Piet Sluis (1929-2008)
Dutch born, Sluis came to Ireland in the 1950s and had a distinguished career as a graphic designer. In recent years his paintings have become widely known and are much sought after. He called himself a colourist and in his own words liked “to push the transparency of oil paints, to give them weight and opacity” (in conversation with Paul O’Kelly). Sluis was also an accomplished jazz musician.
In Pieter Sluis, Ireland has a unique emissary from the Dutch postwar COBRA movement. The movement, founded by Karol Appel and other Dutch and Belgian artists, was an attempt to wrest art-world interest back from the New York abstract expressionists of the 1950s. As Pieter began to make his mark in Dublin galleries from the late 1960s onwards, he continued to pursue his interests in graphic art, typography and calligraphy, and to take an active interest, as performer and listener, in his beloved jazz music. Many of his paintings incorporated images of his jazz heroes, while others, such as his masterpiece Breath of Life, refer indirectly to rhythm and music. The COBRA movement formed much of Pieter’s work from the late 1950s to the early 1960s – so much so that Pieter often referred to these paintings as “my Appels”. He and his contemporaries would use COBRA’s pro-figurative ethos to mount a challenge to Dublin’s 1960s infatuation with bland, corporate abstraction. In the hands of Pieter Sluis, the rationalist, modernist impulse is used merely to take the measure of the infinite bounty of Nature and imagination. His line gives form to the infinite without imprisoning it.
His paintings, like his beloved jazz music, savour the bounties of Nature by putting design and structure on them, by measuring out the complex rhythms of the infinite.