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On the 20th of February 1936 Jacobus Franciscus Wilhelmus Slegers -usual name Jacques- was born in the centre of Eindhoven. His delighted parents, hard-working retailers, carrying on ‘Het Simplexhuis’ (moped-shop) and a bicycle workshop, could not suspect that this black-haired little fellow in the cradle would become a ‘painting tiger’.
From his earliest years on, Jacques was drawing and painting. When, as a matter of course, time was ripe for Jacques to join his parents’ firm, he firmly resisted: in stead of repairing bicycles Jacques wanted to study at the academy of arts. He was allowed to do so, on the condition that he first would finish his commercial evening class. Just in case......

Child prodigy

In 1955 Jacques registered at the Academy of Plasic Arts of Tilburg which initiated his surprising and successful career. Although the training normally would take four years, the particular talent of the youthful Jacques soon was acknowledged so that he could finish his studies in 1956. His teacher Nico Molenkamp commented: ‘There is nothing left to teach him.’
For one year Jacques joined the National Higher Institute of Antwerp which was very disappointing to him (where were the teachers that were worthy of succeeding Permeke cum suis?). Jacques received a French scholarship, studied in Paris and during two successive summers he went to Salzburg to study with Oskar Kokoschka. From his first summer-course he returned with a painting on which the great Austrian painter had written: ‘Excellent, you paint like a tiger!’
In the meantime, at the age of 21, Jacques pinched the Culture Award of the City of Eindhoven. One year later he won the Oskar Kokoschka Award in Salzburg after which -by way of rare exception- Edy de Wilde, manager of the Van Abbemuseum, invited Jacques for a solo exhibition.
Meanwhile, Jacques’s parents had recovered themselves from their bewilderment. His mother -his father died of cancer in 1958- stood by her exceptionally talented son wherever she could, and since that time the subject of taking over the bicycle business had never been broached again.

Work, work, work

What to do when you -being the ‘enfant chéri’ of the art of painting at such a young age already- are so highly praised? Work, work and once more work, was the answer Jacques Slegers gave himself. He explosively developed into a painter and a draughtsman, exceptionally versatile, exuberant and boisterous. Expressionist use of colour and direct brush-power went together with compositions that, often in a dramatical, rebellious manner, were readable both in an abstract and figurative way. Paintings, gouaches and drawings were created with enthusiasm and at full speed and showed a vivid fantasy. Jacques Slegers was typified as a stubborn loner, a possessed and versatile artist.
In the meantime Jacques Slegers had got married and had become the father of two daughters, Saskia and Sylvia, who were born in 1962 and 1964 respectively. In 1965 Gallery Slegers was opened, at the ground floor of the family Slegers’s house, in which the work of several Dutch artists was exhibited. Besides, Jacques and his wife travelled throughout the country and abroad to exhibit Jacques’s work with high regularity at numerous expositions.
Many of his works were bought by art-collectors.And the flood of awards unwearingly continued: in 1962 and again in 1965 Jacques received the Royal Subsidy for the art of painting.

Monumental work

Ever since 1970 Jacques Slegers also busied himself intensively with the great number of assignments he received from all kinds of public institutions for which he acquired many other ways to express himself. He was an all-round man, some people even called him a magician. But whatever he did, he indefatigably went on drawing and painting, necessary as it was to him to keep expressing himself emotionally after the so tied up monumental work.
In the seventies drama came into Jacques’s personal life. After his divorce in 1971, his dearly beloved mother died of cancer in 1972.
In 1975 he and his artistic partner Josje Manden moved to the Paradijslaan in Eindhoven. From that time on the success of his monumental work increased. He approached every assignment with intelligence and great empathy, inexhaustibly considering them one by one as a new challenge. That explains why, as far as its tenor and composition is concerned, Jacques’s monumental work is fairly diverse. Not because of a lack of personal style but rather as a result of his wish to execute the idea as scrupulous as possible.
By way of assignment Jacques Slegers created a lot of metal sculptures, wall-decorations, sheets and reliefs of glass and he designed tapestries and spatial situations. He often used ceramics, especially in mosaic-shape. And in this area he also was a master.
Jacques Slegers received a special assignment from the Home for Mentally Handicapped ‘De Donksbergen’ of Duizel (his two-years-older sister Toos lives there): a series of seventy-seven small paintings that were hung in the institution’s meeting place. Each painting measures 18 x 12 cm and shows us images -in coloured pencil and ink- about humankind, especially the damaged ones, the sufferers. Jacques’s starting-point had been ‘purity’.
Empathy and emotional expressions were the characteristic aspects of Jacques Slegers’s great talent. As for himself he summarized his monumental work shortly but to the point: ‘My work is purely emotional. Moreover, I am fond of colours.’

Enterprising spirit

During his life as an artist, Jacques had been the initiator of lots of creative projects. The purposeful intention was his striving after a direct contact between the artist and the public.
In the sixties he organized art-auctions and donated the proceeds to the Third World.
The gallery he had opened in Eindhoven, in which well-known painters and sculptors exhibited their work and renowned speakers were invited to give a talk, remained open until 1969.
With his project ‘Artists on location’ Jacques either invited people to come over to his house to have a look or took them over to other artists’ studios.
He also was co-initiator of AAP (the abbreviation of Actief, Actueel, Pluriform, meaning active, topical, multiform): a group of painters that created a series of collective paintings.

Sensitive and intelligent intuitive artist

In his paintings, Jacques Slegers expressed his desire for purity and bliss as well as his social involvement. To him, painting was the utmost way to communicate with his public.’While I am painting all my facades disappear, I completely commit myself.’, he stated in an interview with Eindhovens Dagblad.
Jacques’s free work is full of passion, full of vivid expression, it is a pictorial vision of great intensity and of a sensitive intelligent intuition. He was often praised for his technical skills but Jacques regarded technique in itself as a side-issue. Main point was that technique enabled him to communicate his message.
Ever since the eighties, Jacques’s initially mainly figurative work had become strongly abstract and expressionist. However, in the artist’s opinion ‘figurative’ or ‘non-figurative’ were nothing but outdated terms.
In Jacques’s point of view man is born, has a party every now and then, feasts upon the pork-dish and finally -as a reward- ends up in a beautiful deep grave. That’s it, period. All the more reason for the artist to take his brush and tread upon life’s heels in enlarged miniatures. Without being mentioned explicitly, God is omnipresent. Death, on the contrary, is not seldom mentioned explicitly in Jacques Slegers’s work. He was increasingly touched by dramatical events, violence, destruction, loneliness and isolation. Titels like ‘Nearly Dead Tiny Animal’, ‘Slaughter Table’, ‘Hanged Doll’, Witch-Sabbath’, ‘If You Want Me To I’ll Be The Easter-Hare’, ‘Women Of The World’, ‘A Sweet Terminus For A Life Full Of Suffering’, ‘And As A Reward A Beautiful Deep Grave’ or ‘Location Of The Fire’ are on the borderline of visual and literal imagination, one by one being texts that complete the painter’s work in their unique wordless eloquence.

It is said that Jacques Slegers was a child prodigy indeed. But even more interesting is that -throughout his entire life- he had remained completely ingenu and sixteen, hindered neither by experience nor by the sort of tiredness that ‘historical awareness’ brings along. He never ceased being the painting child prodigy who, to the best of his belief, had always been busying himself with art. Jacques’s vivid expressionism is original and dates from the time when -long before being associated with boast and a dominant style- the word still was associated with stammering and rage and hurt innocence. The vivid, somehow melancholic colours are as important as the rhythm of the hand that creates the painting or drawing, the deformation, the base of the composition, the passion with which intuitively originated images were caught and transformed into a pictorial vision of great intensity.
However, Jacques Slegers’s success -a devilish play with mankind at stake- did not stop at the stage of being a child prodigy. At most it more closely approached the apocalypse. A vulnerable, sensitive intelligence, working off a world full of injuries in a way that also the viewer experiences a remarkable mixture of drama and catharsis; facing up what is hidden behind the apparent incidents and daily routine of reality and life.
Jacques’s work creates glimpses of phantasms that are dreamt just before awaking. It is genuinely pictorial, expressive. Likewise, this is the coercive force of his talent which, apart from the general expressionist vocabulary, is almost beyond expression.

The last years

In contradiction to former days, Jacques did not exhibit frequently the last years. Rather than being profitable, his initial reputation seemed to be to his disadvantage.
He continued painting, his life and his sadness. Continually choosing ‘hopeless’ tasks, a condition to prevent being reduced to mediocrity. ‘A painter is quite alone while painting. Even worse, his loneliness is multi-faceted: he is on his own, accompanied by all his unknown selves. The painter is a thinker who tries to keep himself from painting but who -in the end- again and again is saved when he acknowledges the only way to go on thinking is by painting his thoughts. He endlessly travels through the night; he has to invent dawn all by himself.’
Jacques Slegers would have loved to fling himself once again into organizing an extensive exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum but he met up with refusal because, with the lapse of time, the staff’s special interest had developed in a divergent direction. And indeed, this hurt him, but the former child prodigy was not to be put off: ‘I believe I am a great painter, yes.’

Every day again Jacques Slegers chose to be an artist and actually went on re-finding his original motives for that choice. He was an artist because he did not know how to get used to life. He painted like a human being that had invented a weapon against life’s inhumanity. Because of his compassion ‘the tiger’ painted life’s numerous contrasts, he would not hurt a fly, was driven to frenzy by his powerlessness and, next to his vulnerability, extremely clever.

On Monday the 31st of January 2000, at the age of 63, he died of a cerebral haemorrhage.

‘Jacques Slegers’s wordless eloquence’, Urias Nooteboom, 1980;
‘Jacques Slegers; painting like a tiger’, Hans Redeker in Kunstbeeld, 1982;
‘Jacques Slegers paints the things he cannot bear to see’, Maarten Beks in Kunstbeeld, 1985;
'Never ceased being a painting tiger; obituary notice of Jacques Slegers', Peter van Vlerken in Eindhovens Dagblad, 02-02-2000.