The famous commission Whidbey artist to work

  • By Theresa Goffredo / Herald Writer
  • Thursday, September 21, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

What do Jane Goodall and the Dalai Lama have in common?

Both have commissioned art work from Whidbey artist Rob Schouten.

Schouten is among the 80 artists featured this weekend during the 10th annual Whidbey Island Open Studio Tour.

And what would the Dalai Lama and Goodall ask to have painted?

Well, for Goodall, the world’s leading chimp expert, a chimp, of course. Schouten said he will never forget that phone call.

“She asked in that lovely British accent, ‘This is Jane Goodall. Can we collaborate on some chimp art?’ ” Schouten said.

Goodall, who had met Schouten while visiting Whidbey on a speaking engagement, sent a photograph of a waterfall in Gombe National Park in Tanzania, where she studied chimpanzees. Schouten incorporated that photo into his painting: a Madonna-like image, a mother chimp holding a baby chimp.

The family of the Dalai Lama wanted a portrait. They did a similar thing: sent a photo of the Dalai Lama. From that, Schouten produced a contemplative portrait of the Dalai Lama reading, one finger poking up in his right cheek and his body floating on top of a dark, spiraling galaxy.

“It was a great honor, obviously,” Schouten said of working on that painting.

Schouten, 50, originally from Rotterdam, The Netherlands, has a background in graphic design but turned to more artistic ventures after he moved to the United States.

One such venture was that Schouten helped found the Seattle-based artists group Dharmic Engineers. The name combines the yin and yang of the group: The Eastern thinkers represented the “dharma” and the Western thinkers represented the “engineers.”

The group worked on interactive installments of art and environmental pieces on a big scale. Their most notable work was the Doorgani Project, an interactive installation of seven doors representing the seven chakaras. That project took six or seven years to complete and included sound elements.

Schouten’s environmental work was sort of like “survival art” – going out into nature and finding the materials on site, making a work of art and leaving it there.

One piece was crafted in a Bellingham garden and sculpture park where the artists collected branches, pine cones and azaleas, putting the pieces together to form an almost plaza-like center that lasted about six months out in the open.

“Initially, you get to a place and think there’s nothing to work with and somebody comes up with something and then everything turns into something you can use,” Schouten said. “The setting tells you what to create.”

The Dharmic Engineers eventually broke up and Schouten found his way to Whidbey Island. He lived in a tiny cabin without power for a number of years, experimenting and refining his art.

Schouten said his leanings are toward the surrealistic process, being influenced by Salvador Dali and M.C. Escher. Schouten’s work has been described as having “a touch of magic realism.”

He and his poet wife, Victory, started Great Path Publishing in 1988, to publish and promote posters, greeting cards and journals.

At one point, publisher Harper Collins wanted to produce a deck of divination cards and used 45 of Schouten’s images. That project gave him a lot of national exposure.

Schouten’s studio is in Greenbank Farm. This will be his third year on the studio tour.

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