Willem Volkersz: The View From Here

October 8, 2022 – January 8, 2023

Montana-based artist Willem Volkersz (b. 1939) is a significant contemporary artist known for his neon and paint-by-number-style installations.  He was a pioneer in the use of neon in art and developed early and sustaining loves for photography, travel, American roadside culture, Americana, and Folk and Visionary Art.  Volkersz came to the United States from Holland in 1953, after the devastation of World War II, and brought with him a rich history that is reflected in his works of art. Volkersz has often said that he has an immigrant’s fascination with America, and as a teenager, he began hitchhiking and driving throughout the American West, camera in hand.  The artworks featured in The View from Here were produced over the past 25 years and draw upon the artist’s eight decades of life experience. They touch upon his early life in Holland under Nazi occupation, his immigration to America, and his current life in the Western United States.  The artworks also suggest the ways these personal experiences and passions connect to wider social issues of enduring relevance for everyone.

Volkersz studied art and architecture at the University of Washington before earning an MFA in painting at Mills College in Oakland, CA. After teaching at the Kansas City Art Institute for 18 years, he went to Montana State University-Bozeman in 1986 to direct the School of Art and teach until his retirement in 2001. His work has been featured in 46 solo exhibitions and in over 200 group shows in the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, China, and Taiwan. He is the recipient of many awards, including a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award, grants from the Mellon Foundation and Gottlieb Foundation, and a 2020 Montana Governor’s Arts Award. He has been a visiting artist and lecturer at almost 100 institutions in the United States, Canada, Europe, and China.

Organized by the Missoula Art Museum, Montana

Sponsored by Bev and George Harad

Early on, I fell in love with the wide-open spaces and mountains of the West and, when I was 15, I bought a motor scooter and began exploring the West Coast. There I am, on my scooter, in America the Beautiful. – Willem Volkersz

America the Beautiful (2000)

Willem Volkersz
America the Beautiful, 2000
neon, wood, paint
Collection of the artist

Willem Volkersz on his motor scooter.

Willem Volkersz prepares the background painting for America the Beautiful.

The first long distance trip took me from Seattle to Vallejo, California, to visit my sister and her husband (who was a doctor at a naval base there). I used a photo my sister took of me on the scooter to draw the pattern for the neon; the paint-by-number landscape suggests the idealized notion I had of our newly adopted country. – Willem Volkersz

Willem Volkersz often references the idealized lens through which he and other immigrants see America. The idyllic paint-by-number scenes reference this notion. While landscapes feature predominantly in the exhibition, the artist also includes paint-by-number scenes of the Statue of Liberty, cityscapes, and imagery based on travel postcards.

In America the Beautiful, the artist references a road trip he took as a teenager. American roadside culture, a theme seen throughout the exhibition, is highlighted by Volkersz’s use of neon, referencing the roadside signs he saw as he traveled the American West. Here, Volkersz uses neon to create a self-portrait based on a photograph taken during one of his trips.

2016 Contemporary Northwest Art Awards Artist Interview: Willem Volkersz
Portland Art Museum
February 2016

What makes neon signs glow? A 360° animation
by Michael Lipman
TED-Ed
September 2019

Books

Ages 4-8 | Coming to America: The Story of Immigration by Betsy Maestro

Ages 5-9 | A Kids Book About Immigration by MJ Calderon

All Ages | Neon Road Trip by John Barnes

Adult | Whatever Happened to Paint-By-Numbers? A Humorous Personal Account of What It Took to Make Anyone an ‘Artist’ by Dan Robbins

Adult | Willem Volkersz: The View From Here exhibition catalogue – Available for purchase in the BAM Store.

Create

Ages 6+ | Paint by Sticker Masterpieces: Re-create 12 Iconic Artworks One Sticker at a Time! by Workman Publishing

Ages 6+ | Kids Color-by-number Online »

Ages 9+ | Light-Up Wire Art project kit from KiwiCo

Ages 12+ | Paint-by-Number canvas and paint kits by Elle Cree, Mondo Llama, Artesia etc.

Adults | Color-by-number App: Happy Color »

Adults | DIY Neon Style Kits From Iscream or ArtSkills

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