A Day With: Frans Muhren

Frans Muhren is a nationally-distinguished sculptor and painter from the Netherlands. Movement (or the suggestion of it), contradictions (such as shadow and light, the convex and concave), and the possibilities of matter are the central themes of his work. In his sculptural work, small stories and unique characters appear in the colorful, sometimes abstract pieces. We recently sat down with Muhren to learn more about his process and how he spends a typical day in the life.

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

I get up around 7 a.m. and make coffee while listening to the news on the radio and checking my e-mail. Then I walk the dog for about an hour and a half (not so long when it’s raining as he hates rain).

What inspires you to create every day?

The ambition to make the perfect sculpture, which could be the next one.

Frans Muhren, 'Streamer 72', 2018. Wall Sculpture, Steel Without Stand, 40(L)x17(H)x13(D)cm.
Frans Muhren, ‘Streamer 72’, 2018. Wall Sculpture, Steel Without Stand, 40(L)x17(H)x13(D)cm.

What does your work space look like?

I work in a private studio in Amsterdam and, if the weather permits, in the open air of the Beemster Polder, where a friend of mine has an orchard and I can use my cutting torch and grinders without being a nuisance to my neighbors. It’s a wonderful arrangement and I go there as often as I can. There is a big difference between the organized surroundings in my studio in Amsterdam and the situation in the Beemster, where I have a large, chaotic pile of iron in different forms and sizes on my work bench. While I’m working I have a picture of this chaos in my head, which is good for the creative process. It helps me to find new forms and possibilities. There is an element of chance that I like.

Describe the core of your technique or style.

I used to work in all kinds of material with different techniques, starting in stone, for a long time followed by wood and also polyester resin, but nowadays I mainly work with iron. This material has the advantage of being suitable for the construction of bigger sculptures. The iron is cut into form with angle grinders and a cutting torch, heated and bent. I weld the parts together and then usually paint the sculpture with acrylic (resp. let it rust or apply wax or shoe polish – not all my sculptures are colored).

What are your top 3 studio essentials?

While working – except when I can´t hear anything because I´m cutting – I listen to the news on the radio or to classical music (e.g. Mozart, Stravinsky), pop music (e.g. David Bowie, Radiohead), and jazz and blues.

How do you know or decide when an artwork is finished?

The form comes first. I know right away if this is “spatially” OK, but the colors are not so evident. In most cases, the first color is decisive for the choice of the other colors. It is necessary not to see the sculpture for a while to judge if the whole is to my liking. When I haven’t looked at it for some time, I can see how the forms and colors interact.

Frans Muhren, 'Streamer 73,' 2019. Steel With Stand, 50(L)x52(H)x30(D)cm.
Frans Muhren, ‘Streamer 73,’ 2019. Steel With Stand, 50(L)x52(H)x30(D)cm.

What do you like to do to unwind after a day’s work?

When I was young, I used to be a bit of barfly but now I’m seventy and my work is exciting enough, so in in the evening I prefer being home with my wife (and our dear Irish terrier called Jip) and relax. The only day in the week I don´t work is the day our oldest grandson, who just turned 5, is with us. At the moment he is fond of ´My Little Pony´ and whenever he is at our house, he insists on making drawings like this with me. A year ago we drew okapis and zebras and before that, when he was a toddler, I had to draw an endless amount of cars, so I wonder what´s next. Sometimes it does feel a bit like forced labor, but his enthusiasm is contagious enough not to give up and let him display the ponies from his school bag again the following week (it’s a good thing I like drawing!).

Frans Muhren and his grandson, ‘My Little Pony Collaborative Art Piece,’ 2019. Mixed media on paper.

What’s your overall favorite aspect of the creative process?

Serendipity–when I discover or stumble across something I wasn’t looking for and suddenly see an exciting new possibility.

Frans Muhren, '4 in a Row 1,' 2018. Painted Steel With Stand, 34(L)x33(H)x6(D)cm.
Frans Muhren, ‘4 in a Row 1,’ 2018. Painted Steel With Stand, 34(L)x33(H)x6(D)cm.

Thank you, Frans! See more of his dynamic sculptures on Singulart.

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