SLEGERS’S WORDLESS ELOQUENCE
On the 20th of February 1936 Jacobus
Franciscus Wilhelmus Slegers -usual name Jacques- was born
in the centre of Eindhoven. His delighted parents, hard-working
retailers, carrying on ‘Het Simplexhuis’ (moped-shop)
and a bicycle workshop, could not suspect that this black-haired
little fellow in the cradle would become a ‘painting
From his earliest years on, Jacques was drawing and painting.
When, as a matter of course, time was ripe for Jacques to
join his parents’ firm, he firmly resisted: in stead
of repairing bicycles Jacques wanted to study at the academy
of arts. He was allowed to do so, on the condition that he
first would finish his commercial evening class. Just in case......
In 1955 Jacques registered at the
Academy of Plasic Arts of Tilburg which initiated his surprising
and successful career. Although the training normally would
take four years, the particular talent of the youthful Jacques
soon was acknowledged so that he could finish his studies
in 1956. His teacher Nico Molenkamp commented: ‘There
is nothing left to teach him.’
For one year Jacques joined the National Higher Institute
of Antwerp which was very disappointing to him (where were
the teachers that were worthy of succeeding Permeke cum suis?).
Jacques received a French scholarship, studied in Paris and
during two successive summers he went to Salzburg to study
with Oskar Kokoschka. From his first summer-course he returned
with a painting on which the great Austrian painter had written:
‘Excellent, you paint like a tiger!’
In the meantime, at the age of 21, Jacques pinched the Culture
Award of the City of Eindhoven. One year later he won the
Oskar Kokoschka Award in Salzburg after which -by way of rare
exception- Edy de Wilde, manager of the Van Abbemuseum, invited
Jacques for a solo exhibition.
Meanwhile, Jacques’s parents had recovered themselves
from their bewilderment. His mother -his father died of cancer
in 1958- stood by her exceptionally talented son wherever
she could, and since that time the subject of taking over
the bicycle business had never been broached again.
Work, work, work
What to do when you -being the ‘enfant chéri’
of the art of painting at such a young age already- are so
highly praised? Work, work and once more work, was the answer
Jacques Slegers gave himself. He explosively developed into
a painter and a draughtsman, exceptionally versatile, exuberant
and boisterous. Expressionist use of colour and direct brush-power
went together with compositions that, often in a dramatical,
rebellious manner, were readable both in an abstract and figurative
way. Paintings, gouaches and drawings were created with enthusiasm
and at full speed and showed a vivid fantasy. Jacques Slegers
was typified as a stubborn loner, a possessed and versatile
In the meantime Jacques Slegers had got married and had become
the father of two daughters, Saskia and Sylvia, who were born
in 1962 and 1964 respectively. In 1965 Gallery Slegers was
opened, at the ground floor of the family Slegers’s
house, in which the work of several Dutch artists was exhibited.
Besides, Jacques and his wife travelled throughout the country
and abroad to exhibit Jacques’s work with high regularity
at numerous expositions.
Many of his works were bought by art-collectors.And the flood
of awards unwearingly continued: in 1962 and again in 1965
Jacques received the Royal Subsidy for the art of painting.
Ever since 1970 Jacques Slegers also busied himself intensively
with the great number of assignments he received from all
kinds of public institutions for which he acquired many other
ways to express himself. He was an all-round man, some people
even called him a magician. But whatever he did, he indefatigably
went on drawing and painting, necessary as it was to him to
keep expressing himself emotionally after the so tied up monumental
In the seventies drama came into Jacques’s personal
life. After his divorce in 1971, his dearly beloved mother
died of cancer in 1972.
In 1975 he and his artistic partner Josje Manden moved to
the Paradijslaan in Eindhoven. From that time on the success
of his monumental work increased. He approached every assignment
with intelligence and great empathy, inexhaustibly considering
them one by one as a new challenge. That explains why, as
far as its tenor and composition is concerned, Jacques’s
monumental work is fairly diverse. Not because of a lack of
personal style but rather as a result of his wish to execute
the idea as scrupulous as possible.
By way of assignment Jacques Slegers created a lot of metal
sculptures, wall-decorations, sheets and reliefs of glass
and he designed tapestries and spatial situations. He often
used ceramics, especially in mosaic-shape. And in this area
he also was a master.
Jacques Slegers received a special assignment from the Home
for Mentally Handicapped ‘De Donksbergen’ of Duizel
(his two-years-older sister Toos lives there): a series of
seventy-seven small paintings that were hung in the institution’s
meeting place. Each painting measures 18 x 12 cm and shows
us images -in coloured pencil and ink- about humankind, especially
the damaged ones, the sufferers. Jacques’s starting-point
had been ‘purity’.
Empathy and emotional expressions were the characteristic
aspects of Jacques Slegers’s great talent. As for himself
he summarized his monumental work shortly but to the point:
‘My work is purely emotional. Moreover, I am fond of
During his life as an artist, Jacques had been the initiator
of lots of creative projects. The purposeful intention was
his striving after a direct contact between the artist and
In the sixties he organized art-auctions and donated the proceeds
to the Third World.
The gallery he had opened in Eindhoven, in which well-known
painters and sculptors exhibited their work and renowned speakers
were invited to give a talk, remained open until 1969.
With his project ‘Artists on location’ Jacques
either invited people to come over to his house to have a
look or took them over to other artists’ studios.
He also was co-initiator of AAP (the abbreviation of Actief,
Actueel, Pluriform, meaning active, topical, multiform): a
group of painters that created a series of collective paintings.
Sensitive and intelligent
In his paintings, Jacques Slegers expressed his desire for
purity and bliss as well as his social involvement. To him,
painting was the utmost way to communicate with his public.’While
I am painting all my facades disappear, I completely commit
myself.’, he stated in an interview with Eindhovens
Jacques’s free work is full of passion, full of vivid
expression, it is a pictorial vision of great intensity and
of a sensitive intelligent intuition. He was often praised
for his technical skills but Jacques regarded technique in
itself as a side-issue. Main point was that technique enabled
him to communicate his message.
Ever since the eighties, Jacques’s initially mainly
figurative work had become strongly abstract and expressionist.
However, in the artist’s opinion ‘figurative’
or ‘non-figurative’ were nothing but outdated
In Jacques’s point of view man is born, has a party
every now and then, feasts upon the pork-dish and finally
-as a reward- ends up in a beautiful deep grave. That’s
it, period. All the more reason for the artist to take his
brush and tread upon life’s heels in enlarged miniatures.
Without being mentioned explicitly, God is omnipresent. Death,
on the contrary, is not seldom mentioned explicitly in Jacques
Slegers’s work. He was increasingly touched by dramatical
events, violence, destruction, loneliness and isolation. Titels
like ‘Nearly Dead Tiny Animal’, ‘Slaughter
Table’, ‘Hanged Doll’, Witch-Sabbath’,
‘If You Want Me To I’ll Be The Easter-Hare’,
‘Women Of The World’, ‘A Sweet Terminus
For A Life Full Of Suffering’, ‘And As A Reward
A Beautiful Deep Grave’ or ‘Location Of The Fire’
are on the borderline of visual and literal imagination, one
by one being texts that complete the painter’s work
in their unique wordless eloquence.
It is said that Jacques Slegers was a
child prodigy indeed. But even more interesting is that -throughout
his entire life- he had remained completely ingenu and sixteen,
hindered neither by experience nor by the sort of tiredness
that ‘historical awareness’ brings along. He never
ceased being the painting child prodigy who, to the best of
his belief, had always been busying himself with art. Jacques’s
vivid expressionism is original and dates from the time when
-long before being associated with boast and a dominant style-
the word still was associated with stammering and rage and
hurt innocence. The vivid, somehow melancholic colours are
as important as the rhythm of the hand that creates the painting
or drawing, the deformation, the base of the composition,
the passion with which intuitively originated images were
caught and transformed into a pictorial vision of great intensity.
However, Jacques Slegers’s success -a devilish play
with mankind at stake- did not stop at the stage of being
a child prodigy. At most it more closely approached the apocalypse.
A vulnerable, sensitive intelligence, working off a world
full of injuries in a way that also the viewer experiences
a remarkable mixture of drama and catharsis; facing up what
is hidden behind the apparent incidents and daily routine
of reality and life.
Jacques’s work creates glimpses of phantasms that are
dreamt just before awaking. It is genuinely pictorial, expressive.
Likewise, this is the coercive force of his talent which,
apart from the general expressionist vocabulary, is almost
The last years
In contradiction to former days, Jacques did not exhibit frequently
the last years. Rather than being profitable, his initial
reputation seemed to be to his disadvantage.
He continued painting, his life and his sadness. Continually
choosing ‘hopeless’ tasks, a condition to prevent
being reduced to mediocrity. ‘A painter is quite alone
while painting. Even worse, his loneliness is multi-faceted:
he is on his own, accompanied by all his unknown selves. The
painter is a thinker who tries to keep himself from painting
but who -in the end- again and again is saved when he acknowledges
the only way to go on thinking is by painting his thoughts.
He endlessly travels through the night; he has to invent dawn
all by himself.’
Jacques Slegers would have loved to fling himself once again
into organizing an extensive exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum
but he met up with refusal because, with the lapse of time,
the staff’s special interest had developed in a divergent
direction. And indeed, this hurt him, but the former child
prodigy was not to be put off: ‘I believe I am a great
Every day again Jacques Slegers chose
to be an artist and actually went on re-finding his original
motives for that choice. He was an artist because he did not
know how to get used to life. He painted like a human being
that had invented a weapon against life’s inhumanity.
Because of his compassion ‘the tiger’ painted
life’s numerous contrasts, he would not hurt a fly,
was driven to frenzy by his powerlessness and, next to his
vulnerability, extremely clever.
On Monday the 31st of January 2000, at
the age of 63, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage.
‘Jacques Slegers’s wordless eloquence’,
Urias Nooteboom, 1980;
‘Jacques Slegers; painting like a tiger’, Hans
Redeker in Kunstbeeld, 1982;
‘Jacques Slegers paints the things he cannot bear to
see’, Maarten Beks in Kunstbeeld, 1985;
'Never ceased being a painting tiger; obituary notice of Jacques
Slegers', Peter van Vlerken in Eindhovens Dagblad, 02-02-2000.