The sign on the door of Philip Hans Franses’s studio says ‘accountancy’, but he does not work with figures and euros here. The sign belongs to the person whose office is situated behind his studio in Delfshaven. “The grittier part of town, not the touristy part,” Franses told beforehand. Once upon a time, the building probably served as a shop; its windows have largely been covered with tape to prevent people from taking a peek inside. Franses’s own paintings line the wall. There’s a scene presenting a train hijacking by Moluccan activists that greatly impressed him as a child, the eyes of a gorilla, and also more abstract works that are reminiscent of forest fires. Some give off a menacing vibe, while others are dramatic or sad. They all evoke emotions. Well, at least they’re supposed to, says Franses. “It’s figurative art. Some of it is almost abstract.”


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Franses has been a painter for twenty years. He started out in a studio in Berkel en Rodenrijs with a few other people, and he still goes there every Tuesday night, with a group of regulars. “Since February 2019 I’ve also used this room. The nice thing is that I can leave everything as is here. I work with oil paint, but I also use spray paint, which leaves a mist in the room that I quite simply can’t have at home.” When he is working here, he likes to work in silence. The windows face the north east, because that’s where the best light comes from: light from the north. So why does he do this? “What can I say? It’s part of my life. I’m a scientist, and scientists tend to be free and creative. Conducting your own independent scientific research, indulging your own creativity, coming up with ideas yourself, being successful sometimes, and less successful at other times. I’m finding the same creativity in painting.”

Clash with tiles

At least, that’s what academia should be like, says Franses, but in recent years it has revolved too much around creating an impact. “Just look at those letters on the recently renovated monumental skyway near the carillon about being an Erasmian – letters that clash with the Karel Appel-created tiles on the Tinbergen Building – and the complete focus on impact that goes with it. Trust me, you won’t be awarded a Nobel Prize if you think before getting started on your project: right, let’s go and create some major impact now. Allow me to stick with the painting analogy for a moment. If I make up my mind to create a painting that will sell for fifty thousand euros, my canvas will remain empty.”

Franses does not go to his studio every day. He explains that art is like his work at the university. You think about it 24/7, but you don’t physically work on it all the time. Sometimes the painting or article will be completed in the course of one morning. “At eleven o’clock in the evening I’ll find myself thinking: hey, that’s how I’m going to go about it. So I’ll try to remember, and the next day I’ll get started on my article or painting. The day after that I’ll spend an hour or two hours in here, and then I’ll be on my way again. I don’t come here to stare at a blank sheet of paper, and I don’t have a fixed day in the week on which I come here. In that respect, too, it’s just like science. You can’t say: hey, it’s Friday, I think I’ll go and do something scientific and creative now.”

Applauded by students

He is a lover of freedom and creativity, that much is obvious. At the university, Franses, along with the curators of EUR’s art collection, Luuk Bode and Anne Clement (‘who only have a very modest budget of 40,000 euros annually,’ says Franses), helped ensure that two large works of art by up-and-coming Rotterdam-based artists were hung on the walls of two lecture theatres in the Theil Building. “Let me tell you, that was quite the challenge! And one day I was teaching a lecture in that theatre and I told my students about that, and they actually applauded!” He cherishes the memory. “I never get applauded for my econometrics lectures,” he says, grinning.


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