Joep (82) made huge works of art, but now it is no longer possible

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An artist’s brain doesn’t stop when he turns 65. Joep Coppens from Vlierden still had enough images in his head to continue his work for a long time. No sinecure, because the 82-year-old man makes bronze sculptures that are four times his size. But he now he has retired. “My body no longer had the strength for it.”

In Joep’s studio, the chains with which he assembled the pieces of his large sculptures still swing. Joep stands next to one of the last statues of him, towering over him. «He made sculptures in bronze, but lately in wood. When I finished this sculpture, I thought, I shouldn’t do this anymore. Then I did another sculpture before I really stopped.”

Joep is not the only one who continues to work after his retirement. More than 300,000 Dutch people do the same, according to Statistics Netherlands. And among the artists, the number that he continues to work is large. In 2020, a quarter of artists were over 65 years of age. “I couldn’t stop when I turned 65. I had dreams in my head. It gives a lot of satisfaction when that dream becomes a concrete image”, says Joep.

And so he continued to chisel for almost twenty years. His works are inspired by the organic forms of nature. Skeletons in particular. «For me, the skeleton represents the life force. When I was young, I once found a hedgehog that had been eaten. I studied that skeleton closely because I found it very interesting.”

In addition to a comprehensive exhibition space, Joep also has a large sculpture garden at the Vlierden windmill. Many of his sculptures are still for sale. “I’ve taken 1,300 images in my career,” he says. “But selling has become really difficult. People no longer buy images. That is also one of the reasons why I resign.”

Joep started sculpting at the age of 17. The first image of him was the head of his father. He wasn’t interested in Joep becoming an artist. I couldn’t make any money out of it, he thought. He would have preferred me to start a photography business. My father was a photographer. The photos of him inspired Joep. He went to the Jan van Eyck Academy.

A career of ups and downs followed. Joep once reported to the controversial Visual Artists Program. The artists then received a benefit in exchange for works of art. Not everyone thought it was a great idea, but Joep owes his long career to it. One of the things he is most proud of: the Horst statue. Joep’s work can be seen in public at various locations in Brabant.

But his health eventually caught up with Joep. “I have cancer. Fortunately, I am cured of it. But due to chemotherapy and radiation, my strength has disappeared. I can not anymore”. Joep made the huge statue in his studio when he was sick. He distracted him. His biography ‘Lifelong’ will be released on Sunday.

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