus (1994). One year before his death, he returns to the Witches’ Sabbath (1997), and also paints Infinite Figure paintings with the Horned God as a central figure, be it Pluto (1997) or Cernunnos (1993). His Pantheism is still as alive as ever.
The final theme to emerge in Johfra’s ‘Symphonie Fantastique’ is the distant celestial city. At times, this appears as the lost island of Atlantis (1990) or Mount Salvat (1994). Most beautifully, in Geological Wandering (1990), it appears as a distant heavenly Jerusalem bathed with a glowing golden light. In the foreground, almost too small to be seen, stands the artist himself with palette in hand.
Incredibly, the artist’s fascination with the elements has not abadoned him. His Atlantis is a glowing city in the distant waters; Mount Salvat arises among the stones and the earth; the golden city of the Geological Wandering appears among the air and clouds; and a similar work entitled The Two Fires offfers a distant city surmounted by a fiery tower. In each of the four elements lies a forgotten paradise.
IMAGE - Mount Salvat (1994)(J 448)
IMAGE - Geological Wandering (1990)
(Geologische Wandeling -J 421)
The last painting which Johfra completed before his death speaks directly to the heart of the viewer. Amidst the rich organic growths which only he could render, a gondola sets out upon the calmly rippling waters. It is the final voyage to an unknown destination. The theme is neither Hermetic nor Pantheist; it speaks of death neither as transcendence nor immanence. In this final work, an overwhelming feeling arises in answer to life’s eternal question ‘what lies beyond?’ The heart-felt response offered here is - sheer mystery.
IMAGE - Homeward Journey (1998)
(Thuisvaart - J 484)