“Art is its own reality, it should be new, and must stand on its own.”
Artist Philip Rademaker was born in Curaçao in 1944 and grew up in Otrabanda. Every year, the family would go on holiday to Westpunt. Renting a small kunuku house without water or electricity was not the most glamorous vacation, but spending time there with his parents and twin sisters definitely created some happy memories. 28 years ago, ‘Fifi’ – as everyone calls Philip Rademaker – bought a weekend house at the far end of Westpunt, across from Playa Kalki.
Over the years, he kept fixing, remodeling and adding to it. Finally, he sold his place in Willemstad and moved to Bandabou permanently, where he currently still resides. “My roots are on that side of the island”, Fifi explains. “My great-grandmother built a house there in 1881. She was a slave at the plantation of Landhuis Savonette and worked the fields of our current Christoffelpark. The landlord had gotten her pregnant and decided to set her free. He also gave her the name ‘van Thijs’. This is my heritage, my history and in some way, it is the breeding ground for me as an artist.”
Fifi chose a high-level education and a sensible career. He started working at MCB bank as a stock trader, and was studying to become an English and Spanish teacher. But creativity called, and Fifi started working in advertising on the side. “At school I was always drawing and painting, and my art teacher saw some potential. He invited me to his house to join an art class for adults he was teaching there at night.” During the 70’s he developed himself in the areas of marketing and advertising, loving the creativity and diversity of it all. Writing copy, filming commercials, strategizing, thinking up new campaigns and working as an account executive, every aspect of the field crossed his path.
At the start of the 80’s he’s invited to come and work for the government, to breathe new life into the Curaçao Tourist Board. This changed his life drastically. International responsibilities, traveling, holiday fairs, a big office, a big expense account, and less and less creativity. This lifestyle did not suit Philip well and when a group of friends asked him to become a partner in their new firm, he gratefully accepted.
A new period in his life arises and he rediscovers his love for the creativity of the work. Creating large commercial campaigns for big companies, awareness campaigns for the government and SVB and developing the first political campaigns for Curaçao. “In this period of my life I wasn’t writing, drawing or painting in my spare time. I was constantly trying to come up with new ideas, developing campaigns, searching for idiosyncrasies, everything about my work was creatively fulfilling in those days.”
But the greed of one of his partners got the better of them and a lot of money disappeared. By trimming everything down to the bare minimum, Philip and the other partners manage to hold on to the business. They work without salary for a year to pay of all debts and finally close the company’s doors at the end of the 90’s. Sadly, a few years later, the same thing happened again.
Fifi worked at an agency for two years, when out of the blue, on payday, the managing director informed them the company had filed for bankruptcy and without any notice Philip found himself without a job, without insurance and without his pension plan. “These experiences, as hard and cruel as they are, teach you to rely on yourself. It teaches you what’s really important in life. I started writing poems and short stories again, published three books and a collection of poetry in Papiamentu. I started painting more frequently again and enjoying expressing my creativity.”
Philip Rademaker is an eclectic artist. He draws portraits with pen and ink; paints cities and landscapes; creates large abstract paintings – which he deliberately doesn’t give a name, to not impose any interpretation – and he loves to work with wood and metals. Even though his work is very diverse, there are similarities between his abstracts and realism paintings. “The use of colors, materials and lines unite my work, everything is connected.”
When asked what inspires him in his work, his answer is unexpected and refreshing: “I don’t believe in inspiration. Picasso once said: Inspiration is a tool. I look at it the same way. Art is its own reality, it should be new, and must stand on its own. That’s one of the reasons I’m not a fan of Conceptional Art because it is thought up. Keep it simple, simplify your art, don’t complicate it unnecessarily. If art is important to you, you should always remain yourself. I’m a rational person, with regard to my art work as well. There’s always danger of losing yourself as an artist and become what they expect you to be. I’m always alert to that. If they praise you, take it with a grain of salt, if they criticize, you take it seriously! It means your work has been taken seriously.”
‘Chapara di Kastigá Katibu’ – the Slave Punishment Rod – is not a typical art piece of Fifi but nevertheless one of his favorites. “I created it for an exhibition in Landhuis Bloemhof with the theme Taboo and it’s a combination of text and sculpture, one being meaningless without the other. It consists of the backbone of a shark, which in our colonial times, was used as a rod or a whip to punish the slaves. The accompanying text is a passage from the Bible, stating slaves have to be whipped and slavery is justified. This piece of art has a strong message I really needed to convey.
I generally create art from an aesthetic point of view, but this piece was created out of idealism.”