“Anonymous Annoying Artist • Sensual Sexy Sweetheart • Deputy Genius”…
This was the self-penned handle. Those who knew Van would probably agree with all of these descriptors except perhaps ‘anonymous’. What was he thinking?
Van was born in war-torn Holland on January 15 1943 at the height of the Nazi horror. Van’s mother Betty was Jewish, and with Anne Frank’s family already in hiding, her anxiety levels must have been stratospheric. Coupled with the stress of her pregnancy, she and her husband were helping to smuggle Jews out of Europe. It does not take much imagination to wonder how much of this in utero tension and drama helped create Van’s emotional DNA.
The family moved to newly-independent Indonesia in 1953 – his father Frans obtained a military posting in Java – then moved again to Sydney in 1957, where his parents reinvented themselves as interior decorators, changing their name to Kramer to better assimilate into their parochial adopted homeland. But Ian chose to keep his original surname, and in subsequent years everyone simply knew him as Van. And from an early age Van knew he was an artist.
He studied at Sydney University and lectured there also, having his first public joint art show with John Firth-Smith in 1961-62. In the mid-60s he executed six granite reliefs for the Treasury Building in Canberra, had more shows in Sydney and Melbourne, and began to build a clientele.
In 1969 Van moved to Bali to live, and it was here at his exotic ridgeline home/ studio at Sayan (near Ubud) that many people will remember him best. This quintessentially romantic spot – Lovers’ Leap is its usual soubriquet – has attracted European writers and artists to live since the 1920s.
Those ‘early’ days in Bali were a magical medieval wonderland, before the internal combustion engine and the tourist economy were yet to wreak their twin tyrannies on the world’s most gorgeous culture. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say that Sayan on some enchanted evening in 1969. Who would blame a man who could figure out a way to inhabit this otherworldly realm? And Van did figure it out. Kudos.
Van’s Sayan studio became in time the unofficial clubhouse for The Senengskis (seneng is Indonesian for happy), a ragtag band of brothers who had all adopted Bali as their spiritual home. Founding members Made Wijaya and John Darling plus other strangers in paradise would often gather at twilight for kopi susu and herbal infusions while Van painted, one hand waving free, and the jingle jangle ravings of those happy few spiralled up to the diamond sky.
Bali was always his base, but Van was a restless nomad, an artist-adventurer, and over the years he ranged far and wide. He liked to paint on a big canvas and did several very large murals. He painted a stunning 40-metre-high Angophora Tree for the Iloura Plaza in Melbourne in 1983, and a 30-metre tropical landscape above the Long Bar in the Singapore Raffles in 1984. He painted with the Mud Men in Papua NG in 1985 and travelled extensively in the Australian outback in the early ‘90s. He lived in Venice in 1982, and over the years (apart from many in Australia) had shows in London, Chicago and Los Angeles. His paintings are/were in the private collections of the Queen of Belgium, the Sultan of Brunei, Robert Sangster, Robert Hughes, Andrew Peacock and Richard Branson among many notable aficionados.
Van loved animals and was very good at painting them. In 1980 he lived at the Jakarta Zoo and painted all the creatures in their collection. He often depicted monkeys and orangutangs, uncannily capturing their impish spirit and curious, almost human gaze. His choice of subjects was eclectic, his palette vibrant. He was compared with artists as diverse as John Olsen and Ian Fairweather, and like all genuine artists he had a sure and distinctive ‘line’.
Van saw out his days at Taro in Gianyar, north of Ubud. He had his own private entrance into the Elephant Sanctuary, where he could wander at will among the stately beasts. He painted to the end but had lately suffered from a mysterious ailment, and the gunpowder was fast running out of his boots. He passed away on July 24 2022, sadly just before his son Tao could finally bring fiancée Ellie and his new granddaughter to meet him. Covid restrictions had stalled the visit, and suddenly the much-anticipated rendezvous was not to be. The foghorn whistle blew, and the last of the Senengskis had sailed into the mystic.
Van is survived by his two children Tao and Zen, granddaughter Siena, and by his partner of the past seven years Michelle… Scott Roberts
15 January 1943 Born in Scheveningen, Netherlands
1953 Moved to Indonesia with family
1957 Moved with family to Sydney, Australia
1961 to 1965 Studied and lectured at Sydney University
1962 to 1963 Two Man Show with John Firth Smith
1967 to 1987 Biannual One Man Shows in Sydney and Melbourne. Powell Street Gallery, Gallery A, Queen Street Gallery
1969- 2022 Moved studio to Bali, Indonesia to live
1975-1978 Travelled and painted in Europe and USA
1979 One Man Auction of Works and Media Event in Sydney
1980 Painted all the animals in Jakarta Zoo while living there for the Indonesian for The Indonesian Wildlife Association
1982 Lived and painted in Venice, Italy.
1983 Executed a 40-meter oil painting for the Iloura Plaza in Melbourne of a Angophora tree
1984 Executed a 90’x12’ mural over the Long Bar of the Raffles Hotel, Singapore
1987 The opening Show at Caz Gallery, Los Angeles, California
1989 Show at Chicago Art Fair
1990 to 1991 Traveled extensively through the Australian desert
1992 to 1993 Hyatt and Regency Hotels commissioned paintings for the foyer
1994 Show at Corbally Stourton Contemporary Art in London
1996 Show at Michael Nagy Gallery, Sydney
1999 Art Performance Antwerpen Cathedral on the Life of Mozart by appointment To H. M. The Queen of Belgium, Belgium
2000 Commissioned to execute art for the foyer of the Oberoi Hotel in Bali
2001 to 2022 Continued to sell privately to clients around the world