Ben Haveman is a Dutch artist whose paintings burst with color and whimsy. However, if you dare think that your four-year-old can do such work, you’d better think again. Ben’s work is based in a strong art tradition and he’s here to tell us all about it…  

“… I paint what I want, I don’t think too much about the result ... It is free expression, so I never know at the start of a painting, what I’m painting. I enjoy this freedom ...”

MICHAEL: Hello Ben, Your paintings are so fun and fresh. They're almost childlike. They make me think that you are experimenting with paint and color the way a child does. Is this true or are you just trying to give us that impression?

BEN: Every painter makes a long journey. Also I am always on the way.
For a starter, it isn’t possible to paint as I do. You need a long time of experience and experimenting with styles. Therefore, it seems as a painting from a child, but there is a difference.

Both are painting in freedom and don’t think about the result. I don’t think about a beginning and an end, but I’m able to make a painting better with a few strokes or an extra colour if I’m not content. The impression is that everyone can make this painting, but the truth is, that nobody can make it. Even imitation isn’t possible.

Therefore I can say that my works are unique. It was a long way (13 years), but now I can say my works are unique and there is in Holland nobody  who can make such work. There is (I think) in the world also nobody who can make this work.

I’m member of the Neo-Cobra movement, a Danish/Dutch project, and the Danish organisation approached me as first person. A long answer, but this is my answer.

MICHAEL: What is the Neo-Cobra movement and what does it mean to you?

BEN: If you Google under Cobra Art, you will find the colorful work of the Cobra Painters; Appel, Corneille, Constant, etc. It’s movement from 1948 and ended two years later, but famous until nowadays and unprofitable. We have in Holland a special Cobra Museum in Amstelveen.

The Danish painter Johannes Holt Iversen invited me for a new Cobra movement and he started with me and nowadays there are more “Cobra” painters active. I organised two years ago a special event from three Cobra painters (Johannes, Menno and I) in a castle in Holland. There was lot of media present. Therefore, I call it the Cobra movement. Johannes has sold the name to other Danish boys and the new ones started a special website for colourful art. I’m also a member.

My work is colorful, but it is not exact Cobra art. I think my work is more special and finer. But I’m not content yet, I think it can better than now. My work is 80% and I want 100% and I reach for that.

MICHAEL: Some people might look at your paintings and think they are very easy and simple. Is your process ever difficult? What goes through your mind when you are painting?

BEN: When I started with painting, 13 years ago, I thought that everyone could make my paintings, but when I asked the people, “Can you make it also?” nobody said, “Yes I can.”

Nowadays, I have a more complex style, nobody can imitate this. During painting, I don’t think about painting and the result, I enjoy of my freedom and I enjoy of the colours on the canvas.

MICHAEL: You started painting only 13 years ago? What led you to start painting? Were you unhappy? Why painting?

BEN: About 13 years ago, I had more free time and I wanted a hobby. I wanted drawing. As child, I liked drawing. It was my wife’s idea. A day after that conversation with my wife, I found a fibreboard box with drawing papers on a parking in Holland. Someone had placed it there. I placed the box full of new paper in my car and I called my wife and told her that I had found this. She said: That it was paper for your drawings.

The next day, I started with drawing, very special and I used colours to make it complete. After 500 drawings, a friend told me that it was better to make paintings instead of drawings. The next day, I started with paintings.

It’s a long story, but I tell this story now very short. In the beginning, my paintings were almost the same as my drawings, people liked it, but I used this style only because I didn’t know how to paint. After some years, my paintings changed. It was my development as painter. Nowadays, I paint as free expressionist everything and there is always one in this world who likes it. Painting and creating new things makes me happy.

MICHAEL: What is your relationship with the contemporary art world?  Do you know many artists? Do you visit galleries and museums and talk with art professionals? Are you part of the art scene?

BEN: I make contemporary art, my relation with this world is normal. I know some artists, some are friends. I visit sometimes a gallery or museum. Last visit was the Cobra Collection of Karel Appel in the Hague. Most art is from artists who’ve died. I’m no part of the scene. I want to be free. I’m not a community man.

MICHAEL: I find it interesting that you say you want to be free.  Are you saying that being part of the art community means you would have to surrender some of yourself to convention?

BEN: In the daily life, I’m a social person. I help where I can. But it isn’t necessary to have a relationship with all those people. In my work as painter I am a soloist.

Sometimes I have a meeting with other painters and I always learn something from these meetings. But after the meeting, I go again on my own way. In my paintwork, I’m also free, I paint what I want, I don’t think too much about the result. If the painting is ready, I look at it and mostly I’m content about the result.

It is free expression, so I never know at the start of a painting, what I’m painting. I enjoy this freedom.

MICHAEL: Your culture has such a rich artistic heritage, but do everyday people today appreciate contemporary art?  Do people in Holland actually buy contemporary art?  How can we get more people to like art? Here in America, people care much more about professional sports and entertainment.

BEN: In Holland, we have a long history with art. We have famous painters as Rembrandt and Van Gogh. After World War II, we had the Cobra generation as a sign of freedom (1948) with painters as Appel, Constant and Corneille.

I paint as the Cobra painters, freedom in my work. Most Dutch people don’t appreciate it. They like windmills, flowers and trees and animals in paintings.
There is a group that likes contemporary art, but most people of this group want paintings of famous painters.

I haven’t a famous name in Holland yet, but many people have bought my paintings. I have sold many hundreds of my paintings.

In 2008, there where economic problems until 2015 and people don’t buy art nowadays. They buy food, cars, shoes and clothes, sports and entertainment, but very least art. Therefore 2016 is very difficult for me. People don’t buy art, so they don’t buy my paintings.

How can we get more people to like art? We need TV programs that explain our art. We had Bob Ross many years ago. I need a famous person, for example in the USA, who likes my art and makes public relations for me. For example, a movie star or Obama.


BEN: People imitate famous persons and they also want the same for art. If the famous person says it is good, then people believe that. So it is very difficult nowadays to sell my art. I need help.
Sometimes people say to me, that my work looks like the work of Willem de Kooning. My work is a kind of the art like Willem de Kooning and I hope that art-fans discover my art, paintings and drawings.

MICHAEL: Finally Ben, since so many people don't visit art galleries or museums and certainly don't buy art, what's the point?  Why should anyone care about art?  What's the point of art?

BEN: I don’t know what the problem is. Maybe people haven’t money to pay for it. The economic crisis makes people angry. If people have money, they don’t buy art. They prefer a new car or new house. People have other problems nowadays. 

On my statistics, I can see how many people watch at my website, about 30 visitors daily, nowadays is it about 10 daily. I work hard, I have exhibitions, I have publications in magazines, but never response. I want to change it.

MICHAEL: I certainly understand Ben.  These are tough times for contemporary art.  Thanks for chatting with me.

BEN: Thanks Michael for your attention.

Check out Ben Haveman at