On first sight, it appears that studio No 3 in the old water tower on the banks of the Nieuwe Maas river in Rotterdam is a homage to Robin van Persie, one of the city’s most famous footballers.
After brushing aside a long curtain, which acts as a door to separate the artist’s studio from the others in the disused tower, and looking right, three pieces of art featuring Van Persie stand out.
The most eye-catching of the lot is a tribute to the striker’s most famous goal. “The best goal of the World Cup,” according to our host.
One day Robin said: ‘What my father does with his hands, I will do with my feet’
It is a metallic cut out of Van Persie in mid flight, depicting Van Persie’s famous diving header against Spain in the 2014 World Cup, of course.
Below, resting on a table, sits a clock made up of red white and black, Feyenoord’s colours, with Van Persie above the No 32, the player’s squad number during his time at his hometown club.
Then, resting on the table lies a football patterned with silhouettes of people rather than pentagons, with “Persie” scribbled on the top.
Welcome to the workplace of the artist and sculptor Bob van Persie, Robin’s father.
The parameters for our chat in his wacky studio, which contains a trumpet, fishing rods and a broom among other things, are firmly set in advance. “No talk about Robin,” he says. “Just art.”
It is not that Bob is not proud of his son, who left United for Fenerbahce two years ago. Far from it. He watches every one of Robin’s games through a Turkish TV stream. “I’ve got a box,” he says later as we drive to one of his exhibitions in the centre of Rotterdam.
He may share a surname with one of the most famous Dutch footballers of recent times, but Bob van Persie is determined to carve out an identity of his own — even at the age of 70.
“I’m my own person,” he says, through the haze of smoke from the cigarette he is puffing on.
That person is commonly known in the Netherlands as “the paper artist.” For years, Bob has been scrunching pages from newspapers, comics, magazines and even Arsenal matchday programmes, into human-like figures. “Paper dolls,” he calls them.
The artist will then place rows of them on his canvas to create the image of a packed crowd, mainly at sporting arenas. He has created one that portrays the crowd at Wimbledon and many more of football matches he has attended.
“If you get to a stadium early and watch the stadium fill up, it’s like a painting being created with different colours,” he says. “You don’t see faces, you see shapes and colours. I have been doing this for 35 or 40 years.”
It is a painstaking task that requires a keen eye and plenty of practice.
“It takes me a lot of hours,” he says. First it’s selecting the pages, cutting them to the right size, and then make the dolls and put them together then harden them, sometimes with varnish. I used to use a marble to keep the shape of the head, but now I use paper inside the head to keep it steady.”
One canvas hangs in the Emirates Stadium. Bob made the collage from programmes given to him by Paul Irwin, the player liaison officer with whom he and his son developed a close relationship.
“The piece is in the entrance to the stadium,” Bob says. Arsenal was very friendly, family-like. Manchester United was different. It was more business-like there.
Bob van Persie’s work has received critical acclaim in the Netherlands. He sells his work through his popular website and he also had an exhibition in the trendy Northern Quarter of Manchester during his son’s three-year spell at Old Trafford.
His work is popular in football circles too. Robert Pires, the former Arsenal midfielder, bought one of Van Persie’s collages at auction.
In the house of Dennis Bergkamp, another former Arsenal player, hangs a piece of art given to him by his former team mate’s father – the No 10, packed with colourful paper dolls inside. And the artist’s son also has a collage in his house in Istanbul.
Bob realised he wanted to become an artist from a young age.
“I think I fell in love with my art teacher,” he says. “I have forgotten her name. She never answered my love. I was too shy and young to tell her. I loved doing things like working with stone and drawing so I went to art school in Rotterdam.”
Art “is like meditation” Bob says, which came in handy many years ago when his son, who was particularly hyperactive as a child, was growing up.
There was never any hope of Robin van Persie following in his father’s footsteps, thanks mainly to his footballing talents.
“One day Robin said: ‘What my father does with his hands, I will do with my feet,’” Bob says after taking another puff on his cigarette.
He was right of course. He would go on to have a long and successful Premier League career. At 34, Robin is entering the twilight of his career, but his father shows no signs of slowing down.
“I am 70 years old and I don’t feel like quitting,” he says. “My work never ends. I love to do it.”