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30 years of making art

I left the Rietveld Academy 30 years ago and I ran into all kinds of things from the start: -the history of art in which women are lacking as artists, so as identification. Fortunately that is better now, but when I left the academy (1990) and only a few names were known.

The image of women in art made by men does not match my image of women or myself, so again no identification is possible. Because I want to relate to art history, I have always experienced this as schizophrenic. On the one hand you have to connect with male colleagues, on the other hand there is almost always a moment when you give up.

1. The system

In 1989/1990 I developed a code system to connect oppositions such as male-female, hard-soft, intimate-distant, personal-general, poor-rich, western-non-western, high -, – low art, in one form. In my opinion, disciplines and materials were linked to fixed meanings and symbolic contexts such as textiles is feminine, steel is cold, oil paint is for “real painters”, red is emotional, white is innocent, and so on. Furthermore, these meanings are also linked to the existing power structures. A large sculpture in steel is more serious than a fragile and small work in textile. I am thinking, for example, of a time at the Biennale in Venice where small works by Marisa Merz were displayed. By means of my self-devised system I could do what I wanted, did not have to choose and could use everything side by side. It was basically a psychology-based structure in 3 x 3 = 9 squares, each with its own code. Each code / label symbolized a certain atmosphere and personal meaning. One of the 3 directions in this system is textile; the code: W, the color: white, the meaning: my youth. The third label is for the outside world; the code: G, the color: green, the materials: all available. The second label is paint; the color: red, the code: R, the area between the inner and outer world, the most difficult area. I can “jump” from one to another and freely change the perspective. I found my answer to contemporary art of the time, which I found rather rigid. (less is more / concept above action and more).

2. Textiles and more

Looking back, I can say that I broke through the 1992-1996 system (which was also the intention from the beginning) and started working from my personal world. Textile and textile related materials became the most important material to work with. The materials and working methods originated in the world of the household. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I was brought up with it, generations of women in my family were seamstresses and tailors. The pins, needles and patches were all over the house. I used the material to try to escape it. I did this, for example, by sewing textile cups with a group of people in my studio (sewing workshop), by spraying liters of whipped cream on a dragline and by making textile works monumental or hard with bronze paint. In this period (1992) I also made the first Milkmaid that is a recurring image in my work. The Milkmaid as a servant image of women and the whipped cream spraying on the dragline as an opposite image.

3. Going Dutch

After the murder of Theo van Gogh, who was committed a few hundred meters from my studio, my focus shifted to images with women wearing headscarves due to the fierce discussions that arose. I worked digitally, made prints and mixed female figures that we know and wear a headscarf in our western culture, almost all women except bad morals in paintings before 1900, women on cans, Droste, Butter Babbler, Little Red Riding Hood, Zeeuw Girl etc. than 100 of these small prints of 30 x 30 cm I was fed up with the modest image. Ultimately, a headscarf is often meant to hide virginity (nuns) even though it can make you look sexy. Time for something different, another antitype. Maria Sluierhof, a fictional character, a pseudonym of 5th generation emigrants from the Netherlands to America. As a daughter imbued with Dutch, American and Christian values, as we hardly know them here, she paints about sex. I also made paintings with Dutch icons that are usually not of Dutch origin: tulip, windmill, cow, etc. And I started painting all over again. I look for images in paintings and photos that I can use for my paintings. Then I look for distortions and / or other associations and make new images of them. I combine paint with textiles and objects and when painting I vary in many ways, style, types of paint, coarse or fine painted and color. I often use the intimacy, the clean and soft of textiles, in combination with the “dirt” of paint. 

Sometimes it’s just the opposite: textiles can also be used coarse, rough and fine painting is the opposite of that. The image also comes from everywhere in terms of content and is from all times. I’m not looking for one style. The consistency is sometimes more in the idea behind it than in the external image. Patterns are often universal and are taken from culture to culture, even though there are local variations. It is a language that I like to use for that reason.

4. Encounters and Interventions

In the 1970s John Berger’s book “Ways  of seeing” was published, he showed that how we look at things is influenced by everything we know and believe in. By looking we perceive things that we find important ourselves, or, according to Berger, that our culture has convinced us to be important. The history of the culture that surrounds you is also the frame of reference for an artist, but how does that relate to the present? I took the (im) possible task to do something about that distorted view of history. Especially the role of women in art. Since 2015 I have started to bring known and unknown people from (art) history into contact with each other on canvas, regardless of time and place. The first painting is a meeting between Vermeer’s Milkmaid and Michiel de Ruyter in Japan. I had more and more trouble relating to history again. I sneakily want to violate history in this way. Even more than when I left the academy, I feel the need to adjust the image of art history defined by white, often well-off men.