The garbage bag as muse*

*Fine art by Jan Eric Visser.

11 January until 4 October 2020

In the mid-eighties Jan Eric Visser (1962) saw a newspaper pulped by rain on the street. Dried up and hardened again, the wet pages had transformed. Afterwards it was a turning point in Visser’s life. The artist had just become acquainted with one of his most important materials: pulp, ground paper.

Garbage bag

More than thirty years later, he still works with this material. In addition to newspapers and leaflets, he uses his own household waste such as plastic packaging, broken pens and even an old thermos flask. Everything from his own garbage bag that doesn’t spoil. This makes him unique.



With his work, he also calls attention to the environment. It shows his ecological footprint. Visser: “Think of it as a silent protest against the consumer society.’’



Special about his sculptures is that you can look at them on so many levels. First of all there are the forms and the material that are reminiscent of stone, bronze and ceramics. You don’t see what you think you are seeing.



Then there is the cycle, the recycling, the awareness that you are looking at 100% waste. “My waste is gold,” says Visser. “The groceries come in through the front door and the packages go out in the shape of art.”

Designing flaw

The form of waste inspires. “My garbage bag is my muse, Form Follows Garbage,” he says. The artist thus refers to the principle whereby a design of a building or product results from the function: Form Follows Function. The image follows the material and presents itself, he wants to say. “I don’t really want to understand what I’m making. Life cannot be understood either. Moreover: maybe waste is a design error?”


You can hardly ever touch art, but Visser’s work tempts you to do so. That is why he made a small asterisk sculpture especially for the exhibition. The asterisk is part of the museum’s corporate identity. The touchstone reveals how the art feels and sounds. If you shake it back and forth, you will hear something rattle. There is waste in it, just like in his sculptures. In the final phase, the artist makes a hole in his work for this to be filled with garbage. Visser speaks of “operating”.

Candle stubs

Jan Eric Visser started as an environmental fanatic. The sharp edges have perhaps worn off over time. He now rarely drives a car, something he “previously” refused. But buying material still goes a bridge too far. He uses candle stubs – waste from a church – to impregnate his images. He recently discovered sea clay from Zeeland’s waters. He also applies this to his sculptures. He owes colors to the discarded material, the print on posters and leaflets. And yes; sometimes all color has gone.


For every piece of art, Visser makes a box from found wood that he uses for storage, transport and sometimes also as a pedestal. In Schiedam they can now be seen for the first time without a work of art on it. The crate envelops and protects the work, but you can also see it as a kind of tribute to the material and even life itself. Visser: “My work is about waste, but even more about the mystery of life and death.”

X-ray pictures

Scientists sometimes take x-rays of paintings to see how the artist worked. Has something been painted over? Jan Eric Visser also had a work screened. Because X-rays go through plastic, you can’t really see much in the photo. Are you looking at a broken paper clip, the middle part of a clothes peg? What’s inside remains a mystery. Visser: “Just like life itself.”

Karel Appel

The crates are a nod to the exhibition space. On the top floor there was once work stored by Karel Appel, one of the founders of the CoBrA group. There were people hiding in this space during the Second World War. Before that, it was part of the men’s wing of the former Gasthuis and things were stored there.

Committed art

Visser calls himself a new realist and feels related to Arman and his poubelle-series. In French, Poubelle means garbage can. He also sees similarities with herman de vries, which is often guided by chance. He also uses only natural materials for his art. The museum owns several works by de vries. Visser ’s work fits in with the museum’s policy of displaying work by engaged artists.

Thanks are due to