Photo: Daniel Nicolas

Joep Nicolas van Ronkenstein

Joep Nicolas van Ronkenstein (1933) has created an impressive body of work, consisting of sculptures, stained-glass windows, and drawings, which can be seen in countries around the world, including Japan, Australia, Mexico, the United States, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands.

Joep grew up in Heerlen (NL) and in 1950 he studied sculpture at the Art Academy in Maastricht. In 1956 he moved to the U.S. following his uncle, the renowned stained-glass artist, Joep Nicolas, who had moved there in 1939. Here he worked in stained glass studios but also studied at the Art Students League in New York and the Boston Museum School. He returned to the Netherlands in 1961 with his American wife, Celestine La Farge. In Reuver, Limburg, he purchased the run-down Watermill of Ronkenstein and converted it into a house and studio. Joep has been living and working there ever since.

Joep’s work encompasses several stylistic periods. During his five years in America, he regularly stayed on Long Island with his cousin, Claire Nicolas White, and her husband, the Prix de Rome-winning sculptor Robert White, whose classical style was greatly influenced by his stay in Rome. This inspired Joep’s own interest in classical figurative sculpture, and eventually Greek and Roman mythology, which became a leitmotiv in his work.

Joep’s work in the 1960’s depicts almost literal figures from classical mythology. In the late 1970’s he began to develop his own mythology, depicting personal stories and fantasy in figurative images. Many statues from this period are combinations of people and animals, who often wear masks. These works include the “Sarah” series, “Unicorns”, and “Synthesis”.

From the mid-1990s, Joep drops the masks and his work becomes more realistic, though still fantastical – the figures seem to be frozen in their own world, such as “Dancing Woman”, “Moon Gazer” and “Dancing Gnome”. These figures show a recognizable humanity in their nakedness that is reminiscent of the work of great sculptors of the past like Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Adriaen de Vries.