Though little known, if not wholly obscured by more flattering fashions and styles in contemporary art, the paintings, comics, sculptures, poems, jewelry, films, musics, and performances of J.A. Bernard Meijer (a.k.a. Bernd, Bnine, Bmen, Ben) of Den Haag together constitute a body of work which, in its complexities, the craft exemplified by it, and through the raw energy it projects, compacts 21st century life like few of his contemporaries' oeuvres can.
If encountered through the singular aspect of one medium only (the way time and circumstance unfortunately force me to let you experience it, with this brief introduction), his poetry might seem like the ramblings of a dyslexic, his paintings those of a typical outsider artist, his street-art a mere party-trick; only when held up to the light for examination of its sum totality does it reflect mercilessly the unified thrust of its maker's intentions. Versatile and erratic, Meijer traces a private mythology across myriads of media, combining the stately grace of Byzantine ikons with the gutter dynamics of pop culture, and a dash of Dada.
Many of his comics start with, or otherwise incorporate the phrase (in his own ideosyncratic orthography): IT WAS T'AGE OF MACHINERY. Inspired perhaps by Meijer's time in India, this is a reference to the Kali Yuga, or Age of Discord,the last stage of human history as predicted in orthodox Hinduism.
Across scrawled graffitti and junkyard altarpieces and photocopied zines, Meijer draws us a map of the Apocalyptic desert of this terrifying age; a nightmare landscape where pop culture detritus fights itself in an endless loop. Across this desert, an eternal West (the Western Lands, Egyptian land of the dead, land where the sun of civilization goes down?) , riddled with vampire robot cowboys and cybernetic crustaceans, ride the Kings of the West. Are they the good guys, the bad? Prophets or Anti-Christs? None of it resolves.The magician's-apprentice figure of Stick Boy, a youthful ninja-moses forever confronts the G.O.D. (Genmatic Ord'ring Device), is forever trained by the wizened old wizard in the cave. This is the Apocalypse as Coda. It is an eternally sinking ship with the band playing on, and on, and on.
All this reflects perhaps a lifelong struggle with the Black Dog of depression which ended when Ben decided to end his life in 2013. He had always proclaimed that if it hadn't been for the hopeful message of X-men comics he read as a kid ( i'm a weird kid/i'm a mutant-that's okay!), he would have long since given up, but in the end, that energy and hope could not be sustained into an adulthood which had begun far too early (by his own admission- accounts of playground knife-fights abound).
Where are the heroes when you need them?
Ben's end shows up the Myth of the Campbellian Myth, umasks the Hero with a Thousand Faces and its positivist anthropocentric view that we must learn to recognize these mythical threads in everyday interactions, organise our inner life in accordance with narrative structures, and work through these stories to emerge healed and whole, a fuller human being. That, too, is just a story, and stories won't save us. No matter how many we tell or consume.
Even if i was too late in comprehending this truth to save my friend and mentor and colleague from his essential loneliness, i hope his life and work persist in being reminders of this mineral truth upon which others may yet sharpen their swords.
Loneliness is fundamental, but that fact is the rock we should build our humanity upon, and not upon stories.
Note on the illustrations: this is only a fragment of a vast body of work, the actual physical manifestations of which are scattered widely, not only across media, but amongst diverse archives and owners. His graphic output is in need of proper scanning, the paintings, once located, are deserving of more than quick Iphone photographs.
Exit Thru The Gift Shop:
It is in honour & remembrance of our brother that fellow cartoonist Mattijs van Katwijk & i have put together a zine featuring some collaborative drawings & comics. Comes with a facsimile of one of Ben's pamphlets. Interested parties may email to: ibr.ineke (at) gmail(dot) com