From a 15-year-old son painting in his family’s attic to an 83-year-old Opa living alone in independent retirement living, few things remain the same for Dick Mirande. However, his tenacious curiosity and burning passion for creativity has never faded.
Born in the Netherlands on 14 July 1938, Mirande discovered his fascination with art at a very young age. When Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Dick’s older sisters were sent to the southern provinces while he and the rest of his family remained in the north.
As he was only a boy, many of Dick’s war time memories include the time he spent drawing. “For me it doesn’t matter what I do, as long as it’s with creating. It’s a habit,” Dick said.
Due to a lack of supplies in the country, it wasn’t until his teenage years that Dick traded his drawing pencil for a painting brush. As the eldest son, he was given the attic as his own bedroom, where he spent hours cultivating his creativity into what would soon become his career. At 15-years-old, Dick received a scholarship to attend Artibus Academy, becoming the school’s youngest student.
While studying, he opened a studio in Utrecht before beginning his climb of the corporate ladder at C&A, one of Europe’s largest fast-fashion retailers.
Starting as an assistant, he progressed to the role of copywriter and eventually became C&A’s Art Director. Though his new found role aligned with his interest in advertisement and marketing, Mirande was met with an enviously mixed reception from his peers, who idolised the notion of the struggling artist. “Commercial didn’t exist in art back then, but it was what I liked to do,” Dick said.
“It was hard to make money so it was harder to get a girl.”
With his 15-year career at C&A, Dick had no trouble finding financial success or a spouse. In fact, he found both and then some. With his first wife he had two children, Marcel and Natalie, who grew up surrounded by their father’s adoration of art.
One of Natalie’s earliest memories of her father was at a café in Tunisia, watching him draw a breath from a Camel cigarette, sketching its logo on a scrap of paper.
“With my father, you always had the feeling you could do what you dreamt of and it wasn’t about the execution, it was just about the fun and being a part of it,” Natalie said.
Travelling on a weekly basis across Europe, Dick’s new lifestyle came at a cost, contributing to the divorce of his wife and in turn, his relationship with his children.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the things I wanted to do like painting and making ideas that sometimes I think I’ve been too selfish. I sometimes think that I didn’t spend enough time with the kids,” Dick said.
“I didn’t feel there was a need to apologise. He knows that he’s missed out on having an input in our upbringing,” Natalie said.
“He’s missed out on being a present father.”
Dick remarried to Susan Grosbard and together, launched their freelance company, Kanagroo Productions. Hosting countless exhibitions from their Amsterdam shop, they were a dynamic couple.
“Susan allowed my father to be creative. She had all the business sense and the drive to network. After dinner, even when working his normal day job, he would go and paint for a couple of hours,” Natalie said.
Suited for the life of a hermit, Dick remained immersed in his art while Susan handled the business aspect of their venture. His career successes continued, designing the logo for C&A’s clothing brand Clockhouse and his own holiday house in Spain. Reflecting on the height of his career, Dick claimed to have more money than the Dutch Prime Minister. “I asked her if I could stop, and she said ‘you could’ve stopped years ago’. So okay, I stopped then,” Mirande said.
After creating campaigns for “so many Mother’s Days, Father’s Days and Christmases”, Dick grew uninterested in his work and retired at 48-years of age to his farm house in Northern Holland. The couple continued their work into retirement, enjoying a more reclusive life, Dick devoted his extra time to painting and accumulated hundreds of artworks.
An electrical fault at their storage unit in 2009 saw 70% of Dick’s artworks destroyed in a fire. Then, in 2014, Susan passed away from cancer.
For the first time since 1953, Dick stopped painting.
“This was the only time in his life that I think his mental health was really impacted. He just lost all direction and motivation,” Natalie said.
Reflecting upon why he quit, Dick leaned back into his chair, as his eyes trailed to a place of reminiscent remorse.
“To get over the time and not think about what happened. I wasn’t making paintings but I was doing all kinds of things like cutting the tiles I paint on. I’m busy with it all the time.”
Though Natalie and Dick’s early relationship was overshadowed by his work, Susan’s passing and the creative knack instilled in Natalie brought them closer together. When he visited Australia in 2014, she bought water colour paints and canvas’ to encourage him to start painting with his grandchildren. “It’s incredibly important that he has that as a hobby, and he appreciates that too because he’s quite happy to be on his own and do his painting, always has,” she said. “His art is his resilience in life.”
Returning home with a stronger relationship with his daughter and a rejuvenated creativity – his desire for painting was reborn.
Dick has been living in an independent retirement village since 2019, left to the reclusive life with his paintings and ideas. Despite the noticeably smaller house and evolving guard of art from physical to digital prints, his passion is yet to slow.
“He started putting these tile paintings on the inside of the door frame to his bedroom and the whole project has grown crazy into the bedroom, the toilet, all over the house,” Natalie said.
Perhaps at the detriment of his closest relationships, his passion has allowed him to live a life travelling abroad and fulfilling his artistic desires. Weaving together stories full of vibrancy, depth and childlike wonder; Dick’s art is an imitation of his life. He remains as wildly inspired and expressive in his art as he once was in the attic of his childhood home.
“What I’m doing is always making the circle round. It’s a complete story, sometimes it’s very small, sometimes it’s very big but there’s always a beginning, middle and end.”