I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
—William Wordsworth, read the full poem.
You know Claude van Lingen—he’s been to every single art opening in the city for the past ten years. If you have had conversations with van Lingen you’re probably familiar with the poetry and South African proverbs he drops into conversation. Along with the poetry he carries with him (leftover from his boarding school days in South Africa), van Lingen is a wealth of art history, ambition, and drive.
“The art scene here has really embraced me,” says van Lingen. “I can’t believe it.”
I visited his South Austin home on a sunny and warm February day. We sat in his living room, where we were surrounded by work from his ongoing 1000 Years From Now series. The room is sparse with a bench made of wood with a white seat cushion, a glass top table, and two weathered arm chairs—the leather cracking at the seams. The floor is tiled and bare. The works around us are van Lingen’s drawings. Words written over and over again on paper in graphite, eventually causing the paper to break. Sometimes he incorporates soil from sites commemorating events like the Onion Creek flood, mixing dirt and debris until it breaks the paper. He uses historical markers like the anniversary of the Titanic sinking, Schindler’s List, and 9/11.
“I’m also very concerned about climate change,” van Lingen says. “Thinking about one thousand years from now, what’s this little world going to be like, even if it’s here, you know? A lot of my work has to do with my concerns about the state of the world we’re living in. Politically, environmentally, all of that stuff.”
We walk through the house. Every room is an extension of his practice. An extra bedroom serves as storage space, another room as an office/studio, he often paints and works in his garage.
“I’ve always had my studio in my home,” he says. “I like living with my work; I don’t like going to the office, you know—spending time, traveling. At nights, if I feel like it, I can just get up and do some work.”
Two large canvases are in the hallway. Every person who visits signs each. One is gridded, giving order to the signatures. On the other, the visitor can sign wherever and however they want. I’ve already signed, so I don’t get to sign again. In the spare bedroom he uses to store his work, a painting from 1987 leans against the shelving.
Before coming to Austin in 2005, van Lingen spent 27 years in New York. He completed an M.F.A. at Pratt and then did design work for Scholastic.
“At one stage while I was at Scholastic, they had this series, Goosebumps and that died and Scholastic fired 400 people. I was one of the four hundred fired,” says van Lingen. “A few months later, my art director got me back again. Then Harry Potter—they were bringing out the last issue, the last publication and I smelled it in the air—they were going to fire people again. Germaine was retiring from The Wall Street Journal, she has two daughters here [in Texas] so she came down here and I thought, ‘I might as well go as well.’’
He moved to Austin with Germaine Keller, his long-time companion, and started volunteering at the Blanton Museum of Art. He and Keller went to all the openings they could and van Lingen remembers meeting Sean Gaulager, now Executive Director and Curator of of Co-Lab projects, when Gaulager was working at Volitant (a snazzy but short-lived gallery in downtown Austin).
“I never in my life thought I would end up in Texas,” van Lingen says. “Not in my vaguest dreams.”
In 2013, van Lingen presented the installation, 1000 Years From Now, Now, Now, …, …, …, at Co-Lab and continues to show his work as often as he can. He has a persistent art practice and is at work on a book, Art Creativity Controversy. Van Lingen writes that the book:
Is based on the premise that it is within the philosophy and zeitgeist of the times that innovative artists develop new ideas and use the means most suitable to interpreting them. By understanding why adventurous artists create unusual work, skeptics will (even if they still don’t like the work) be able to discuss it intelligently and not denigrate it. In addition, this book will serve as a guide for students and artists in their quest in developing a personal vision.
We talk about his book and van Lingen is ready to give me an art history lesson. He slips into the role of teacher quickly, and I know I have much to learn from him. Van Lingen was born in 1931 in South Africa and his life is beautifully captured by Andy Campbell in his article “Father Time.”
Van Lingen and I have returned to our seats in the living room. He makes light of aging, but he’s already seen one of his three children pass away and doesn’t take time lightly. I look out glass doors that open to a patio that holds a large easel. I watch a gray cat walk through the back yard and ask if he has any pets.
“I had lots of pets with my former wife in South Africa, but no I don’t,” he says. “Anything that detracts from me and my working, I don’t have time for it. I have too much to do.”
Thao Votang is co-editor of Conflict of Interest. Votang is the Director of Communications at the Department of Art and Art History at UT Austin, which houses the Visual Arts Center, and co-founder of Tiny Park. Van Lingen presented work at Tiny Park and Thao has toasted many times with Claude at various art openings.