I´m working on a series of new paintings called “Being elsewhere, going nowhere”. For me personally, the largest impact of the covid-19 pandemic are the restrictions on international travel. I have many good friends and family who live outside of The Netherlands, who I am not able to see (yet). I also miss the forests, lakes rocks and trees that inspire my paintings. Landscapes where I feel at home. The last few months have been this strange emotional mixture of suspense, not knowing what is about to happen, longing for those we can´t see and touch and at the same time we were all thrown mercilessly into the here and now of our own home and surroundings. No escape!
It was (and still is) an interesting challenge. On the one hand, it helps me settle and get to know the river landscape around our new home more intimately. On the other hand it makes me want to run away and be somewhere else more than ever.
The new paintings, as always, are inspired by nature. This time I asked friends and family to send me pictures of their favorite places in nature, as a substitute for the pictures I usually make on holiday. I also go to the river to draw in-situ. The resulting series of paintings is a mixture of far-away (partly imaginary) landscapes and impressions of my immediate surroundings. Being elsewhere in my mind, but going nowhere. It´s a mixture of longing and acceptance, themes relevant at all times but especially now.
Thanks to the Young Talent Grant I received from the Mondriaan Fund in 2016/2017, I´ve had the opportunity to experiment with new materials in the last year. I have fallen in love with clay. I started a basic pottery class in March 2017 where I learnt throwing on the wheel and some glazing and firing skills. I now continue to experiment with different sculptural forms. Ceramics is a field with vast opportunities to learn skills and techniques; it really gives me a kick. It is also a humbling process, where I am a total beginner and still struggle with some technical parts of the process.
It feels very good to reactivate my 3d brain as I call it; thinking in three-dimensional space is something I love to do, and yet haven’t done so intensively since attending art school. Working with ceramics, I concentrate on form, proportions, empty space, colour and surface. Clay is earth, and I can feel this when I work with it. The material itself is part of the natural world, and I can relate to it very well. The process of firing to make the material durable is absolutely fascinating to me.
With special thanks to the Mondriaan Fund to grant me such an enriching year of experiment and play. The process continues and I will be sharing more about it soon.
Become a Bamboo
I Love this Zen story, told like this by Osho: There was once a great painter, he was already well known and was painting bamboos for years and years. But his master said: “No, if you want to really paint a bamboo you have to go and live with the bamboos in a bamboo grove. Right now you only paint the outside of the bamboo, but you have no idea about the inside. Go and become a bamboo.” The disciple went, and it took him three years. Then one day the wind was blowing through the bamboo grove and he started swaying, just like a bamboo. He realised he hadn´t been a man for a while. Now he could go back and paint a bamboo.
It took him three years. Incredible, when I realise I try to make paintings of nature all the time. As a child I grew up in a forest and I believe I had an immediate contact to the nature around me, but now? So many thoughts focused on making money and how to sell this and that, how to present myself to the outside. No time left to become a bamboo!
I suppose this is a reason why aboriginal paintings have such a strong appeal to me. They paint the land they live on: the grass, yam bushes, animals and their dreams. They live in it. There is not much of a separation between the painter and the painted. The paintings are pretty abstract but very vibrantly alive. By looking at them I can feel the stuff they depict, feel rather than see. For me this is the essence of abstract painting: to convey the feeling of something rather than the visual appearance.
I sit here in my room, in the flat I have lived for about two years. First alone, then with my partner. This flat has a garden, with diapers and broken glass from upper neighbours who don´t know how to treat garbage. The flat is also close to the forest in Zeist, or what goes as ´forest´ in a country like the Netherlands. It´s actually rather nice I have to say, even compared to Sweden where I grew up.
It´s time to move: In three weeks we´re out of here. They will rip the whole building down, and expose our wallpaper to the world. I don´t care. Maybe. I dreamt of an earthquake last night so I suppose I do care. The good news is that the earthquake went away: We signed our new contract today. Of a place much more out in nature, where even wild pigs walk around in winter the estate agent told me. I´m not sure if he wanted to impress or scare me, I think the signatures where already on the paper. I quite like wild pigs.
We were in Australia in March. There you have to drive about an hour to get anywhere at all if you live out in the bush. It was an inspiration to me, because I think we´re rather spoiled in a small country like Holland. To travel for more than an hour from A to B is considered to take too long. Now I know better. It gives a lot of freedom to live out in nature, it depends how you look at things. It also depends on how you communicate with the world. I like to communicate with birds and trees actually, and squirrels and mushrooms… Or with wallabies and possums if we´re talking about Australia. To live in flats designed like rabbit cages (quoting my dad) doesn´t feel very free to me anymore. But a year ago I didn´t even have my driving license yet, so it would have become tricky to visit friends and see anyone at all. Now things look different and I look forward to move out. I won´t really miss the diapers in my garden, not even as inspiration for my paintings.
Once in a while I get overwhelmed with this feeling that there is something wrong with how I do things and the uselessness of it all. Everything should be quicker and more efficient but I don´t seem to see anything happening in my life and work. I luckily always manage to drag myself out of this dark pit again. One more of these episodes of crawling out of the hole of doubt resulted in the realization that as artist or creatives, at many points in our career, we will wonder why we are doing what we are doing and if there is any point in continuing. One reason that we wonder, and there are many, is that our work doesn´t show a direct, measurable result. All too often our work is not even met by a proper increase on our bank-balance, but also the effect it may have on people and their lives is not a directly visible one.
I saw a violinist yesterday on the train station, carrying a sticker on his violin-case saying “linkse hobby´´ (leftist hobby). This is a beloved slogan of the right-wing party of Wilders to justify the cut of the major part of government money going to the support of the arts, claiming that the arts are an expensive hobby for the leftist `elite´. Of course this sticker must have been a joke, if an ironical one. The danger is that we, as artists, actually start to believe in the insulting notion of `linkse hobby´ ourselves. Why don´t we have a proper job and a proper income ourselves, just like everybody else? The answer is very simple: Because everyone else is already doing things that way. A few thousands more workers going to the same old 9-5 job every day wouldn´t make such a difference. A few thousand artists and creative souls less would make a huge difference. It would doom our world into boredom if all artists got a proper job. So, what I am saying is: yes, to try to find our passion, our truth and the thing we can put our heart into is a luxury, a luxury of a time and place where the basics of food and shelter are taken care of. (Even though also the cavemen made art, and I doubt they didn´t have to work hard for their food every day. It might be their society just put art higher on the agenda than the one we live in and therefor supplied the artists with the necessities to do their art-work.)
We don´t need more food, shelter or gadgets here. We need inspiration. We need bewilderment; a cleansing of the eyes, ears and heart to see life with new enthusiasm. This is the reason I am doing what I am doing, however crazy it might sometimes even look to my own eyes.
This is why I will stop telling myself off for not going to work at 9 o´clock every morning and stick to my strange clock of inspiration. This is why I will allow myself to do gardening, because it gives me new insights for my paintings. This is why I allow time for my soul to settle and do nothing, when I need to assimilate whatever new stuff has come into my system. Yes, something is brewing inside at these times. It´s not visible until it comes out. Have patience. Don´t push your artists again into the crazy production treadmill you have created. I won´t take it. I will walk on my own feet, at my own pace.
P.S. Every artist has his or her own unique way of working. What works for one, might not work for the other. I don´t want to say that a 9-5 job never works. Do your own thing and don´t be bothered by the rest of the world.