Jos Verheugen: A Paris-Based Artist on a Mission

Jos Verheugen: A Paris-Based Artist on a Mission
How does a trilingual Dutch postdoc performing scientific research at the prestigious Institut Pasteur extricate himself from the minutiae of that research and transform himself into a successful Paris-based artist? As that artist, Jos Verheugen, explains, through the sheer love of painting. The stocky, ruddy-cheeked Verheugen, 58, is congenial, smart, and direct, with playful, sometimes piercing, eyes. He received a PhD in electrophysiology – the branch of physiology that studies the electrical properties of cells and tissues – with the intention of becoming a university professor. Electrophysiology is essential to, for example, how heart pacemakers work. Among his other research, Verheugen developed new methods of studying the electric potential and calcium levels of cells, and one of his research papers is still cited two decades later. But his heart wasn’t in it. At university, he had always had more friends in the art department than in his own, and even while working at Pasteur, he painted on weekends, until he finally decided to pursue his passion and focus full time on his art. He has no regrets about spending all those years as a scientist but, as he said, simply, “I love to paint.” “Librement après Mondrian – with tree frogs”. Photo courtesy of the artist – Jos Verheugen Verheugen, who is a self-taught artist, is steeped in artistic knowledge, but his greatest influences have been Dutch painters, including Rembrandt (1606–1669), Kees van Dongen (1877–1968), and Charley Toorop (1891–1955), all of whom have influenced his portraits, more about which later, and Piet Mondrian (1872–1944). Verheugen has the organizational skills of a scientist and has always kept detailed journals. During a period in which he had been experimenting with painting animals – he started with frogs – he happened to flip through one of his journals and discovered that he had written, “put animals in geometrical abstract paintings.” It occurred to him to paint animals into the geometrical abstract paintings of Mondrian for a series he calls “Free After Mondrian” (“Librement après Mondrian”). In addition to frogs, he has also painted snakes, sheep, zebras, bulls, birds, and people into such paintings. Paris-based artist Jos Verheugen in his studio with prototype of a calendar of his paintings of endangered birds / photo by Diane Stamm Verheugen paints in oil on natural linen canvas and uses only three colors – the same three colors Mondrian used – cadmium red, ultramarine blue, and Naples yellow – plus white, from which he can create virtually any color. He eventually created almost six hundred “Free After Mondrian” paintings, almost all of which have been sold. Paris-based artist Jos Verheugen in his studio next to a painting from his “Librement après Mondrian” series / photo by Diane Stamm.

Lead photo credit : Paris-based artist Jos Verheugen in his studio with detail of painting from his “Librement après Mondrian” series / photo by Diane Stamm.

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Diane Stamm occasionally writes from Paris.