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During a November storm in 1978 Geurt Busser painted a watercolour behind the dike in the Noordpolder of Groningen for the first time. Up until then, he had always painted the Wadden from the shore. The wind blew the paint across the paper and with the big brush he used it proved very difficult to get the colours in the right place. The result baffled him. His ambition to paint a world devoid of all redundancy was rewarded by the optimal workings of light. It was the fruit of a deliberate choice: a minimum of narrative means, subdued motion and faint contrasts, refraining from excessive packs of clouds, admitting no living creatures or objects, neither in the sky nor in the foreground.
For Busser , painting on the Wadden is a logical consequence of the central themes in his work: light and space. He made do in a small boat for a long time, barely keeping himself and his things dry. Yet it was in this nutshell, struggling against the elements, where he evolved into a wilful painter of reduction: the Waddenpainter who needed less and less to express all the more.
And this way, Geurt Busser became a member of the fishermen's community at the Waddensea. He labours under the same powerful rule of the tides and frequently sails at inconvenient hours to reach the right place at a practical time, to set up his workbench either on board or on the mud flats of the drained Wadden. The seafaring people are accustomed to the fact that he is not chasing after fish or shrimps. After all the painter's work expresses the unspeakable experiences of the fishermen's lives. The undertone of everything that affects the fisher folk vibrates in his watercolours: of the cheerful and the cheerless stories told in the pub. Busser seeks light, this awesome light that commands the world. Everything, the entire biosphere ranging from the skies, the waters, the mud flats and the adjacent land, to mudworms and birds, from fish, shrimps ans seals to fishermen and environmentalists. Members of the renowned local artist's society De Ploeg testified that this light is unique in Europe, as much as the lagoon itself. Busser tries to capture it by recording the colour shifts in the sky, the clouds, the horizon, water, sand and vegetation. The atmosphere, the accumulation of all light, takes up the greater part of his working surface. This dazzling hollow, sublime void full of wind and steam resulting in vast plastic nuances, grabs him by the throat time and again. This perpetually changing hemisphere, with its prevailing clouds, is also the mirror of the Wadden: of the water and sediments and of the actions of wind and tide. It is obvious that this creates a balance between the parts above and below the horizon.
Thousands of times Geurt Busser has painted watercolours in various sizes of this amphibious world, which alters with every tide. Most of his paintings land on an ever growing pile in his studio, waiting for a spectacular bonfire. But why are some watercolours more succesful than others? There can be no doubt that it partly comes down to balance. Sometimes one lacks the much desired level of clarity. It cannot possibly be the distribution of space in the lay-out. Busser uses a fixed division for every sheet of paper, consisting of around 80% sky and a narrow strip of foreground, seperated by a hairline for the horizon. Voluminous, intoxicating skies set a clear basis for every composition. These are the conveyers of light and the exponents of the force of the wind. There is a conspicuous absence of living creatures, even when Busser painted his occasional watercolours from the shore. Not a tiny shape, not even a small folded line in the sky suggesting a bird. The earth before the dawn of mankind. This thought is often one of the most fascinating aspects of his work. They are however human landscapes and seascapes. The slight silhouettes on the horizon see to that, for instance the watchtower of Rottumeroog (only those who know of it will recognize it), and sometimes the roof of a farmhouse.
The painter has found the ideal distance to the coastline in all directions on the dead water south of Rottumeroog, around 12 kilometres or 7.5 miles northeast of Noordpolderzijl. He is hard hit by the fact that this area has been declared closed to the public for a number of months a year. And therefore one can only hope that his fishing license will enable him to work freely.
Geurt Busser has a healthy respect for the sun itself. One seldom sees the source of what he tries to capture in his work. The reason for this became clear to me one evening in July of 1991, at sunset. It was a quarter to ten. The ship had grounded on a mud flat. The typical silence of the Wadden surrounded us, perceptible between the rare cries of birds. Geurt pushed the curtain of a cabin window aside an exclaimed in a hushed voice: "Darn it, this is really spectacular!" And as he rushed out onto the deck: "I have never been able to catch a red sun in a sky like this!". Singing (and occasionally clearing his throat) he spans a large sheet of paper across his drawing board and starts to paint feverishly. He dips his brush (Chinese deer's hairs with a goat's hairs coating, about 4 inches long and 1½ inches wide) in a rusty tin can with rust-coloured water. His palette is a children's paintbox with small cakes of paint ("I have been using a box of Marie's Watercolours for eleven years, and refilled it with small tubes of paint"). The brush flies across the paper in sheets of water. Bluish gray and purplish blue shades evoke a ragged pattern of clouds. Now and then he squeezes excess water from the brush. With a finer brush and the skill of a carpenter marking the line for his saw, he paints the horizon in a single stroke. Just above the horizon he leaves a circular blank space on the white paper. It is the place where the fast sinking ball of fire on the horizon is already emerged in a cloud of vapour. The painter has become quiet as a mouse. He looks up continually. As if he is painting what he observes. But on paper different shapes appear. The perception of the inner eye?
Busser puts his brush aside, stretches the paper and goes back inside without a word, to put the watercolour down to dry.
"Red suns do not exist", says Geurt Busser, afterwards in the cabin. "It is merely an effect of its heat that we see." He seems to be apologizing. "It just did not work. See, a photograph registers a particular moment, but what I do is reflect an average image over a period of painting. The red sun did not fit in. My dynamics and methods do not allow the inclusion of such a red sun."
Busser, a Frisian in heart and soul and very much reserved in showing his feelings, talks with sudden enthousiasm about one of his watercolours. Notable he does not talk about the sun itself, but about the suggestion of the sun. "Most of the light was in the middle, the horizon was fairly high. Standing close up to it, it looked like something started rotating.. This watercolour was exhibited in Drachten, at the far end of a long and narrow passage. Moving away from the painting, backwards into the hall, one got the feeling that the spot in the middle was brighter than the whiteness of the paper."
Translation: Jeroen Roovers [