Finding out what you want could be the most important thing there is. It is a strange choice to be an artist. What is art? How to decide to do that? I don’t know. I just never wanted to do anything else. To be honest I raither fail at being an artist then do anything else.
I very much love The Dessert: Harmony in Red (The Red Room) by Matisse
I first saw this at the Hermitage Museum in Amsterdam. The exhibition was called ‘Matisse to Malevich’: subtitled ‘Pioneers of Modern Art from the Hermitage’: 6 March – 17 September 2010
The exhibition included 75 paintings selected from the Hermitage – St Petersburg, which is home to an extraordinary collection of early twentieth century French paintings. Alongside artworks by Matisse the magnificent display included contemporaries of his such as Van Dongen, Derain, De Vlaminck and Picasso
‘Matisse spent a considerable time on his paintings. The red room underwent a particularly rigorous transformation during its production. Matisse had initially started the canvas in blue, the colour best suited to Shchukin’s dining room for which the work was intended. Shortly before the picture was to be exhibited, however, Matisse painted it over in blue, without consulting his patron, as he thought it ‘not decorative enough’. You can still see traces of blue paint around the edges. The picture is the first work of art to be so emphatically dominated by red and represents an important step in Matisse’s exploration of painting’s decorative capabilities. It is to Shchukin’s credit that he immediately recognized its significance’
I knew the painting already from my text books at art school, the art history books, and I had seen reproductions of the painting, but until then I never saw the real thing. I knew it was a big painting but when I actually saw it and was standing in front of it, I was surprised by how big it actually was, the grandeur of it, how overwhelming, how red it was, a very powerful red.
And that was in a museum. Imagine how it would look in a house. Imagine how shocking it would be to see it in a house in those times. I read about the history of paintings, of course, and I enjoy that and find it interesting but I can’t really imagine what it would have been like to see such a painting in a house all those years ago, what it would have felt like then, so I really I value the experiencing of a painting, with my modern sensibility, experiencing it through modern eyes
Also I experienced it as such a benign and happy painting, and the greatness of it, the impressiveness of the size, bigger than human size, overwhelming. And the roughness of the painted surface. In reproductions in art books one doesn’t necessarily see this quality, the painted surface seems smooth, but actually when one stands in front of it, one sees that it is rough, raw and unpolished. The brush strokes are quite coarse, not dainty, and I love that about this painting, how primitive it is.
How do you know when a painting is finished?
Sometimes, many times I don’t know for a while. The process unfolds itself until a resolution comes. It can take twists and turns. Sometimes people are surprised by how many times a painting changes until I stop working on it. Under the final painting there may be layers of four or five other very different paintings, like buried archaeological artifacts.
Some people that visit my atelier tell me to stop working on a piece, that they like it as it is. ‘It is finished’ they say. The thing is I can’t promise to not change it. The only way to ensure that I don’t paint over it is to take it away from me.
I take one step at a time, occasionally two. I can’t see around the corner. What is ahead is your guess as good as mine. I don’t have an end in mind, only a beginning, and a continuation. I cannot tune in or conform to someone else’s expectation or vision. I work with my own inner guidance.
What is your prefered medium to work with?
Currently I work a lot with paint and canvas. Sometimes I am experimenting with other materials like polystyrene, wood, fabric or found objects to making sculptures. Now and then I paint shoes. I also enjoy making digital work.
When I went to art school, at the end of the first year, we had to choose our favourite medium to work with, a choice of three categories – two dimensional, three dimensional or new media. I remember very consciously making the choice of ‘new media’.
I knew that the mediums of sculpture and paint would wait for me, that I would be permitted to explore them later, but that the medium of digital art would not wait. It was such a happening event, the new media, and I knew that there was going to be a very fast journey of expansion and innovation. If I didn’t sit behind a computer and start educating myself, experimenting and creating, I would be left behind.
So in art school I focused on making digital work. I love digital work. I love the freedom of photoshop and the myriad potential avenues of creative possibilities for my imagination. There were challenges and frustrations. I had the urge to take the art out of the digital space into the physical space. Many times the work did not come out right, it came out flat, and with a look of mass-produced shine on it. It looked better on my screen than when it occupied physical space. Also a drive was developing to create large artworks, and this seemed especially challenging to bring to fruition using the digital medium. I am very happy that quality and possibilities for producing digital work became so much better over the year. I really enjoy producing digital creations on perspex.
I love to work with paint because it is so direct and unforgiving.
Paint compels me to work with my mistakes and to forgive myself. It also asks me to be brave in the changes I make, to take risks. There is no way back with painting. It is a path of no return. There is no undo button. I love that. It reminds me of the fleetingness of every moment in life. In an age of such safety, security and convenience, where we can pause the television, undo our photoshop changes and correct our spelling mistakes with a press of a button or slide of a finger, there is this realm of painting where one has no safety net, where one is ‘out on one’s own’, out in the wild, left to fend for oneself. There is danger, the potential for failure. Hours, days, weeks, months of work can be canceled, possibly wasted in a moment. The paint is irreversible. There may be an illusion of control but one walks on a razor edge. There is always the possibility to fall.
At the same time of course there is no real danger. This stimulates my nervous system. I am triggered by the vulnerability of the situation, and the risks, but this is a safe environment in which to experiment. I find this healing. Painting for me is a kind of sanctuary, a protected place, a zone where my heart has protection, where I can love, where I can release, where I can appear to succeed or fail, where I can explore, where I can come to rest, or start to move. In this situation, this ‘place,’ my imagination gets to wander and play, and travel into the unknown, but however far I go, I am never far from home. I won’t get lost. I may peer over the edge of a precipice, or even fall, but still I am always on safe land. Nothing is going to die in the act of painting that I can’t afford to lose.