The Magical Realism of Clary Mastenbroek

The Magical Realism of Clary Mastenbroek

December 04, 2017


Born in the Netherlands. Mastenbroek studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam where she graduated in 1967 having studied Graphic Art and Painting. Shortly after graduating she married fellow artist Wout Muller. Following the completion of her studies she worked in various roles such as Graphic Artist, Illustrator, Draftsman and Painter.

Mastenbroek spent several years in the early 1980’s teaching at Minerva Academy in Groningen. During that time she helped co-found the Fuji Art Association in 1984 with Matthijs Roling, Ger Siks and Wout Muller and the group managed to fill an important space within Groningen’s Figurative Art scene for over a decade. 


 The Fuji Art Association - Wout Muller, Clary Mastenbroeck, Ger Siks, Trudy Kramer and Matthijs Roling 

In 1992 Mastenbroek, along with her husband, Wout Muller bought the neglected Fairbrook Woollen Mill in Kilmeaden, County Waterford, Ireland. Mastenbroek created and designed a new garden around the Fairbrook Buildings. With the restoration of the old Woollen Mill completed, the Fairbrook House Museum was opened to the public in 2003. The Fairbrook Collection which includes the work of her Mastenbroek’s husband Wout Muller, her daughter Tamara Muller as well as her own is on display to the public during the summer months.


 The Fairbrook House Museum, Kilmeaden, Waterford, Ireland

Between 1995 and 2007 Mastenbroek worked from time to time at the Naturaliënkabinet in the Nijsinghhuis ( Mastenbroek along with other members of the Fuji Art Association were involved in the painting of the buildings interiors, you will find Mastenbroek’s artwork in the upper rooms of the Museum De Buitenplaats. Where small and large room screens form an important part of her oeuvre. In 2005, the Buitenplaats in Eelde hosted the exhibition: "A Family of painters: Wout Muller, Clary Mastenbroek & Tamara Muller".

"Defiant", Clary Mastenbroek, Oil on Canvas, 100cm x 100cm

Mastenbroek’s work is often interwoven with symbols, visions and mythological motifs which all contribute to her Magical Realism style of work.  A central theme running through much of her work "the woman versus transience". Along with Mastenbroek’s paintings on canvas her body of work also contains over twenty huge folding screens, book illustrations, portraits, as well as graphic art commissions. The pictorial poetry of Mastenbroek has the insinuating narrative style of 17th century paintings. Colour is a prominent component, but sober and muted, often those of the underwater environment. Sometimes she features horses painted from life in the paintings, textures of the breathing animal with its veins and nervous muscle contraction. The intriguing magic realism with symbols and motives from Greek mythology are opening the gate between Eros and Hades, Life and Death.

Mastenbroek has exhibited her work in museums and galleries in Netherlands, France, Sweden, Germany, London and New York. Since 2000 Mastenbroek has regularly participated in exhibitions at Museum Mohlmann, Appingedam, Netherlands and the Museum de Buitenplaats, Eelde, Netherlands. In 2012 a retrospective of her work was exhibited in Museum Van Lien, Fijnaart, Netherlands. In Ireland her work can be found at the Fairbrook Museum where she has now lived for twenty five years in the restored former woollen mill surrounded by beautiful gardens, Clary has also exhibited at the Art Fair, Waterford Museum and the Dye House Gallery in Ireland. Her art is in museums and private collections worldwide. Several books about her art have been published.


 "Sacred Space", Clary Mastenbroek, Oil on Board, 100cm x 90cm, 2002



What initially drew you towards becoming an artist?

As a child I always was drawing and at the age of seventeen I did my admission exam for the Amsterdam Academie of Arts, at that time only small numbers succeeded. So I was lucky.

How would you describe your own personal style?

The way I work you could describe as Magic Realism. A stream in art also literature from around the 1920’s.  Which expresses realistic views of the real world while also adding magical elements, creating an alienating effect.

What pushed you in that direction and how can you see your work evolving in the future?

When I was studying and that's forty years ago, there was abstract art everywhere. That does not seem satisfying for me to express myself.

What inspires you in your work, is there a driving factor that draws you to the easel?

The female body versus decline.

When it comes to creating your work, do you have a preferred medium, certain types of brushes or tools you love to use?

I made a lot of graphic art, also on commission, book illustrations, but the last ten years it is most oil painting on canvas or board

When it comes to the subject matter of your work, what draws you to those themes?

I started working that way but a returning object is a shell, since my childhood I collect shells and the symbolic meaning of a shell, virility, power and death is a returning theme in my art.

"Labyrinth", Clary Mastenbroek, Oil on Canvas, 100cm x 80cm

Could you describe the process behind your art? How do you get from concept to execution?

It all starts with the models.

Could you describe your normal day as an artist? Have you set routines and rituals or is a more a case of when the moment is right you work?

No, being an artist with appointments with galleries, it is just hard work, most days from morning until evening. And if there is a moment you don’t feel inspired there is always dull work like sandpapering and preparing board or canvas to be done.

When you work, do you focus on one piece at a time until completion or are you working on multiple pieces at the same time? 

Yes always working on multiple pieces at the same time

How has your art evolved to be where it is today

Bigger formats and texture became more important

What advice would you give to a young aspiring artist currently studying art?

Travel and visit museums to see what art has been created from middle ages until now. 

Despite having developed your own distinctive style, is their another style of art that you are immediately drawn towards and admire? Why? 

No. All good art is worth admiring.

We have all heard of the unfinished masterpiece, even Da Vinci laboured away at the Mona Lisa for years and years, have you works that are in a continual process of evolution? When working on an artwork do you find it hard to let go? Knowing when enough is enough?

I never worked years and years on an artwork. You know when an artwork is finished, when doubting ask a (artist) friend or put it aside and have a look or work on it later. 

"Rendez-vous",Clary Mastenbroek, Oil on Board, 138cm x 65cm, 2005

Many people see artists as storytellers or advocates for a cause, do you believe that it is an artist’s responsibility to shine a light on a particular subject / theme, or do you create purely for the sake of expression your creative nature? 

I paint my personal story. That can be just as influential with the viewer as something inspired by global warming. Every artist has a different drive to create art, personal, political or just an aesthetic expression. 

What are you working on at the moment?

Some small oil paintings on panel and some big canvasses.

Have you ever been part of an artistic group / movement? How did your work benefit from that experience?

In the Netherlands we founded the Fuji Art Association (5 Painters + 1 Poet). At that time we were all teaching at an Academy of Art. Every year in December we had an exhibition based on a theme. This art group had a huge influence on young realistic painters. In May 2012 a film was premiered about the influence of the Fuji Art Association, Old Masters Young Hero’s (Oude Helden Jongen Meesters) the documentary made by the Beeldlijn Foundation was about figurative art in Groningen and was part of three movies exploring the evolution of art in Groningen between 1945-1970. The film focuses on the Fuji Art Association and the Minerva Academy in the 1970’s.

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