Walk to the Moon is the first comprehensive, illustrated publication devoted to the life and work of Albert Houthuesen. The book is based on conversations with his biographer Richard Nathanson. Told in the artist's own words and images, it describes a story unique in the history of art - both for its particular childhood tragedy; and the way this has imbued Houthuesen's art with a unifying vision that stands alone.
Albert Houthuesen was born in Amsterdam but moved to London in 1912, following the sudden death of his father at the hand of his demented wife. During the twenties, Houthuesen worked at The Royal College of Art with Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Edward Burra, Ceri Richards and Cecil Collins. And thereafter in isolation.
Walk to the Moon is the English translation of the Dutch expression Loop Naar de Maan meaning 'Forget it'. It was how Houthuesen's mother would respond whenever as a child, he asked her for painting materials.
It is one of the great ironies in my life to recall with you the early days. To think that now my workroom is full of white canvasses yearning. In the profoundest sense they still defy me, but now they are there to be used. My first drawings were all burnt but I have a fragment of the drawing I was making when this frightful thing happened to my father. It is a burnt fragment of a horse. To me, it seems very symbolic because that horse drawing was the one which my father, before this awful row, had praised in these last words, ‘He does it better than I do.’ It is simply frightful to think that this encouragement was the sudden beginning of the sudden end.
Never in my life have I thought of being original. I have only looked at the sea and the land and the sky. I have looked at the marvellous men and women one sees. And I have gone to the theatre. It is such an astounding world to look at. Everything in Nature is admirable, everywhere and all the time. And all I have wanted to do is to try and paint what I had seen, either in a dream or in reality.
I can still walk through London an absolute stranger. For me travel is a time-waster, but since I can’t do it, I suppose I put up this defence. However I would far prefer to really know my own back-garden than make a quick tour of Italy – to really get to know this mulberry tree which I look at everyday and still don’t begin to understand.
As the ages advance, certain things happen in relation to art. For me, the most appalling thing that has happened today is the commercialism of life. And this is linked with a lack of belief. I am absolutely convinced that the people who built the old cathedrals and made the carvings; and painted these staggeringly beautiful things, did have religion. They thought that paradise would be their reward.
A person’s development is a very long and mysterious process. Very, very gradually, through wisdom and experience, you become freer. You can’t pinpoint a particular stage of development. You weep more. Your laugh more. You are older. And somehow you have changed. I don’t think a painter is anything other than an instrument; and how he does it he cannot really explain. The brush in your hand takes over and you don’t even know you’re painting.
My work is a world only touched. And to carry on is far more important than anything else. My drawings and paintings are all steps and I don’t go back on them. They are part of one’s restrictions and part of one’s little gift. They are absolutely part of you because with every step you take, you don’t think about believing in it, you do believe in it. Yet I should like to paint things which are so rich and intense that they will annihilate what has gone before
Extracts from Walk to the Moon