The ancient world of the animal (1960) Dick Elffers

Max Dereta
About the artwork

Dick Elffers, together with the Porceleyne Fles, made this ceramic relief of unprecedented dimensions: nine by five meters, built up of twelve hundred pieces and mounted on thirty slabs of reinforced concrete. The colossus towered in 1960 high above the rubber factory of Shell Pernis, for which Elffers had designed it. It was probably at that time the largest ceramic relief of the reconstruction. Elffers gave it the title The primordial world of the animal compared to the synthetic world and designed it as a fusion of animal forms: a cat, a fish, a snake, and the head of a cow whose horns merge into the wings of a bird. The relief fitted in with the post-war preference for powerful lines and optimistic colors - a visual language full of hope and enthusiasm for the new world. Probably not coincidentally, the abstracted bird is reminiscent of the peace pigeons on Elffers' posters of liberation events, such as his poster for the resistance exhibition Resilient Democracy (1946). It was carried out in a high relief with a local 28 cm depth. Especially the bright colors stood out: a lot of purple blue with green, gold, white and a red that tends to a deep, deep seal red. Elffers consciously looked for colors that were absent on the industrial estate, because that emphasized the intended contrast between the animal world and the synthetic industry, but also the transformation to a new and prosperous world.
When the Shell Pernis rubber factory prepared for demolition, this artwork by Elffers was threatened. But the former borough of Hoogvliet, Shell and CBK Rotterdam decided to join forces in 2009 and went looking for an alternative to the demolition bullet. The size and weight of the statue, but also the transport and restoration costs, made a rescue operation extremely difficult. Yet a new place was found near Pernis, in Hoogvliet: the new city office. After half a century the enormous ceramic relief was taken from its place; sixteen parties cooperated. It took three years to organize this process. The artwork had suffered under the weather conditions, so a specialized restorer was called in. Since October 2013, the work has adorned the outer walls of the new city office, and it has been transferred to the new owner, Housing Corporation SOR.

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About the artist

Dick Elffers (Rotterdam, 1910 - Amsterdam, 1990) attends the art academy in the late 1920s. Trained to be a graphic designer, he will work as a teacher at the academy after his studies. During and after his studies he assists designers Paul Schuitema and for Piet Zwart, with whom he works for seven years and becomes his most important assistant. In May 1940 his studio is bombed in Rotterdam and he moves to Amsterdam. After the war he developed into a versatile artist and prominent designer, working for the Rijksmuseum and the Holland Festival, among others. He delves into all kinds of disciplines, such as painter, draftsman, graphic artist, designer, sculptor, illustrator and realizes seventeen typographic book projects. He develops in all kinds of fields such as ceramic reliefs, tapestries and architectural designs. From 1970 to 1976, he works as a monumental art teacher at the art academy in Den Bosch. For his work he receives the HN Werkman Prize and the State Prize for Typography and his work is included in the museum collections.

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