Its Art that comes from the Mind by Diana Ballon
(The Journal of Addiction and Mental health Jan/feb 2000 vol 3)
Outsider artist Menno Krant shirks from the idea of his life being altered by recognition in the art world. Five or six
years ago, he was living out of his car, a beat-up 1992 white Plymouth, from which he would paint-in the middle of
the night-in secluded places, using
only the streetlights to illuminate his work.
Then one day he went into a antique dealer’s and bought a little wooden horse. When the store owner came to
collect his money, he saw Krant’s paintings, and asked if he could sell some of his work at a flea market. The
owner later brought some of his paintings to show a friend in New York, which led to his works being exhibited at
the annual International Outsider Art show there.
Today, Krant is internationally renowned, and his paintings are sold in seven countries.
He also now owns his own home. Krant says he had to buy a house because he could no
longer fit his works- which number in the thousands- in his car. He can now view his paintings hung from a
distance, thus gaining a perspective he never had.
“I told my agent to find me the cheapest house in Toronto, and this is it, he says, gesturing around him. “The
house cost $100,000. and I put $5,000. down.”
We’re sitting drinking tea in the living room of a rather run down house on a small side street in the seedy area of
Sherbourne and Dundas. Besides the sofa, a coffee table and a television (blaring Star Trek), there is only Krant’
s works-literally rows of paintings stacked one in front of the other, and hovering over us, their subjects staring at
us rather omininously.
The Impression is eerie, dark and, well impressive. The subject of almost all Krant’s works are what he describes
as his “ little characters”- people you see ( on a bus or walking down the street), and wonder what they’re thinking
or doing… Their eyes are giving you some kind of expression, some kind of personality look”
In most cases, that looks is scared, stunned or surprised-perhaps not the sentiment you want reflected in a cosy
breakfast room. Yet the honesty is mesmerizing. The lines are aggressive and strong, the impression like a TV
cartoon. Directly in front of us hangs the painting of a character surrounded by a turquoise background, and
chaos, “like an explosion ..It’s like someone running from you and stopping and trying to tell you something” he
While Krant says you could call the work Y2K, all his paintings are untitled. He’ll give them nicknames, like the
“Cat Group” referring to a series of about 10 cat paintings he recently completed, but he doesn’t want to give his
paintings names, because then he has to think about what they mean.
Painting is just “something I like doing,” he says, “like watching TV or reading a book.
The works were never intended for an audience.” In fact, Krant says he avoids going to his own exhibits: “It’s like
singing in the shower, and all of a sudden you’re on stage naked.”
Being exposed was threatening to Krant. “For the first two years, I was trying to hide. But the more I hid, the more
it backfired.” Krant muses. At 49 years old, the native-born Dutchman looks about 30 and speaks with a soft
voice that adds to his boyish quality.
“One day, a billionaire from Chicago and his wife flew here to look at my paintings. They were Beverly Hills-looking
people. And when they arrived, the man said, “Me and my wife were worried you wouldn’t sell to us,’ and here I
was, wondering what they would think of me. They left with 35 paintings, and paid the Gallery $100,000.”
Krant’s canvases sell for about $6,000, were once they sold for about $100. In the last year, he has painted about
a thousand canvases, and even more than that number of works on discarded cigarette packs and paper. But he
still doesn’t have any money.
“I give it away or spend it because I don’t want it to change my life,” he says
Krant paints every day, usually until about 3:330 am. He’s scared that if he doesn’t keep painting , he’ll stop.
Though he lives “outside” society’s margins, Krant no more wants to be labeled as an outsider artist than he
wants his paintings to be titled.
To him, the term “Outsider artist” “means nothing”… (Maybe) it’s others deciding
Were to put you.” He does contend, however, that outsider art is “ art that comes from
The mind” (But) you have to be good at it. You have to get to a point where your art is different and unique”
When I ask, gingerly, if there’s any association with mental illness, he says that he has something, but not
enough to get medical help or care.
Perhaps Krant’s inner struggles with “something” are what lends his work its rawness,
its darkness, and its acute sensitivity.