It’s not what you’d call an everyday scene. On a late Monday afternoon in March, I called on an artist. Just two weeks before, Titia Vellenga had put me on the track of William Otermans. I remembered the name. Years ago I tried to tempt Otermans to a PechaKucha presentation in Maastricht. At the time there was a rumour going round that he made compelling paintings linking science and spirituality with one another – and with art. His canvases, it was said, had an inexplicable influence on their viewers, prompting deeply personal insights. That sounded like a brilliant story for our audience, who were always hankering after surprising insights. Regrettably, Otermans declined the honour because he thought his story still had to mature even more.

And now Titia suddenly shows me his work. It immediately attracts my attention. Powerful, animated and extremely associative. Swinging back and forth between bombastically savage to tranquilly poetic. Detached abstraction meets physical imagination. Often beautiful – for me as an untrained eye, sometimes hard to access as well. In synaesthesia it reminds me of Muse’s early symphonic space rock. Potent. Polarizing. Pontifical. Full of joy and fire. Titia tells me about William’s starting point: the trinity of art, science and spirituality. These three are inextricably linked and together determine what we can see. They are one and the same source for our culture. They do not belong – as we have been taught – in separated domains. It is the artist’s job to bring the future – and with it the impossible – closer. Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci not only made the world’s most famous work of art, he also invented the contact lens. And called himself ‘in spite of that’ a son of God.


Muse, Pinkpop 2007

At that moment the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place. The story that couldn’t be told years ago now is now ready to be told. William Otermans is exhibiting in Kerkrade. If I want to I can visit him. So I drive to Hoensbroek. I’m curious about the why. Otermans tells me that around fifteen years ago he saw his successful design and production company, which employed thirty people, go bankrupt. After that painful event he came to realize that what he had been doing up till then had been much to indirect. That he could only achieve the effect that really matters with paintings. Regardless of how trail-blazing his designs for events for major clients were, they broadened the audience’s awareness to a very limited degree. Only art can do that completely. And so Otermans became a full-time artist.

He creates warmth. The energy that comes from his art makes hard into soft. “Ice becomes water. Water becomes steam. And steam is the materialization of energy. Art has to have that effect,” says Otermans. The solidified energy of acrylic paint on canvas becomes energy again in the viewer’s mind. “The painted image takes viewers on a visual journey to who they are. If they open up, they will see new things. My work always contains different layers. The ‘Ghost in the Machine’, for instance, comes to life in the viewers’ eyes. They recognize themes in life that are only potential at that moment. I want to achieve that manifestation. My work must have that resonance.”

So, the art of William Otermans has an objective. He wants to break something open. Or perhaps he wants to communicate. Not through company products any more, but directly. Deep down, he still feels close to designers. On the door of his studio hangs a manifesto of the famous design office Edenspiekermann“Pay us. Our work adds to your bottom line, so invest in our future.” If you can do something that someone else can’t, that is of value.

Martijn Kagenaar (1968, Nijmegen) is a psychologist. As director at the Maastricht bureau Zuiderlicht, he is specialized in identity, brand positioning and strategic design.He is founder of PechaKucha Maastricht and is chairman of Debatcentrum Sphinx and Lichting Zuid. Loves cycling, film, photo and fantastic music.