An artist’s journey

This is the story of one man who comes from an old, established family and who worked with one of the world’s most prestigious companies as artist-designer for its top-range jewelry. Yet all the while others sought him out, he was searching for himself. Meet Olaf Van Cleef.

Olaf Van Cleef

From Cartier to Krishna

The Hindu – DIVYA KUMAR – Mar 23, 2012

‘My second life is in India, with my paintings,’ says Olaf Van Cleef, who paints gods and goddesses for Indian puja rooms. We meet the scion of the famous Van Cleef family.

Olaf Van Cleef, scion of the illustrious Van Cleef family and counsellor on high range jewellery at Cartier for three decades, sometimes wishes he could be known — and recognised — for just being ‘Olaf’.

“People back home always tell me, ‘Oh, you’re very lucky you have a good name’ or ‘Oh, you work in Cartier’,” he says in his heavily accented English. “No one says ‘you’re lucky to be Olaf’.”

That’s why he loves coming to India, he says: “In India, I have created for myself my own life, separate from the name and the job.”

Call of KrishnaLeft: ‘Call of Krishna’ by Olaf Van Cleef, 2008, water colour, gouache & Swarowski Crystal on paper, 14 x 19 in (Artworld The Fine Art Gallery)

…He began painting Lord Krishna, then Ganesha, then Hanuman, just for the joy of detailing that beautiful jewellery (“exactly my job at Cartier, but on paper”). But over time, the softly coloured water colour paintings evolved, as he added in signature elements from the abstracts he used to do (“a wink to my older customers — Olaf has not totally changed”), then the miniscule dots (done with felt tips as thin as 0.05 mm) that add dimension to his works, and then the plaster-based dobs of white that add delicate texture. Go to story


Self-realization does not mean giving up whatever you are or do, but simply dovetailing that for Krishna.

excerpt from conversation, Montreal, July 16, 1968:

PRABHUPADA: Yes. Krishna can be served by his own occupation, as I described just now. Or whatever you may be. You may be a potter, you may be a florist, you may be… Whatever you may be, but you can satisfy Krishna by his work, by your work. You do not require to qualify yourself with some specific qualification. Whatever qualification you have got, you have to dovetail it under the direction of expert spiritual master, how you can serve. That’s all.

PRADYUMNA: What does that expert mean in the list of qualifications for a devotee? In the list of qualifications of a devotee there is one qualification, expert.

PRABHUPADA: Yes.

PRADYUMNA: What does that mean in relation to the occupation?

PRABHUPADA: Expert means whatever he is doing, he must do it very nicely That’s all. Suppose you are sweeping this room. You can do it very nicely, to your best knowledge. That is expert. The people will say, “Oh, you have very nicely done.” Any work you do, do it very nicely. That is expert. Don’t do it haphazardly. To your best talent, to your best capacity, try to finish it very nicely, whatever it may be. You are entrusted with some work. Do it nicely. That is expert. If you think that you are unable to do that work, then whatever work you can do, you take. But do it nicely. That is expert. Don’t imitate. “Oh, I have no capacity to work in that way, but I want to imitate. Oh, he is doing that. I shall do that.” Don’t do that. That is not expert. You take up what you can do very nicely and do it nicely. We have so many works. Krishna is not that He is static. He is dynamic force. Just like Arjuna, he was not a Vedantist, he was not a brahmana, he was not a sannyasi. He was householder. He was military man. But he knew his business, how to do it nicely. So you do your business nicely. That is expert. And when it is dovetailed in Krishna, there is no gradation that this business is better and that business is lower because everything is for Krishna. So that business becomes Krishna. Do it nicely and Krishna is satisfied. And that is your success. …First of all find out what is easily done by you. Don’t take anything which is not easily done by you. You find out what is your occupation, what you can very nicely and easily perform, and do it for Krishna. That’s all. Is that clear? Expert? This is expert. Expert does not mean that I do not know how to drive motor car, and I will have to imitate somebody, “Oh, I shall become driver.” Why? If you do not know driving, why should you attempt driving? Whatever you know, you just try it, that business, and try to satisfy Krishna. If you know driving, that’s all right. But don’t take… My Guru Maharaja explained that you haven’t got to learn anything extra for Krishna’s service. Whatever you know, you just apply it… Then you become successful. Because our time is very short. We do not know when I am going to die. As soon as I am out of this body, I am completely under the grip of nature, and I do not know what kind of body I am getting next. Of course, Krishna assures that His devotee will never be vanquished. He will get good body. But I do not know what kind of body I am going to… Therefore before finishing this body I will have to develop Krishna consciousness very nicely. That is my success.

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