Googling the word ‘fools’ provides inspiration for new art exhibit

This is part of a series from Ilene Dube of The Artful Blogger.

Hanneke de Neve is Dutch, but her last name rhymes with the French word for dream, “reve,” and it’s from her dreams that de Neve gets inspiration.

After a full day in her studio, working on drawings, monoprints and oil painting, she’ll spend the evening knitting or quilting, but may find herself lying awake at night, thinking thoughts that wind up in her paintings. Her sleep was recently disturbed when she found herself pondering foolish decisions she’d made in her life. So she did what any modern, sleep-deprived artist might do: she googled “fools” and found more than a million results.

“I’m still thinking about it,” she said. “Ship of fools, April Fools.” She wanted her exhibit to open on April Fools Day, but unfortunately it fell on a Monday, not a good day for openings.

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“Gallery of Fools” is on view at The Artful Deposit Gallery in Bordentown through April 21, and includes 23 works completed in the last few months. The Hamilton-based artist is highly prolific, and gallery owner C.J. Mugavero estimates she has sold close to 3,000 of de Neve’s paintings in the 27 years they’ve worked together. Some collectors have more than 25 works by the artist. They come from Princeton to California, as well as France, Holland and Belgium.

The gallery

Mugavero first discovered de Neve’s artwork hanging in a doctor’s office in Princeton, and recognized her “as a brilliant painter with such a strength,” said Mugavero.

At the time, Mugavero’s gallery was located in an old bank building in Allentown, N.J., and thus named The Artful Deposit, but 15 years ago Mugavero relocated the gallery to Bordentown’s Farnsworth Avenue, with its Federal style brick buildings. She has seen the town grow, especially since the Riverline came through, making the town an easy commute to both Philadelphia and New York City. Mugavero has watched Farnsworth Avenue, Bordentown’s main drag, explode with book stores, galleries and restaurants for every taste. At the Record Collector, performances by musicians from Rory Block to Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Ian McLagan draw even more people to town.

The artist

De Neve, who earned a master’s degree in art history and fashion design from the Academy of Fine Arts in Tilburg, The Netherlands, in 1969, sometimes expresses her feelings by taking a large canvas, painting it with interesting color and texture, and then adding inscrutable words. Two of these are in the exhibit, including one she did after googling fools. In “Google All, Remember None,” one can just about make out the last line: “…jesters, clowns and fools no longer have to remember anything.”

How about de Neve? Does she rely on Google to remember? “I really want to remember things,” she said. “But what will happen to the next generation?” The mother of three sons and seven grandchildren is very concerned about how they will remember.

A visit to de Neve’s Facebook page shows how she is not afraid to get down on the floor to play with her grandchildren. One, named Brooklyn, lives in Seattle, and when she comes to visit, de Neve takes her to see the Brooklyn Bridge.

An 8-year-old grandson with whom she feels very much in tune was the inspiration for “My Little Jester.” “He loves to tell jokes,” de Neve said.

The title piece, “Gallery of Fools,” is comprised of four long panels that look like painted contact prints. So who are these fools? “The fools are me,” de Neve said.

“Her work is an evolving autobiography,” said Mugavero. “People who look at her paintings see her, her kids, her grand kids in them.”

In “I Am A Fool for Love,” Mugavero has observed people reading their own narrative into it. And for de Neve? “I’ve made some foolish mistakes in my life.”

“Ship of Fools,” a monotype on linen with embroidery, was created after the recent Carnival Cruise trapped thousands of passengers at sea for days. There’s also “Come and Fool Around with Me” and “The Foolish Family.” “Every family has crazy things going on with it,” she said.

De Neve is a consummate fabric collector, and stores them neatly on shelves, organized by color and material. She created a memory quilt for her deceased father, and is at work on a memory quilt for her mother, who died in 2011. “I would visit her in Holland six times a year and sit next to her and sew,” she said. “My mother would shake her head and ask, ‘how much money do you make with that?'” In fact she sold her father’s quilt, made from his old shirts, sayings and poetry, for $10,000.

How can she part with something so personal? “I think of my mom asking, ‘how much money did you make?'”

Gallery of Fools is on view through April 21 at The Artful Deposit Gallery, 201 Farnsworth Ave., Bordentown. Gallery hours: Weds.-Sun., 1-6 p.m., Fri. until 8 p.m. 609-298-6970


The Artful Blogger is written by Ilene Dube and offers a look inside the art world of the greater Princeton area. Ilene Dube is an award-winning arts writer and editor, as well as an artist, curator and activist for the arts.

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