ALDO VAN DEN BROEK
born 1985 in Delft, the Netherlands
living and working in
Germany and the Netherlands
artist / painter / sculptor / schlossherr
selected works from 2009 - 2019
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On 9 November 2018, we drove 560 kilometers from Amsterdam to Kalkhorst, together with Woody Bos in a black Toyota Aygo. We went there to visit Aldo van den Broek. He wasn’t there.
Aldo would arrive later that night, and he would show us Lab Kalkhorst (his castle) and his works in progress the following day. A beautiful place with a dark history. And a memory we thought should be shared.
This is a document of that memory. A memory that was captured by Woody Bos. None of the artwork captured at Lab Kalkhorst is finished or for sale (yet). Hence the name, Lab Kalkhorst.
Earlier that night we arrived in that same darkness at Lab Kalkhorst; Aldo’s residential castle (formerly Schloss Kalkhorst) in the north of Germany, which he is slowly turning into a gigantic art project. After a six hour drive, his friends welcomed us with a decent pasta di tonno and probably a couple books worth of campfire stories before his arrival. Adding a never leaving campfire smell to my jacket as a souvenir.
The weird juxtaposition of a dubious nineteenth century castle in the middle of nowhere with the music of Mobb Deep seems to be a perfect analogy for Aldo. He and his friends grew up in a time of what some would call the golden era of hip-hop and —despite having kids or other responsibilities— they seem to have never left that era completely. Their lingo and their attitudes bring me back in time. Where people my age spend their downtime with scrolling on their phones, these guys are drawing letters. Edding markers are used until they’re empty, not an inch of paper (or anything else, for that matter) is left bare. It reminded me of the movie Crown Jewels (2006). A Dutch documentary about the early graffiti scene in Amsterdam. Men who have serious jobs and lives, but never really left the playfulness of youth. Without becoming pathetic, I should add.
The next morning I would find out that the association with people like Jaz and Delta wasn’t that far fetched. Although he’s from a different generation, Aldo —now 33 years old—has been affiliated with them. He once did an internship at Delta’s (now Boris Tellegen) studio, and if you look at Jaz’s (Jasper Krabbé) Instagram-feed, you’ll find a striking portrait of Aldo made by the former USA-crew member.
That same morning we re-evaluate what has been said the night before. Heavily influenced, I suspected there might be some things he would have rather left unprinted. However, surprisingly he reproduces the same stories this morning without any hesitation. The toxins seem to have more effect on me than they do on him, even though Aldo is roughly eight years older than me. With an adolescent enthusiasm he tells me that “it’s not that big of a deal,” as he’s enjoying his first cigarette of the day.
Aldo van den Broek was born in 1985 and raised in Het Gooi in the Netherlands. As a Dutch (much less glamorous) version of the Hollywood Hills, Het Gooi is filled with upper class people among whom many work in Dutch media. In this environment, Aldo rebelled against anything that even seemed like authority. “I was quite an active kid; I guess you’d call it ADHD. I just needed some excitement. It is weird because if you want to be on medication you have to be really structured. At the same time, when you have ADHD, you’re never structured.”
That lack of structure could be seen as a red thread in his life ever since he first moved to Amsterdam at the age of seventeen. You could say he has lived the true life of a seasoned artist, and he’s only 33. From having worked on major exhibitions, to living on the streets of New York, to residing in a huge castle in the north of Germany. Meanwhile he’s part-time raising his children Otto (7) and Isa (5), and working as an artist and “schlossherr”; a title he proudly wears with a tattoo above his left knee. He poked it himself.
As Schlossherr, Aldo organizes residencies, events, and other opportunities for likeminded artists. A refuge for artists with various disciplines, from writers to video-artists —as well as his children, who play in between the art, and in the endless gardens around the castle. I asked him if they ever broke anything. “All the time. But that’s okay. I break shit all the time myself anyways,” he replies, planting his dirt covered boots on one of his artworks. Aldo uses his art as floor covers, as well as ashtrays for the roughly two packs of cigarettes he smokes during our time together. “It’s part of the process. I want it to live. The work in progress is what makes it valuable. Besides, I’ve experienced that the people who sell my work often don’t even understand what I’m doing. Yes, that’s my head on a pizza box, but if you’d understand it, you would have known that it’s much more than that.”
Completely autodidact, Aldo’s work consists of painted carpets, layered cardboards, and small intimate “studies” painted on little planks. “Right now I’m mostly working on these portraits and paintings, but I they’re not exactly how I want them yet. I’ve never had any proper education, so I guess this is just a way of studying for me. This is my art school.” His atelier is housed in one of the more than twenty rooms in the castle and is filled with bigger and smaller artworks. He works in layers of paint or other materials, mostly in black, white, and gray —and in most of his recent works death seems to play a central role. “I was in LA recently, and I found this photo of a dead baby in the trash. That’s creepy right? Why would anyone throw away a photo of a dead baby? I took it with me. Death has been a thing that surrounded me for the past few months. When I still worked in Berlin I found a guy who killed himself in front of my studio. The officer on the phone asked me if I knew CPR but I couldn’t even see his face anymore. He probably jumped down head first. Those are images that stick inside your head for a while.”
During our stay, Aldo would receive a call from one of his closest friends, international fashion model and photographer Andre van Noord who was in his final stages of brain cancer. (A week after our interview, Andre died.) “I really got to know him last year when he was here. We were having fun, creating stuff, driving around the area. He suddenly collapsed at a gas station. At the hospital it turned out that he had a brain tumor. You’re catching me in a weird time. He literally just told me that it will be over soon. ”
Indeed it seems as if chances aren’t really on Aldo’s side at the moment. But however many issues there are in his life currently, he wears them with grace and an infectious smile. “I can’t do anything about the fact that there is a dead guy in front of my studio. I can’t prevent Andre from having a brain tumor. In a month I will be in Siberia, and I already know that something weird is going to happen. I can’t help that. Maybe that’s part of growing up as well; knowing that whatever happens you’re going to get setbacks. It has never been easy. It has been like this from the moment I got kicked out of school. Even as soon as I arrived in Amsterdam I was immediately robbed. I don’t know. I guess that’s life. At least I find comfort in knowing that up until now, most of the times I have found a way to survive.”
As weird as it seems, the fact that Aldo is living in a castle is a proof of that. Due to unforeseen circumstances, this was the only option for him. “It’s a funny story. At a certain point I met a collector who wanted to see one of my works. My studio in Berlin was way too small, so I went outside to unfold the work. I think it was about fifteen meters long and five meters wide. The thing with these works is that you can’t really understand it if you’re too close. So we rang the bell at the neighbors to ask if we could make some photos from their balcony. They probably already thought I was a weirdo, but they let me in anyway. As I stood on the balcony to take a photo, a taxi stopped in front of the work. I asked him to wait until I had made the photos, but you know how taxi drivers are right? He simply drove right through the artwork.”
He casually tells it as one would talk about what happened on the bus the other day. “I actually thought it was kind of funny, but the guy was in complete shock. I tried to comfort him by saying that he now has three pieces of art instead of one, but I don’t think he really appreciated that. The next day he sent me an email that he had a castle for me."
Even though there probably aren’t many people who receive emails in which they’re offered a castle, Aldo kindly refused at first. “They wanted to make a museum out of it, and I simply didn’t see how that would work. More importantly, my kids were in Berlin. I wanted to be with them, and I was still together with their mom at that time. It just didn’t fit.”
It’s the peculiar backstory of how a difficult break up and money problems forced Aldo to live in a castle that was once a shelter for SS Head Officer Heinrich Himmler. The owners, a Dutch couple who are avid collectors, offered him a chance to create something new here. “I called them with a plan and they said yes. By doing this, they are really sticking out their necks for artists like me. There aren’t many people that dare to do something like this. Let alone, to have this trust in me. But it’s working. It’s an amazing opportunity for me to live here, but more importantly, it is used by other people to create new things. We have residencies here, do events, the spaces are used, there are installations in the garden. There’s a lot going on, and it’s a nice and quiet spot.”
Not that there’s ever a “nice and quiet” moment in the life of Aldo. The week in which we visited Kalkhorst, Aldo had spent partying in London. He had also been there for a meeting with a big porn production company. “I was watching porn, and I got a little distracted. You they always have these cheesy opening scenes with a girl and a pool, right? As I was watching that, I saw a guy in the background cleaning the pool. I really couldn’t believe what I was seeing, because I knew that guy! So I texted him like “Yo, did I just see you in a porn scene?!” Turned out he is a cameraman, and he had to play a little role in that movie. He arranged a meeting for me.”
The meeting was about an idea Aldo had to work together. Inspired by his friend the cameraman, he saw a possible way of being valuable for each other. “They are in porn and they have a lot of money. I’m in art, and I don’t have any money. I can make them credible, and they can help me to make things happen.”
It’s a prime example of how Aldo always finds ways to create new opportunities. “I feel like I’ve never really worked in my life. I am just a social guy. People seem to like me. I don’t always color inside the lines, but I take things very seriously. I always work hard for it and I create my own opportunities. I have to. I have kids now. They really taught me discipline. They keep me straight.”
Fatherhood has changed Aldo. As did Germany. Raising kids is in a way raising yourself. At a certain age you’re expected to act a certain way. Being grown-up means being responsible, especially when you have the responsibility over one or more kids. “It’s an interplay. They teach me so much. Kids teach you the essence of what matters. I moved to Berlin to escape the drugs and alcohol in Amsterdam. I lived on the Vijzelgracht, in a big loft with a mattress in the middle. The perfect place for endless parties. At a certain moment I woke up with twenty five unknown people around me. That was the moment that we decided to leave.”
Shortly after Aldo was settled in Berlin, his girlfriend got pregnant. “Three months after we arrived. But I think that was the push I needed. I’m probably the only person in the world who moved to Berlin to sober up, but it worked for me. I didn’t even want to make friends in Berlin. I focused on work and my family. It was probably the best period in my life.”
One up in many downs. Ten years ago Aldo was living in New York, on the street. He survived a couple months on 150 Euros. A few years later he would return to New York for a project funded by the Dutch embassy. “I was in an insane asylum as a sort of artist in residence. A weird way to come back to the place where I struggled, haha. It has taught me a lot though. It really made me realize how the world works, and how I’m trapped in this void between those at the bottom and those at the top. Sleeping on the street was extremely fucked up, but I never really had much money. Throughout my life, I’ve always seen money. I’ve always been around people with money —good people and bad people— it just never stuck in my pocket. To be honest, I’d rather be poor and able to look in the mirror than to be among those Wall Street kind of people who are only making this world more fucked up every day.”
What does that mean, coming from an artist? Aldo is affiliated to galleries. People buy his art for thousands of Euros. People who are “Wall Street like”. “Look at me. Do I seem rich to you? The little money I do have goes to my kids and my art. That’s it. Okay, maybe a couple of beers and some cigarettes. I was never in this for the money. I do this because it is the only thing I can do. There are too many doors closed for me to try and do something else now. This is it, I have to make the best of it. And I think I am.”
These are heavy words, coming from someone who is showing us a few of the rooms in his huge castle. Several artists are working as we’re talking and shooting. And every now and then the gardener comes by to have a look. He shows us his dog, and his goat named Charles whom he consistently calls Carlito (after the Al Pacino gangster classic Carlito’s Way (1993)). Aldo is never growing up. And it’s part of his charm as well as his way of surviving. He has made a name for himself as an artist, with international clientele and galleries. Something he might have dreamed of during his nightly bombing sessions in Amsterdam. “I try to remind myself why I started with this in the first place. Bombing is the most ungrateful shit there is. You’re a teenager putting every last penny and more into it, while risking being arrested and seeing it painted over again. I want to keep that feeling I had back then. That’s why I don’t make “street art. Graffiti is about losing money, not earning money.”
So he earns money with other things at Lab Kalkhorst. Fancy sponsored dinners, and residencies and workplaces. It’s gradually growing, many international artists have found their way to Kalkhorst. And frankly, it is very tempting to stay after a weekend here. “It’s a great place to work, and for such a quiet place, there are always a lot of interesting things going on.”
Meanwhile, it’s also a perfect place to experiment with his own work. He’s been creating larger pieces here, and has been making sidesteps to different kinds of projects in the garden. “I try to keep it simple”, he says, while standing with his dog and his goat in front of his castle, wearing shorts outside in 6 degrees Celcius. “Why am I digging a hole in the ground for a white cube in the garden here? Because there was an excavator, that’s why. There really is nothing more to it. The art world is already pretentious as it is. Everywhere in the world, artists are looking for space to work in. But for some reason Tate Modern needs that gigantic entrance hall filled with nothing. It makes no sense.”
And although there is indeed little logic to be found in that fact, Aldo should be the first to acknowledge that art isn’t about logic. Neither is life, to make it any worse. Sleeping on the street, losing your best friend, from living in an insane asylum to living in a castle—it’s hard to find the logic there. Imagine listening to Mobb Deep’s The Infamous while playing with a goat named Carlito in the middle of nowhere in Germany.
With Aldo, it could easily all make perfect fucking sense.
Mikel van den Boogaard
Mikel van den Boogaard