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Arnold Pander on his father, Henk Pander: “The connective tissue is storytelling”

The father and son artists share gallery space in the “Au Naturel” show of nude art opening Feb. 1 in Astoria’s Royal Nebeker Art Gallery.

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In 1994, Henk Pander (left) and his son Arnold painted TriMet's "Culture Bus." The "Au Naturel" show is the first time since then that their work has been seen together. Photo courtesy: Arnold Pander
In 1994, Henk Pander (left) and his son Arnold painted TriMet’s “Culture Bus.” The “Au Naturel” show is the first time since then that their work has been seen together. Photo courtesy: Arnold Pander

It’s been 30 years since Arnold Pander and his brother, Jacob, spent six weeks painting the TriMet “Culture Bus” with their father, acclaimed artist Henk Pander.  The bus ferried riders around Portland for a decade, but it would prove to be both the first and last time Arnold worked with his father in a major art collaboration. It was also the last time Arnold’s art was exhibited alongside his dad’s.

Henk Pander died last April at age 85. This year, for the first time, Arnold will see his work next to his father’s in a gallery. The exhibit, Au Naturel: The Nude in the 21st Century, will be up at the Royal Nebeker Art Gallery in Astoria from Feb. 1 through March 14. A special reception in honor of Henk Pander will be held Feb. 8.

“It was really an honor to be invited,” said Arnold, who also collaborates with his brother on film and graphic novel projects. “I didn’t expect it. I come from a different discipline — more from the entertainment side, not really from the academia side of art. So, it was really neat to be invited, because our worlds are so different. To be brought into a space that welcomed both is really kind of rare.”

In describing his oil on velvet portrait "Sanda," Arnold Pander says he began to see the velvet painting genre as an extension of folk art and "how American culture adopted it as a working- class art form or early pop art that romanticized our pop culture heroes, most notably with Elvis crying into the microphone."
In describing his oil on velvet portrait “Sanda,” Arnold Pander calls the velvet painting genre an extension of folk art, adding “American culture adopted it as a working-class art form or early pop art that romanticized our pop culture heroes, most notably with Elvis crying into the microphone.”

Arnold’s two paintings in the exhibit exemplify the influence of pop culture on his work. Sanda, a commissioned oil portrait on velvet, “echoes the boudoir style of 20th- century retro velvet painting…. I try to capture something contemporary in these works that is expressed through the subject.” The second painting, Blue Corset, is from a series of nudes Arnold created in monochromatic blue. “… I took a traditional pin-up-style pose and subjected it to the random chaos of a watercolor to take the final piece into unpredictable territory.”

“I think what’s great about the idea of a nude, it’s really like a tradition,” he added. “A couple of years ago, I did a number of still lifes. My father is really well known for his still life painting. So, there’s this kind of finding my way to that space that wasn’t imposed in any way. And I feel like that has actually made for a better dynamic and different voices, but the connective tissue is storytelling.”

That connection goes back – at least – to Jacob “Jaap” Pander, Henk’s father, who in their native Netherlands led Henk on “drawing and watercolor painting expeditions,” and who illustrated the Bible in post-war Europe, but family lore suggests at least one other artistic ancestor. 

“In some of the origins of the lineage of the family,” Arnold said, “there was a woman who came into this family who was an artist or had artistic abilities, and then from that point on, there were artists in our family line, so there’s a little bit of a genetic element.”

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Ghislaine Fremaux, co-curator of the "Au Naturel" show, describes Henk Pander's painting "Karla and Lisa" as "show stopping."
Henk Pander’s painting “Karla and Lisa” is “show stopping,” says Ghislaine Fremaux, co-curator of the “Au Naturel” show.

Arnold’s own artistic influences draw from Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol, along with popular-culture art influences including comics artists Jack Kirby and Will Eisner; fashion illustrators Antonio Lopez and Patrick Nagel; and street artists Keith Haring and Banksy.

His father’s influences tended toward 19th-century expressionism, as well Dutch painters from the 19th and 20th centuries. He also admired the figurative painting of Lucian Freud, Arnold said. “I like to think that I’m working with the familiar … that might be influenced by pop culture, yet doing sort of a twist that is more informed by my fine art influences through my father. So, there’s a sort of a meeting of two different sensibilities.”

Henk Pander wasn’t particularly hands-on in instructing his sons in art, but his mastery was always present, even in just seeing him rise each day and paint or make drawings or posters for an event, Arnold said.

“In the ‘70s, he was working in the theater, and so even being around the theater and set design and all these actors…. There was nudity and theatrics, and it was a very free, creative time. So those influences, more so than sitting and teaching us how to do a glaze on a painting or something, it was very organic. My brother and I kind of found our own way. There wasn’t a real pressure to follow in his footsteps per se, or to go through that same discipline, that same rigor of academic process of going to art school, even.

“I remember one time coming into the studio and he had something kind of half sketched out and I was like, ‘Oh, can I finish that?’ I didn’t know there were rules. And he gave me the sketch and I drew on top of it. I wish we had done more things like that.”

With Henk Pander gone, Arnold plans to keep his father’s work in the public eye, while evolving his own work, as well as the collaborative projects with Jacob under the Pander Bros. brand. 

And he’ll continue to lend his support to shows such as Au Naturel.

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“This is kind of a neat thing to be asked to be in the show. But a lot of this is happening as a result of being more connected to our father’s work now in a new way,” Arnold said. “If there are events like this that come up … we want to encourage that, and we want to support the legacy as true as we can, as our father would have wanted. It’s very real standing here in this gallery, literally looking at my father’s work leaning against the wall. It’s the echo of him not being here, yet being here. It’s powerful.”

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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