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Portrait of an Artist: Peter John Voormeij

Portrait of an Artist: Peter John Voormeij

A visual language of shape, form, colour and line

Written by Rita Roling

It was with great anticipation and some trepidation that I knocked on the acclaimed artist Peter Voormeij’s door. I have always been in awe of artistic and creative people as my own talents in those directions are at best mediocre. Peter did not disappoint.

He was born into a Dutch Jewish family in 1940. At that time Holland was under German occupation and life for the country’s Jewish population meant either being in hiding or hunted, tormented and killed. Peter was two years old when his mother brought him to a gentile family for safety. Shortly after, she was captured, transported to Sobibor and murdered. Peter’s recollections of his mother are vague and he cannot tell what is real and what he has imagined. When the war was over Peter was reunited with his father and lived with his paternal grandmother until her death and then with his father, a violinist.

Staying with his father and a stepmother was difficult and Peter was looking for a way out. He had known since childhood that painting was in his blood; it was a calling not really a choice. His undisputed talent won him a full scholarship to Adelaide University in Australia where he successfully completed a BFA degree with emphasis on realism. After spending a short time in his birth-country, he did further studies in United States and in Canada where he achieved a Post Graduate degree in Fine Arts at Concordia University.

While in New York he had the opportunity to study with abstract expressionist painters such as Willem De Kooning and Mark Rothko. Artistically this was a life-altering experience. Until that time most of Peter’s work had followed the detailed and accurate representations of the realism school. The abstract images created by De Kooning and Rothko used a visual language of shape, form, colour and line with a degree of independence which is generally not seen in realism.

Neither the man nor the artist Voormeij is a follower; thus he relished the freedom of artistic expression the abstract movement offered, and how it opened the door for the artist, the art connoisseur and the average viewer to interpret not only what they saw with their eyes and mind but also how the visual and mental aspects evoked emotional responses. The influence of De Kooning and Rothko is evident in most of Voormeij’s work through colours, shapes, forms and movements.

When asked what inspires him, Peter thought for a while and said: so many things but especially nature, music, emotions, poetry, philosophy and people. All of these are present not only in his art but also in his surroundings. His home and studio are filled with books, musical instruments, Judaica, and images of eagles, flowers, bliss and strife. A particularly large canvas The Creation depicts the beginning of the world. At first appearance it seemed chaotic but what emerged was choreographed chaos expressed in flowing, fluid, circular forms and movements. Creation is ongoing it said and we keep on reliving the same lives over and over. In the corner of this piece of abstract art is an accurately painted slightly tilted gold menorah. Does this represent your roots I asked, and without hesitation he answered with a Leo Tolstoy quote, “Without knowing what I am and why I am here, life is impossible.” This man knows himself, I thought.

Peter Voormeij has won many awards and accolades for his art and accomplishments. His work has been and is featured throughout Europe and North America. He was commissioned to paint close to two kilometers of ceilings in the Dutch Council of State Buildings in The Hague and was personally thanked by Queen Beatrice of Holland for his contributions. JSA is delighted to have one of his paintings – Among Women – on the cover of this issue of Senior Line magazine.

If you would like to view some of his art Peter Voormeij can be contacted through Elliott Louis Gallery Inc. in Vancouver at 604-736-3282 or visit