The Utrecht painter Jan Mulder (1955) has been fascinated with the works of Paul Celan (1920-1970) for over ten years. In the exhibition The Journey in Centraal Museum Utrecht, Mulder traces the footsteps of one of the greatest poets of the second half of the previous century, all across Europe. The exhibition runs from 7 July to 14 October. It is the first presentation of Jan Mulder’s project, which will continue until 2020, the 100th anniversary of Celan’s birth and 50th anniversary of his death.

At first glance, Jan Mulder’s works seem like action paintings in which the paint is applied to the canvas spontaneously, all in one go - but look again, and you see the order and the painter’s skilful control. Passion and thoughtfulness go hand in hand. Mulder sees similarities between Celan’s use of language and his own manner of painting. This inspiration yields images and ideas for paintings. The titles of the quadriptych “Meridian,” subtitled “(20-01) North, South, East, West”, for example, was inspired by Paul Celan’s 1960 poetry speech “Der Meridian”. As Mulder explains, “this lecture is a passionate plea for art, as the perpetual elixir of life that moves, that contradicts, and precisely for that reason always survives.”

The Journey

The exhibition The Journey is a record of Jan Mulder’s journey in the footsteps of Paul Celan in the form of monumental paintings and a visual record consisting of photographs and video recordings. Mulder met with translators, professors, writers, philosophers, musicians and artists, some of whom knew Celan personally. He also traced Celan’s movements to New York and Mulder’s own home city of Utrecht. “During my journey I get to know Celan in a different way. Through all the meetings and visual impressions, I feel that the journey is affecting me as an artist,” he says.

Bart Rutten, artistic director at Centraal Museum Utrecht: “We are pleased to once again devote attention to an Utrecht painter with a significant oeuvre. Jan Mulder’s paintings show a passionate and spirited approach that does not shirk away from addressing major themes.” Mulder’s journey began in Celan’s birthplace of Czernowitz (now Chernivtsi, Ukraine), from where Celan fled in 1947 when the Russians seized power. The journey of Jan ends in Paris, the place where Celan settled down in 1948. With bright colours, lively touches and dark, direct strokes, Jan Mulder records the journey and the spirit of that time.

Paul Celan

Paul Celan was born in Romania as the only child of German-speaking Jewish parents. His parents were murdered by the Nazis, but he managed to escape death. His wartime experiences remained at the heart of his work, which is characterised by poignant, colourful and powerful language.

Jan Mulder

Jan Mulder is an Utrecht artist who began painting at a very young age. His oil paintings and watercolours/works on paper can be placed in the tradition of abstract expressionism, a visual arts movement that emerged in New York during the post-war years, mid-twentieth century. He exhibits both domestically and abroad. For more information go to

For this exhibition, Centraal Museum is collaborating with Utrecht Art Space KuuB, where more of Jan Mulder’s work and travel project was exhibited from 10 to 26 August 2018.

Collection in this exhibition

  • No objects from the Centraal Museum collection were shown in this exhibition

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