Jopie Huisman, ragpicker-painter
The ragpicker was obviously interested in the value of things, but also sometimes in their esthetic value. This was the case of Jopie Huisman, a rag and scrap metal merchant and self-taught painter, born in the Netherlands in 1922, who commonly used his own found objects as a subject for painting, in a style that verges on hyperrealism.
Today many artists across the world take an interest in waste materials and salvage them: after the ragpicker-philosopher so dear to the 19th century, we are now in the era of the ragpicker-artist.
I have said it, this unspeakable word! Will I be forgiven? Can you see this man who, with the aid of his hook, collects what he can find in the mire, and throws it into his sack? Do not turn away, we need no pride, no false delicacy. This humble rag is the raw material that will go on to adorn our libraries, and the precious treasures of the human mind. This ragpicker comes before Montesquieu, Buffon and Rousseau.
Without his hook, my book would not exist for you, dear reader; which might not be a very bad thing, I grant you. But you would have no books: you owe this material that goes into making paper, whose source seems so lowly, to him. All these rags turned into paste, this is what will be used to conserve the flames of eloquence, the sublime thoughts, the generous features of the virtues, the most memorable acts of patriotism.
All these volatile ideas are going to be fixed as quickly as they are conceived. All these images, drawn in the intellect, will be fastened, printed and glued; and in spite of nature, which causes the man of genius to die, these outpourings will now belong to the world, and will not perish with him. Honor to the ragpicker!
Extract from Tableaux de Paris, Louis-Sébastien Mercier, 1782
Yet that should not make us forget that today, from Paris to Cairo, from Mumbai to Bogotá, thousands of people lead a meager existence scavenging on waste.