The fear

A blank canvas can be a terrifying thing. All those possibilities. All those ideas waiting to be translated from your thoughts into something physical and publicly visual.

And all the things that can go wrong in the process.

Or a half-finished piece, one you’re quite pleased with. It’s progressing well. You leave it for a while, till you next find the time and inspiration to pick up where you left off. That’s when THE FEAR can kick in. What if I muck it up?

Part of the process of becoming a mature artist is learning how to overcome that fear. Or is it? Do great artists also wrestle with pangs of insecurity?

eyes-499x154“Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

I recently finished a painting that I’d been ‘working on’ for about 7 years. It had sat there, taunting me from the corner of my atelier. There was something not right about it, but I couldn’t put my finger on what that something was.

With just a day to go before the end of the year, I gathered my resolve, gave myself a mental kick up the backside and just got started. So what if it goes wrong? It’s better to have tried and failed than to leave it unfinished, surely. I’ll just chalk that up to experience.

As with anything, there’s no way to become better at something if you don’t actually practice. Not everything needs to be perfect from the outset. Each imperfect result is an experience to learn from. Or in other words, imperfection seeds improvement. (My new mantra?)

It also can create intrigue. How many times have you stood in a gallery or museum, gazing at a masterpiece, only to realise when you look really close up that there are supposed errors, gaps, corrections and imperfections. Who cares! Sure, technique is important, but the end result is king. What does the piece DO to you?

So dust off the cobwebs, banish the fear and put a new dollop of paint on your brush…


The Artourist

What would you do if you had one and a half days in London?

My list was long; much too long to squeeze into such a short time. After some hard decisions I narrowed it down and set off to slurp up as much art as I could.

The ‘must-sees’

For me, a visit to the Tate Modern is obligatory, in particular the ‘Mark Rothko room’ – the Seagram murals I’ve talked about before in ‘Art for the Artist’. At one point there were only 3 of us sitting reverently in the twilight temple, for a few blissful moments, before the silence was sadly shattered by the entrance of a voluble group.

The rest of the Tate Modern was also the usual delight, with inspirational pieces from names such as Gerhard Richter (‘Cage’ 1-6, 2006; a series of six paintings inspired by the composer John Cage), Mark Bradford (‘Riding the Cut Vein’, 2013), Sam Francis (‘Around the Blues’, 1957-62) and Ernst Nay, (‘White Spring’, 1963).

Sam Francis 'Around the Blues', c 1957-1962

Sam Francis, Around the Blues, c 1957-1962

There was also photography by Brett Weston (for example, ‘Clouds, Skyscape’, 1980 and ‘Banyan Roots, Hawaii’, 1974) and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The latter was a hauntingly beautiful collection of black and white photos of industrial structures (for example, ‘Pitheads’, 1974 and ‘Coal Bunkers’, 1974).

Bernd and Hilla Becher

Bernd and Hilla Becher

No temporary exhibitions for me this time, although last time I was here I saw the Marlene Dumas exhibition ‘The Image as Burden’– an impressive collection of intense, sometimes disturbing works.

A walk in the park

A very pleasant walk through Kensington Gardens in the unseasonably mild winter weather brought me, via Henry Moore’s massive sculpture ‘The Arch’, to the Serpentine Gallery. Tucked away between two of London’s larger parks, this small gallery houses the best and most comprehensive art book shop I have ever seen. Drooling, I was regrettably forced to be selective due to airplane weight restrictions.

I digress. I was there to see the ‘Transience’ exhibition from Michael Craig-Martin, a contemporary artist who has been making boldly outlined and vividly coloured paintings of ordinary household objects on walls and canvas since the 1990s. The work shown was almost a catalogue of the popularity and decline of the things we have known and loved, or those we have taken for granted – an ode to bygone objects, some perhaps now hardly used or hidden away in a box in the attic. Each one recognisable and bringing with it a rush of sentimentality and a smile of your face, tinged with the sad realisation that time is merciless and everything is eventually usurped. Although not labelled as such, these pure and colourful paintings lean towards pop art. Thoroughly worth the visit.

Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (headphones, medium), 2014

Michael Craig-Martin, Untitled (headphones, medium), 2014

Art on the street

Street art is transient. Whenever I can, I like to visit the Brick Lane area in Shoreditch to see the latest of the ever-changing urban gems. Hidden away through a narrow side street, there’s a parking area that is adorned with a large collection of pieces and throw-ups. A little further up the road, Fournier Street and Hanbury Street (the old haunt of Jack the Ripper!) also offer a selection of remarkable pieces, including a 9m tall crane by Roa and its neighbouring mural by Martin Ron, as well as specimens from C215, Dank, Shok-1 and Stik.

C215, Brick Lane, London, December 2015

C215, Brick Lane, London, December 2015

Iljin, Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Iljin, Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Just off Hanbury Street it opens out into Dray Walk. Here some of the bigger names in street art have left their mark: Shepard Fairey, D*Faced, Invader and of course Banksy. Walking around, ever vigilant for a glimpse of the next temporary artwork, it became obvious that I was not alone on my treasure hunt as I came across several street art tour groups.

Roa, Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Roa, Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Street art on Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Street art on Hanbury St, London, December 2015

Talking of Banksy, Steve Lazarides will be curating an exhibition called ‘The Art of Banksy’ at the Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam from 18 June to 30 September 2016. This is sure to be a very popular event with much buzz around it. I can’t help feeling Banksy’s rather over-hyped these days. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a very talented artist and certainly deserves the attention, but in general, hype on anything is a turn-off for me as people have a tendency to jump on the bandwagon to exploit and grab what they can out of it. Still, potential over-hype aside, I’m very much looking forward to the exhibition.

Something else to look forward to is the international graffiti festival ‘Step in the Arena’ that will take place in Eindhoven on 4-5 June 2016. For more info, keep an eye on the Step in the Arena Facebook page.

And the inspiration keeps coming…

So after a packed, art-filled agenda in London, there’s of course so much more on the horizon to feast my eyes, soul and inspiration on… starting with a trip to Foam Amsterdam to catch some excellent photography by Jacques Henri Lartigue and Awoiska van der Molen before their exhibitions close on 3 April.

The Revival of Inspiration

Some while back I wrote piece on inspiration (see The ‘Ah!’ Moment). I called it a fickle thing, something that you had to create the right conditions for. I wasn’t wrong.

In 2012, several events took my attention, emotion and time, understandably interrupting my ‘creative flow’. A small break from my painting became a long hiatus, which in turn became a yawning period of drought, not only in my artwork but also in my blogs. During that time, I simply lost interest – there were more important, life-changing things to concern myself with. Gradually though, when the dust settled and life returned to ‘normal’, I started looking for inspiration again. I found it. And slowly it has gathered weight and momentum.

Cloud Break – Dieuwke Swain DESignsCloud Break – Dieuwke Swain

So what got me back into the saddle? Over the last two years I have visited many exhibitions, too many to list here. Mostly in the Netherlands, but some in the UK, Portugal, the US and the Czech Republic. A lot of colourful, striking, original objects, some surprising, some reassuringly familiar. Also, I’ve been to some very beautiful places and have seen some stunning landscapes.

In this period I have also taken up running. What’s that got to do with painting or photography? When you start running you are fully focused on breathing and getting to the next point at which you’re allowed to walk. After a while, you gain experience, can keep running further and longer and you start to look around you at the world passing by (albeit at a painfully slow pace in my case). You appreciate all the little things you see. This is also inspiration. And makes you damn glad to be alive!

All these stimuli, these catalysts… They have succeeded in inspiring me. I’m at the point where the tip of the paintbrush meets the forsaken canvas. A long-standing ‘work in progress’ has been dusted off and is ready to be completed. A lot of conversations with a wide variety of like-minded creative people have also unearthed some long forgotten ideas and have helped to grow some new ones. It feels like spring. It’s time to take action.

2011 in Review

Happy New Year!

Thank you all for you visiting my blog in 2011.

The ‘ stats helper monkeys’ prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog, which I thought I’d share with you.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Syndey Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Wishing you all an inspiring and creative 2012!

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer

Affordable Art for a Good Cause

Want to buy affordable art for a good cause?

Affordable Art for 3FM” is an online ‘silent’ auction for 3FM’s Serious Request – a fundraising campaign in conjunction with the Red Cross to raise money for mothers affected by war & conflict situations.

In at least 25 countries throughout the world more than 10 million mothers are affected by war – they lose everything, have to flee, have no food, clean water or healthcare and are the victims of sexual abuse. They are left behind to care for their family alone.

The Red Cross helps these mothers not only by providing them with the essentials (such as shelter, medical care, food and drinking water), but also with support in getting an independent income and with the search for loved ones that have gone missing.

The 8th edition of 3FM Serious Request will take place from 18th – 24th December. ‘The Glass House’ will be set up on the Beestenmarkt in Leiden, the Netherlands, where 3 DJ’s will be locked in without food for 5 days to raise money by playing requests.

How can you help?

Affordable Art for 3FM” offers you the opportunity to donate money to this good cause whilst gaining a great piece of original art. The artists featured in this collection have graciously offered to donate a portion of the proceeds (a minimum of 50%) to the 2011 3FM Serious Request fundraising campaign.

The bidding for the online auction starts 6th December and will run through till 20th December.

Would you like to know more about the auction or any of the pieces featured, or would you like to place a bid? Please contact Pieter Augustinus or Dewy Van Tol.

Help a mother, save a family


Inspiration – Munch, the Caldic Collection and Beauty in Science

I recently visited the Kunsthal in Rotterdam to see the Edvard Munch exhibition. Whilst I’m not a big fan of all of his work, some of his pieces are stunning and his colour use really appeals to me. Did you know that he actually made a number of versions of the ‘Madonna’, each one differing slightly? Munch experimented with many techniques and this has given me some ideas to try out for myself.

The Munch exhibition ran until 20th February, so I was lucky enough to catch it on its last weekend.

Also at the Kunsthal (and still running) is an exhibition of Joop van Caldenborgh’s Caldic Collection of modern & contemporary art. The exhibition, called ‘I Promise to Love You’ after Tracey Emin’s red neon piece, runs until 15 May 2011. It contains some wonderful works and I really recommend you pay this a visit.

My favourites were Robert Zandvliet’s ‘Maannacht’, Renie Spoelstra’s ‘Recreatiegebied #58: Struik’, Maria Roosen’s ‘Breast Berries’, Robin Rhode’s ‘Kite’, Ai Weiwei’s ‘Oil Spills’, Carla Klein’s untitled piece, Ian Davenport’s ‘Poured Lines: Primer’… and many more.

I’ve never come across a collection that contains quite so many pieces that speak to me. I’ll be going back for a second look sometime between now and May and I urge you to do the same.

And if all this inspiration wasn’t enough, there’s an exhibition of scientific photographs and film just started at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam (in conjunction with the Museum Boerhaave in Leiden) called ‘Schoonheid in de Wetenschap’ (‘Beauty in Science’). This looks to be right up my street, combining both art and science.

The challenge for the exhibition was to find out if beauty exists in scientific images. Of that I’ve no doubt. Having spent years looking down a microscope I can assure you it does.

In the last 2 years nearly a hundred scientists from a wide range of disciplines were approached to take part; from physisists and astronomers to chemists and geologists, from botanists and microbiologists to marine and cell biologists.

I’m looking forward to visiting Boijmans this weekend together with a fellow science and art lover.

Let the inspiration continue!

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer

Show & Sell – An End and a Start

After a run of 9 months, my exhibition at the IGZ came to an end in December. Originally due to finish in September, I was extremely pleased that it had been extended by a further 3 months.

The majority of the 30 pieces were returned to The Hague and are now stacked up in my atelier waiting for a new home.

However, 3 pieces have already found their new home! The IGZ has purchased 2 paintings, the stripe-duo ‘Cool Blue Stripes’ and ‘Divided in Sleep’, and 1 photo called ‘Galaxy’. A 10% sell rate on only my second exhibition is a great result.

As one exhibition came to an end, a new one started.

I have been busy organising an exhibition at Diageo in Amsterdam called ‘Revealing Talents’. The aim of the exhibition is to reveal the hidden talents of Diageo employees.

On 17th December the ‘Revealing Talents’ exhibition officially started. Unfortunately, due to the severe weather at the time the Grand Opening event had to be postponed till January, but both the exhibition and the Grand Opening were well attended and I have received a lot of good feedback and many requests to take part.

It’s caused quite a buzz in the office. And that’s exactly the point – to get conversation started, to get to know and value each other better and to see if there’s a way we can use each other’s talents in the working environment. After all, if people are doing what they love and what they do best, then they will achieve more and get more satisfaction out of their work.

The exhibition is ongoing, but the content and participants are rotated every 3 months. The first exhibition is showcasing the talents of 5 participants: a painter, a photographer, a furniture-designer/maker, a dancer and myself as painter and photographer. Future talents that we’re expecting to reveal will be: yoga teacher, swimming teacher, neurolinguistic programming trainer, hypnotist, sculptor, digital artist, painters, photographers, bakers/cake decoraters and cooks. And all this in a company that produces premium alcoholic drinks!

The second exhibition is planned to start in late March and I’m really looking forward to the reaction of the Diageo employees to the talents that are revealed of the next group of participants.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer