Ilja Walraven (1959) studied painting, drawing and design at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague (The Netherlands). For him techniques are means to an end, so he uses other disciplines besides painting, such as steel sculptures or silk screen prints. For Ilja Walraven, art is more than a craft, it is a way of life. You will find him in his studio almost every day. He takes his work more than seriously and loves it so much that it is as necessary to him as breathing.
Life and work are therefore interwoven. Consciously and unconsciously, life experiences are seeping into his art. Fine examples of that are his encounters with the arts of the aboriginals in Australia and the Dogon in Mali. Ilja Walraven feels a sort of kinship with them. The clarity of form, colour and structure has authenticity, no hint to please the viewer, no artificiality but urgency and depth. Maybe the tie of kinship has to do with a common source they all draw from.
Be that as it may, it is important that Walraven does not copy themes or images but is developing them into something of his own. The result is that such elements appear in an innate way in the paintings of Walraven, although one can recognize the cultural sources. An example are paintings showing a mask that reminds of West Africa.
Outstanding characteristics of Walraven’s art are: bright colors, monumental figurative forms and a touch of humor.
The use of very bright colours strikes one immediately. Ilja Walraven often uses many layers of (transparent) paint which contributes to the high intensity of the colours.
Another characteristic is that the forms are monumental most of the time, even in his smaller sized works. The images remind you of the real world, for instance when you recognise a table, but it may often have a touch of fantasy to it, especially when animals are concerned. They look like an elephant, a tiger or a kangaroo, but closer inspection reveals that they are fantasy relatives. The artist once remarked that the figurative elements in his work is a way of inviting viewers to enter the imaginary world of art. That is probably why figuration has become a characteristic of his work and the abstraction of his early period has almost faded away.
The work of Walraven often has a touch of humour. At exhibitions you often see viewers smiling in reaction to the paintings, and children are attracted to them. That is one reason why a Dutch author of children’s books suggested writing a story related to some paintings of a fantasy elephant, which resulted in a picture book (see below).
Yet another characteristic for Ilja is that he uses zinc and copper in his paintings, that he often leaves part of the unprepared canvas untouched, and that you can see charcoal lines in the painting.
Where to find Walraven’s work
Since he left the Art Academy, Walraven has presented his work at over a hundred exhibitions, including more than 30 solo exhibitions.
Works of art by Ilja Walraven are part of art collections of companies and private persons in the Netherlands and other countries (e.g. the United States of America, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, France and Brazil).
The children’s book that author Anke de Vries wrote were inspired by a selection of Ilja Walraven’s paintings — “My Elephant Can Do Almost Anything” (Arden, N.C.: Front Street) – is also available in English. The Dutch original is also translated into German, English, French, Italian and Korean.
Three books with poems that Henk van Zuiden made were inspired by Ilja Walraven paintings and are available in Dutch.
The band Pythagoras performed during the opening of an Ilja Walraven show at Pulchri Studio, The Hague, on November 15, 2015. The compact disc Pythagoras Live at Pulchri was released in 2019 and included a booklet with photos of some of the works exhibited.
Ilja Walraven lived all his life in The Hague and until recently his only studio was in an old hospital building in the town center. In 2018 Walraven opened a second studio in a former church in the town of Ossenzijl, bordering the De Weerribben National Park in the northern part of the country. The huge space offered by the church allows Walraven to work on special projects. It is also an excellent space for exhibitions of his work.