Olaf Van Cleef
Traveller, Artist and Author

Artist, designer of gardens, lover of all things beautiful, a perfect host who takes pride in throwing both grand and intimate dinner parties, and once arbiter of high jewellery with Cartier, Olaf Van Cleef of Paris is a member of the Van Cleef family who were jewellers to the Czars. Although Olaf, as he is better known, has been painting since childhood, he took it up in right earnest later in life as means of relieving boredom during sleepless nights. During these endless hours, Olaf would take up his brushes – some very fine ones with just a single hair – don three spectacles, one on top of the other, and start painting his abstract works, which were colourful and vibrant and were often dotted with tiny white points of paint applied with his superfine brushes which he used for works in which the detailing was very vital to their aesthetic appeal. Olaf would often give them naughty touches, which turned into his signature. He used slivers of chocolate paper and Swaroski crystals to enhance the richness of his paintings.

Olaf has always been a great friend of the city of Calcutta, and gradually the most lovable and iconic aspects of it would make appearances in his paintings along with a gallimaufry of other images culled from all cultures conceivable. Then he began painting Hindu deities based mainly on calendar art and Tanjore paintings. While these paintings were exquisitely detailed, he always gave them a humorous twist which gave them a touch of individuality. Thereafter, he moved to Buddhist and Tibetan deities using thangkas as his inspiration. He had to be careful about symbols used in these paintings as they were all derived from tradition.

He used the sales proceeds of his exhibitions to open an art gallery for budding artists in Pondicherry, another of his top favourites. Olaf has also participated in the Raven Camp in Bhutan where he gave lessons in painting to young people of this country.