Paintings for Poetry

The Ekphrasis Exchange Project of Joost de Jonge

/ by Edgar Tijhuis

Joost lives one of the most thoroughly art lives I have witnessed

Peter Frank - Art critic & Poet



Edgar Tijhuis and Joost de Jonge.
Under the heading of “The Ekphrasis Project,” the painter Joost de Jonge (born in Utrecht, 1975) orchestrated a unique transnational collaboration of poets, painters, essayists and others. In his digital book, Painted Poetry & Painterly Poetics - An Ekphrastic Notion, De Jonge displays the interaction of his abstract paintings with a multiformity of arts. But before we focus on the project, a bit more about the artist who we recently interviewed in his studio.


Joost de Jonge

In the middle of the old center of Vianen, a small city near Utrecht dating back to 1337, the workplace of painter Joost de Jonge is hidden behind a beautiful ancient facade. After the steep stairs, a two-story apartment turned into a studio catches the eye. The spacious living room is filled with paintings, books, and paint tubes and brushes piled up on antique side tables. Vivid colors in seemingly random compositions immediately attract the attention of the visitor. Meanwhile, it’s hard to keep an eye on the artist, who cautiously navigates his way through the endless works of art. Finally, we sit down and Joost de Jonge goes back in time, to describe his background that explains, to some extent, the development into the remarkable artist he has become.


My earliest memories are those of big color fields, which I experienced when I was just a newborn child. Especially my grandparents were important for my development. My grandfather collected poetry, paintings and graphics, while my grandmother was an avid amateur painter. I used to walk in the orchard with her and look at the birds, which we drew together upon our return to the house. She was the one to introduce me to the finer aspects and mysteries of oil painting


De Jonge's painting.
It soon became clear his heart and special interest were to be dedicated to abstraction. While influenced by artists like Kandinsky, Mondriaan, Appel, Cezanne, as well as the ideas of Worringer, De Jonge always maintained a unique style. Asked about De Jonge’s work, Robert C. Morgan, critic as well as poet, painter and scholar, comments:


I think he basically paints all the time, and when he is not, his pen takes over and produces some amazingly fresh and provocative ideas. I believe he is a superb non-representational painter, although he was trained as a traditional realist.


Part of De Jonge’s style originates from the heavy influence of other arts on his work, most notably poetry and music, as he explains:


I am definitely subject to some degree of synesthesia. When I listen to music, I can see an ocean of colors that sway rhythmically or display themselves like a field.


The Ekphrasis Project

The love and importance of the different arts stimulated De Jonge to start a unique transnational project. In The Ekphrasis Project, dozens of well-known poets, essayists, historians and artists collaborate. They include, among others, Andrin Schütz Emily Bilman, Mindy Kronenberg, Dinah Berland, Joy Harjo, Julien Holtrigter and Robert C. Morgan. De Jonge explains the title of the project:


I use the term “Ekphrasis,” which marks a distinction with synesthesia, which concerns a simultaneous experience of the senses, whereas “Ekphrasis” designates a conscious application of the primary aspects of one art in another.


De Jonge uses this interpretation of Ekphrasis, besides the more limited traditional meaning of a literary description of, or commentary on, a work of art.


While De Jonge experimented with the application of models of composition associated with the realms of poetry and music in his work, the poets and others in turn responded to his paintings. This lead to a number of one-off poems, essays and paintings, all responding to and inspired by other works of art. Or as Raluca Albu, managing editor of The Columbia Journal, summarized it in an interview with De Jonge:


From the studios of Utrecht to the canvases of Mvskoke-Creek tribal artists, Joost de Jonge has embarked on a global collaboration that is pushing creative and interpersonal boundaries.


An example of these poems is Mindy Kronenberg’s poem My Inner Eden, inspired by De Jonge’s panel “impasto improvisation 015, 6.”


My Inner Eden


In the middle of winter

I conjugate spring,

and the frayed edges

of my woolen socks

beckon sandals.

My heart is a map

Of fields and trees,


Even as the shovel’s tongue

swells for snow

the ground knows

there are petals

clinging like silken debris


A butterfly’s wings

quiver in the blood,

rain shivers blue

on my cherished topography

humming with lullabies of red and


green, singing of youth

before exile, love

before the Flood,

the sinuous, hidden road

to my innermost terrain.


-Mindy Kronenberg


When asked about her experiences with the project, Kronenberg responded enthusiastically:


Joost de Jonge has created an invaluable, global invitation and opportunity for poets and critics. By immersing in the realm of color and form, we can summon feelings and language that rise from sensory excitation.


Kronenberg further explains that ekphrasis is something close to her heart as a poet, art lover and educator. Many other poets and artists agree, but it is only through Joost de Jonge that this desire is transformed to a global level and conjoining so many different artists. As poet Julien Holtrigter, a pseudonym for Henk van Loenen, points out: this project crosses borders in the most literal sense. And Dinah Berland, poet and independent book editor in Los Angeles, adds: I think it is a marvelous opportunity to further the conversation between different art forms and artists.


De Jonge’s digital book is provided for free online. This rather unusual step is motivated by the artist’s dream of a project for humanity that should be accessible to anyone interested in his abstract art and his continuing exploration. Joost de Jonge already experimented with a project and digital publication before, but this did not satisfy him completely. In The Archeology of Personhood, a number of essayists communicated with his abstract paintings. According to the artist, the emphasis was too much on the personal, and hence the new Ekphrasis project.


At the moment, new poets, writers and composers are joining the project. And by joining together, both de Jonge and the participants push their own creative boundaries and discover new insights, while innovating their art. To borrow a phrase from De Jonge: “The Quest Continues...”


Published on the same day as this article is an essay by Noah Charney, inspired by one of de Jonge’s abstract paintings, which will be included in the Ekphrasis Project.


The digital book by Joost de Jonge is available at:


More paintings of Joost de Jonge can be found at his website:


A documentary about the life of Joost de Jonge was made by the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art. It is available at:

Edgar Tijhuis

studied Political Science, Law and American Studies at the University of Amsterdam. He received his Phd from Leiden University. His dissertation was published by Wolf Legal Publishers and is standard reading on transnational crime and art crime. Edgar Tijhuis is a visiting scholar at the Institute of Criminology in Ljubljana and regularly publishes in a range of journals.