This month I have been fortunate to meet up with René Holm, a famous Danish painter, who has a studio here in Berlin. We have talked about: his childhood; his values; his kids; challenges in parenting today; the impact iPhones and iPads have on kids and creativity; his career before he became a painter; sneaking out to do graffiti at night; where he gets inspiration for his art; why he loves the darkness; daring to be risk taking; that the perfect and happy Dane does not exist.
At the end of part 2, René and I are discussing when he quit his job to become a painter not knowing if he would succeed. Did you not read Part 1 yet? Then go ahead and enjoy this inspiring interview from the start by clicking HERE.
Nina: Wow, so you just quit your job?
René: I quit my job and back then our son Oliver was 2 years and 3 months old. SO I quit my job. My girlfriend quit her job. She was selling insurances. We sold out little house. Our first house. We packed everything down. Then we bought 17 open airplane tickets which we should use in a year. Then we bought one ticket to Bangkok. We did not go to Google earth and we did not book a room. We had not planned our next flight.
Nina: Wow, and this was with a little son of 2.
René: Yeah, so he had his little red suitcase that any kid had at that time and he was allowed to pack what he could fit into that, from his room full of “made in China” toys. That was all that he could bring. Then we traveled for 10 months and had an amazing trip. That was really an eye opener to what I was planning to come home with. We were traveling around using our savings. We made some money on the house we sold and we knew we were coming back within a year. We had some money left over for when we came back, so we could start on a fresh.
Nina: This is so important in my opinion, when you want to start something. One thing is to quit your job and say I am gonna try out my dream, but you still had some money saved up as a back-up. When I first wanted to do music, I also quit my job on a whim, and I did not have a backup of savings. So, I quickly began to freak out about where the money was gonna come from and this completely blocked my creative process. So for me that was the disastrous way, where as the way you did, well at least you did not have the same financial worry.
René: Well it was not a big concern, but still it was there for it was not millions we had at all. We knew that when we came home from our trip, we had to start on a fresh in a new home and my girlfriend needed to get a new job.
Nina: And you were gonna focus on your painting?
René: And I was starting on the academy of Art for five years with no income! So it was not like our economy was of no concern, cause I was going from a good salary to zero.
Nina: So your girlfriend became the breadwinner at that time?
René: Yes, cause she got her old job back. We talked about this earlier, that a lot of people might have thought: “why don’t we do that” when they saw what we did, but they were not brave enough to do it.
Nina: Yes it is most likely the fear of not being able to control the situation, while jumping into the unknown.
René: Yes and the thought about “what will happen when we come back”.
Nina: You know, I think it is cause we are so wired for the negative side effects that could happen when you do something new. The focus is most often on what can go wrong and not what you can achieve and people go: “did you think about the consequences”? But just think about what you CAN achieve by changing your lifestyle and trying something new.
René: Of course there were some concerns from our parents. I was quitting a good job.
Nina: And being the farther of a very little one, too.
René: The place where I worked offered me to be partner of the company and actually to take it over within an amount of time.
Nina: And you said no?
René: I said no.
Nina: This also shows how much you really want to realize your dream of painting and that you have to be prepared to take risks.
René: Yes, and you only live once! All our friends thought it was great what we did.
Nina: So what would you then say if one of your kids came home and said: “Dad, I want to be a painter”.
René: “Good luck. Give it all you got and if it doesn’t work out, you can do something else. If you have this dream or if you think you have a talent in something creative, be it writing, singing or painting or all the other art forms, then you should give it a try. And then say to yourself: “I am gonna give it a try 100% for say…five years”. If everyday is a struggle about how to get get food and pay the bills, then after five years you must accept that now you can only do it part-time.
Nina: So then it is time to get a job and an income and do your art on the side.
René: And maybe that will succeed. You don’t know, but you should give it a shot.
Nina: Yes, cause if you are so creative as a person and you don’t use this talent, it is such a waste! I mean, one thing is if you can live of it or not, but if you completely shut it down to have say a full-time job, I do believe you shut down such a huge part of yourself at the same time, that you will very rarely feel complete happiness. You are not using a big part of yourself and what you need to express. So instead of “either or” maybe it just has to be a mix for a while.
René: Yes, and when I was going to the Academy, we also had other types of vacations. It was not from here to luxury in Jamaica. It was not that we were less happy or did not go out that much. You know, then you find the free concerts in the parks and whatever. You’ll get through it if it is a 3-5 year period. Life is long.
Nina: And another important point is also that you had a partner who supported you in realizing your dream.
René: Oh yes, from the beginning.
Nina: Yes, so when you go out and find a partner you wish to share your life with, it should also be a person who is as risk-taking as you? Or willing to take risks with you.
René: Yes! And I would do the same you know. If my girlfriend wants to quit her job one day to start a small bakery or something else.
Nina: Yes and maybe even more cause you really know the value of doing what you love.
René: Yes, and because I see friends who live in great houses, with nice cars in the driveway and they are not all happy. They are just waiting to get retired.
Nina: So they can begin to enjoy life?
Nina: And hopefully then also with a good health, cause we don’t know how many years we’ve got!
René: You never know. Even though we do get older and older. And you know it is not that it is easier to sit here after I have succeeded. I would do it anyway. My dad had 5 or 6 stores where he sold radios and tv’s.
Nina: So an entrepreneur.
René: Yeah, he called himself an old-fashioned Kaufman.
I knew that the day would come, where he would call my brother and me to the dining table to offer us a part in the firm. I worked there after school since I was 16. But now it was really to become part of the company and eventually take it over. I knew I would say no, when he would ask.
The day came and we were sitting down and I knew exactly what was about to happen. He would introduce the idea and say that he had talked to the lawyers and all that about how we could get into the firm and take it over within five to ten years or whatever. And I was just so clear after he was done with his “speech” and I had to say: “thank you, but it is a no-thanks”.
Nina: How did he react to that?
René: Hmmmm, well probably you could see that there was disappointment in his eyes, but today he is SO pleased that I did not do it, because the competition in that business really exploded after five years.
Nina: And that would have been around the same time as you were to take it over.
René: Really! Not that I knew back then, but I have other friends who took over parents’ firms and I can just see that it is an issue. Even though the parents are now over 70, and some almost 80. They are still part of the firm although they have retired, cause the firm is like their kid. You will always be concerned about your kids, no matter how old you get. You know my mother will still say: “Drive safely” if I am driving to Berlin. When we go skiing, she will say: “Don’t go off-piste” and all that. I am like: “Mum, I am not 16!” haha….
Maybe they (the companies) have a hard time after some years and their parents have to invest money into the company again, because it will always be their company. Then they have some disagreements about how to run it. You know, I am SO happy that I did not do it. No matter what, even if I could have made tons of money and have had a company car back then, and I was only 20.
Nina: This was also very brave, to dare to say “no”, cause so many of us are afraid of disappointing our parents.
René: Yeah, most would probably say “yes” just to make their parents happy.
Nina: Exactly. Earlier we also talked a bit about when you have to choose which education to take as a young teenager, most of us don’t even know what we want to be. Today the young people have to make big decisions about their future early on and how can they possibly know what is the right thing for them, when many of them have not even tried what is “out there”. Or, don’t even know what their passion is, cause they have not had a proper chance to discover and develop it. It I such a pressure, and I really feel for all these kids and youngsters, who have to make these decisions and also in such a stressful environment.
René: Yes, and so early! That is what I can see with my kids. They are asked in school: “if you go to college, what direction do you want to go? What do you want to do after school?” “Well I don’t know! I have no idea” “Well, what do you like?” “I like this and that”….
I always tell my kids and I probably did so more than 200 times: “you have to make a choice in school or college about which direction to go in. This not necessarily what you want to do in five or ten years from now”. And then I say: “Look at all our friends and all the homes that we come in. This guy is a banker, this guy is buying and selling properties, this guy is living in Spain and doing that and that… What they are doing today was not what they were doing 30 years ago. It was not part of their plan. This guy who is building and selling properties used to be a lawyer. This other guy was in his dad’s company and got stress and now he is doing whatever.
Nina: So the choice you make is not a final one. Life is all about change.
René: And you know, I am a good example too…haha. So me and my girlfriend…cause we are not married but we are still parents, we never talk about you HAVE to do this or HAVE to do that. Well, you have to go to school every day and do your best at school, but we don’t expect you to come home with top grades. Just do your best. Do your homework. Be prepared when you go to school. And then life will work itself out.
Nina: They are definitely lucky to have such open-minded parents like you and your girlfriend seem to be. The support from home is so important.
René: Yeah, cause I have examples. Most of our friends are the same age as us and so are our kids, plus minus five years. I know kids, who are almost afraid of coming home with a B and not an A+ and you know the parents expect that they get A+.
Nina: Wow, that is quite a pressure to put on your kids.
René: And I think it is really stupid and I don’t think anything good comes out of that.
Nina: No. Of course it is nice that you teach them that they have to do something to achieve things in life. If you don’t get the best grade it does not matter, as long as you did your best.
René: Exactly! That is all you can do.
Nina: In general, you cannot be the best at everything in life, so why expect you to be that in all subjects in school?
Rene’: Yes, and don’t put yourself under too much pressure when you are young, cause it will definitely come later, when you are grown up anyway.
Nina: These are some very important topics we are touching upon, although they are not directly related to your art.
René: No, but you know, every day life is part of my work. I get my inspiration from every day life.
Nina: So, what are you working on right now?
(to be continued….)
In Part 4 René reveals more details from how he became a successful painter. He was lucky to sell everything at his first solo-exhibition. How did that affect him, when he had to paint for his next exhibition? Was it too much pressure? How does he feel when he reveals his paintings after being in “the game” for so many years? What is he working on right now? We also hear about his meeting with refugees that resulted in the series called “Strangers”. All this and more will be revealed this coming Thursday, so stay tuned!
If you want to find out more about René Holm here are links to his website and social media:
Coming exhibitions with René Holm in 2018:
Code Art Fair (DK) at Galeri Benoni (30th of Aug – 2nd of Sept), Esbjerg Gymnasium (DK) presenting new work in glass and neon made for the school (Aug), Kühlhaus Berlin (DE) group exhibition during Berlin Art Week with Kurator Uwe Goldstein (Sept), Museum Frello (DK) Group Exhibition (Sept), Hygum Kunstmuseum (DK) group exhibition (Sept) Galeri Benoni (DK) Solo exhibition (Nov).
Smiles from Berlin,