‘magician’, ‘uninhibited inspirer’ and ‘environmentalist avant la lettre’

Visual artist, explorer and (co-)founder of Amsterdam’s Ballon Gezelschap, the Insektsekten and the exotic Kietsj Konservaatoriejum: Theo Kley (1936-2022) was, above all, a lot. On Monday, Ruigoord said goodbye to the man who stood at the cradle of the hi-ha events of the 1960s.

Frank of Holland

The church in the artist village of Westelijk Havengebied has this Monday been transformed into an altar, as colorful and colorful as the company Kley escorts on his last journey. Among the flowers, candles, ferns, paintings and sculptures, on a bed of willows from the garden, lie the remains of the artist who died last week. A fall from the stairs in his home on Eerste Helmersstraat was fatal for him.

Very alternative Amsterdam, with or without a green feather in the hair, is present. Mantras sound, a saxophonist plays On the Amsterdam canals, children playing on the floor. A long procession of speakers pays Kley the final tribute. From their stories emerges the image of a wayward artist of life, a man who flouted convention and created his own world, here or in India, his second home. “Theo had a hat with a hole in the shape of a heart so his fontanelle could get some air.”

turquoise mustache

Photographs of Kley are displayed on one wall, invariably sporting a turquoise mustache later in life. We see him with other celebrities from the sixties: Robert Jasper Grootveld, Simon Vinkenoog, Aatje Veldhoen, Cor Jaring and dentist/artist Max Reneman, known for ‘public dentures’. During the turbulent years, they all came to his garden – with apple trees, a log cabin and a fireplace – which he had built on the roof of a warehouse on Oudezijd’s Achterburgwal. “It was the headquarters of the alternative movement,” says writer/poet Hans Plomp, Ruigoorder from the very beginning. “This is where the plans for the events surrounding Lieverdje op het Spui were born.”

Theodorus Kley was born into a Catholic family in Rotterdam. After the bombing in 1940, the family walked – father carrying little Theo on his neck – to Breda. On the advice of his mother, Kley was registered at the Sint Joost Academy, later he studied at the Jan van Eyck Art Academy in Maastricht. In the 1960s he moved to Amsterdam, then the magical center of the hippie world and the Provo movement.

Kley felt like a fish in water and started one project after another: The Insect Sect with butterfly opera, the scientific laboratory and the exotic Kietsj Konservatoriejum, with which he paid tribute to John and Yoko during the Bed-In at the Hilton Hotel. He was also a driving force behind the Amsterdam Ballon Gezelschap, ‘the hard core of soft aviation’.

tipi of rope

In the early eighties, Kley settled among his spirits in Ruigoord, where in no time at all he had created his own pleasure garden near the pond in the village: Theo’s tea garden. There he built his own universe, and in between he went out into the world, often accompanied by his daughter Tara Esther (‘Princess Crystal Clear’). India in particular stole his heart. He built a tipi out of ropes on the beach in Goa and explored the land, where he found dozens of caves with prehistoric drawings.

At the funeral, the speakers recall the rich life and all the celebrations that made Ruigoord great: the full moon parties, the Landjuweel, the performances of the Amsterdam Ballon Gezelschap. One calls Kley ‘a magician’, another ‘an unrestrained inspirer’, another ‘an environmental activist avant la lettre’. Hans Plomp: “Theo was a particularly inventive mind who practiced all forms of art.” But he was also ‘a nuisance’ at times. Plomp: “If he didn’t have a bad drink, Theo was a gracious, likeable, generous man. But he could also be a bastard. Fortunately, it never lasted long.”

When the last song is sung, Kley receives a standing ovation in the packed church. Everyone hugs and then there is soup. Waiting outside is the (new) Airbus that will take Kley to his final resting place. Plomp: “When he was found at the bottom of the stairs, he had an extremely satisfied expression on his face. Theo believed in reincarnation, and in my mind I see him floating by on a cloud, so it’s a must.”

Theo Clay.Picture Ruigoord

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