A Peek Behind the Scenes

I’m fascinated by the programmes or articles where they go ‘behind the scenes’ of artists and authors and you can see where it all happens – where they get their inspiration, where they do their desk research, where the creative juices are blended into original pieces of work. I look on enviously at the libraries and ateliers that they reveal, trying to decipher what it says about them and their methods and wishing that I could have such a space for myself.

In September I moved house and, for the first time, I have a dedicated atelier. Well, OK, so I share it with the cats (which does present the challenge of how to keep the cat hairs out of your paint and the cats out of your art materials), but other than that it’s my own atelier. No need to tidy away a half-finished painting because it’s in the way. Just make it cat-safe and it can stay there till the next session.

So finally I can return the favour and give others a sneaky peek into my atelier.

So, what does it say about me?
Well, for a start I think it shows that either I’m a very tidy person (which is not entirely true) or, more likely, since I’ve moved I haven’t done much painting. In the run up to Christmas the house kept me very busy and there was little time for inspiration. Now things have settled down and the house is in order, it’s time to kick start the creative juices again and get behind the easel.

This is not to say there haven’t been any developments in the last 6 months; I have some news on my exhibitions and on a sale, but I will update you on this in my next blog.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

Gathering Momentum – Photography, Paintings & Exhibitions

Despite the ‘radio silence’ since February, it’s been a busy few months.

Photography
 A lot of my focus has been on photography over the last months. Fascinating skies have held my attention and have made for some stunning shots.

Street art has also been a favourite subject and I captured a lot of sticker art in a recent trip to Amsterdam. Sadly I’m unable to attend the Amsterdam Street Art festival that’s currently underway (8-15 June 2010) – I’m sure this would be a  great source of inspiration. The London Police will be there, along with many others.

As always, light play is a subject I keep coming back to and I have taken a wide range of pictures, mainly from the city lights in Den Haag. Other favourites include macro shots of flora & fauna and abstracts inspired by glass and nature.

As there are so many photo’s it’s impossible to load these all onto this site, so I will shortly be loading up a selection from each subject area.

New paintings
Next to my photography I have also been busy painting. Below are the newest additions to my portfolio and one ‘work in progress’:

Exhibition IGZ, Zwolle
In April I was asked by the Inspectie voor de Gezondheidszorg to exhibit my artwork, both paintings and photographs, at their government building in Zwolle. It’s a private exhibition (an art loan – or ‘kunstuitleen‘ – if you like) of 30 pieces: 16 photos and 14 paintings. I’m really very privileged to have been invited to exhibit there. The exhibition runs from April right through to September, when I have also been asked to come and talk to the IGZ about my work, my style & my inspiration.

Exhibition Diageo, Amsterdam
A second private exhibition I’ll be exhibiting at is one I’m organising myself at Diageo in Amsterdam. Diageo is a premium drinks manufacturer and employs a large pool of international and talented people. The aim of the exhibition is to reveal the hidden talents of Diageo’s employees. The exhibition is planned to start in August and will run continuously, with participants’ content being rotated on a quarterly basis.

Other Exhibitions
Other exhibitions that have kept me busy since February have been ones I have visited and these have been so inspirational.

Running from 6 February till 13 June is ‘Kandinsky & Der Blaue Reiter’ at the Gemeente Museum in Den Haag. 1911 was a turning point in the art world and Expressionism gained momentum. The Munchen-based group of Expressionist artists included Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky, August Macke, Marianne von Werefkin and Heinrich Campendonck. The colour, style and vibrancy of these works gave me much to think about. If you get a chance to go, go early in the day to beat the crowds, as it’s (quite rightly) a very popular exhibition.

Whether you manage to make it in time for the Kandinsky exhibition or not, don’t leave until you’ve explored the depths of the Gemeente Museum. In the far corner of the museum are some stunning works by Piet Mondriaan. Because the hall is situated so far away from the temporary exhibition it’s virtually empty of people – a shame for the people who’re missing out on these great artworks, but a real boon for those who leave the beaten path. The luxury of an empty hall filled with impressive, colourful paintings is not something one gets to enjoy very often.

The Mondriaan collection at the Gemeente Museum is the largest in the world and contains some of his best known pieces. Victory Boogie Woogie, while remaining a very original piece, has seen better days though and I thought it was looking a little grubby. On the other hand, ‘Molen bij zonlicht’, ‘De Rode Molen’, ‘Duinlanschap’ and ‘De Grijze Boom’ are simply awe-inspiring. I really recommend paying these a visit.

A recent weekend in Amsterdam enabled me to explore the Van Gogh museum and Foam Photographic museum at my leisure.

Even though the Van Gogh museum is being renovated and some of the most famous works aren’t currently on exhibit, there are still many, many of his best known pieces to drool over.

In the temporary exhibition in the newly extended part of the museum is a collection of paintings by Gaugin and a number of fellow artists of his day. During the Paris World Exhibition of 1889 they formed a rebellious group and offered an alternative exhibition in answer to the traditional works that could be seen at the Word Exhibition. Particularly interesting, I thought, were the paintings by Émile Schuffenecker.

At Foam I enjoyed the works of photographer Ari Marcopoulos the most. His work can be seen till 13 June 2010, so be quick! Marcopoulos has close links with the youth culture in the US and has taken many photo’s over the past three decades of the hip hop, skateboarding and snowboarding scenes. Due to his close contact with these groups his work shows an intimacy and honesty that any other photographer would simply never gain access to.

Lastly, on a more local note, I will be visiting the opening of an exhibition of work by Den Haag artist Jolanda van der Elst. Jolanda paints using various media and, although she has a preference for portraits, she is not limited to these and also paints still-life and landscapes. Aside from being able to meet like-minded people, the opening will also give me an opportunity to network with some of the local artists. A bit of PR is never a bad thing, I say! Jolanda’s work can be seen throughout the month of June at Gallerie Nootenboom in Nootdorp.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

Art for the Artist

Fascinated by colour as I am, naturally one of the artists I find very inspiring is Mark Rothko (1903-1970). His work makes use of large rectangular areas of colour, highlighted by or offset with complimentary or contrasting hues.

In his mature work, Rothko generally painted two to three fuzzy-edged blocks of colour, of varying size and set free of the canvas edge. He used a wide range of hues and added complexity to the pieces by breaking the rectangles with a contrasting bar of colour (as a sort buffer), or by creating and varying lightness or darkness, opaqueness or translucence, warmth or coolness, and yet retaining a sense of harmony.

Untitled 1951

Untitled 1951

Apparently Rothko claimed he was ‘no colourist’ and that to see him as such was missing the point of his art. Maybe so, but art is such a personal thing. In a way, it’s a form of communication: the artist may have his own message but he needs to remember that not every observer will see things from the same perspective, level or experience; therefore, the observer may take away something completely different from the piece than the artist intended. No bad thing, if you ask me. If I appreciate Rothko, as many do, for his colour, then it is surely good that I derive pleasure (and a range of other feelings) from his work, despite what his original intention may have been. I’m a simple soul – art for me is about feeling and atmosphere. The meaning and symbolism behind a piece is less relevant for me and I derive little pleasure from analysing a painting – that just removes all feeling from it. Call it escapism if you like.

Untitled 1953

Untitled 1953

In addition to the use of colour in itself, what really fascinates me is the interaction of colours with each other. By placing one hue next to another it can really change the feeling and dynamic of a piece. Red next to orange will tell us a very different story than red next to blue. The interplay between the colours (complimentary, broken and contrasting) and their position and size on the canvas all have a major impact on what the piece is saying to you. Rothko really masters this in his mature work.

Untitled 1949

Untitled 1949

Wassily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and Paul Klee are also favourites of mine, but they don’t hold a torch to Rothko’s purity and depth when it comes to the use of colour. ‘Pure’ in this sense doesn’t mean ‘simple’ though, as often Rothko layered colour upon colour, using glazes and applying and wiping off paint, creating complex hues that are difficult to describe. None the less, the effect of this is, for me, is a purity of feeling.

Red on Maroon 1959

Red on Maroon 1959

If you ever have the chance to visit the Tate Modern gallery in London, Rothko’s Seagram murals are a must. Located off the main exhibition hall in their own room (the ‘Rothko Room’), they invite you to get lost in the vastness of the deep colour. Some are evocative of the after-image you get when you close you eyes, after having looked out of the window on a bright day. They are stunning. I could have spent hours staring at them, losing myself in them. Unfortunately, visiting hours are way too short and all too soon you have to emerge from the temple, blinking in the daylight, back to reality.

Rothko Room - Tate Modern Gallery London

Rothko Room - Tate Modern Gallery London

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

Red Ted Art – Bringing Art to Children’s Hearts

Take a look at my good friend’s bespoke artwork (mainly) for children on http://redtedart.wordpress.com/2009/12/28/red-ted-on-facebook/!

Maggy Woodley creates wonderfully vibrant pop art paintings that will liven up your child’s bedroom.

Mention my name and get 10% off until 28th Feb!

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

The ‘Ah!’ Moment

Inspiration is a strange and fickle thing. It comes and goes as it pleases, taking you by surprise and disappearing again just as quickly.

Perhaps you can compare it to a frightened kitten. You have to create the right atmosphere before it will come out from behind the sofa and play. You need a calm, trusting environment to coax him out and the right stimuli to initiate his playfulness.

Sounds simple in theory, but it takes some trial and error, and some surprises, before you learn what the right atmosphere and stimuli are for you to become inspired.

Where to start? Well, let’s first think about what inspiration actually is…
We could define inspiration as ‘stimulation of (often) creative action, ideas, thoughts or feelings’. If you like, it’s a stimulation that animates or awakens you.

What do you need in order to become inspired? A source – something that provides the stimulation or interests you. This is of course very subjective and can vary immensely. Also, openness – you need to be open to or to create the right atmosphere, time, space and frame of mind. Inspiration can be blocked if any one of these factors is not met.

For me, work-related inspiration comes from opportunities to develop (personal development, coaching etc) and improve (usually process related, or starting new projects) and from passionate and enthusiastic people. Outside the work arena my sources of inspiration are more visual and tend to be art and nature related. Bold primary and secondary colours; artwork from other artists; flowing patterns and forms; vast, impressive or colourful landscapes; the power of nature (such as the sea, wind or volcanoes); water in its various states; large, intricate or gnarly trees. The list is pretty long.

From the definition though, for something to be inspirational it should incite you to action, thought or feelings. Mostly it makes me feel really alive! Often, with the fascination and energy that these sources awaken, it’s enough to stand there, take it all in, experience them and appreciate them. There’s a deep contentment, an aliveness, a sense of things being as they should be. To capture these feelings I’m usually driven to photography. Painting is more an indirect result of my inspiration stimuli, as it tends to come from deep within and is a more subconscious process.

Sometimes though, the feelings awakened are akin to a sort of longing, somewhat similar to the feeling I sometimes experienced as a teenager. It’s an undefined longing and a slightly sad and pensive feeling. This tends to inspire more philosophical thoughts. A vast expanse of sea or landscape can cause this. Other times the stimuli can awaken my curiosity (my scientific side?) and I start asking questions – How? Why? – I want to know more…

Inspiration, although fickle, can also be a circular process. Being inspired leads you to do things that in turn inspire you further. Maybe you see a photograph of a place, which inspires you to travel, and in turn, travelling inspires you to take great photos…. I find that once I open myself to inspiration and start the creative process, the more I become inspired. If it goes on for some time, it can become almost feverish. Break this cycle though and it stops very quickly.

Of course, without inspiration, there would be no art. There would be no passion. And without art and passion, there would be no inspiration, no ‘Ah!’ moment.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

Indonesian Street Art -The City As A Canvas

Street art is a world wide phenomenon. Love it or hate it, it’s everywhere.

Most of the time we go about our business and don’t see what’s under our noses: little gems of colour, statements on society or politics, flashes of ego and plenty of humour – a lot of it’s overlooked by the average passerby. A real shame.

On my recent trip to Indonesia (which I could talk about for hours, but I’ll spare you), I spent a couple of days in Yogyakarta (Yogya for short), one of the more progressive and artistic cities in Java. In addition to the traditional batik art that the city is famous for, it’s large student population unsurprisingly contributes to the city’s vibrant creative culture.

On a stroll through the busy main streets and the quieter side streets you can find a wealth of street art if you keep your eyes open.

It’s interesting to compare the street art in Yogyakarta with that in Europe (Bristol and Amsterdam, for example). You can see some similarities in style, but naturally there are also different cultural influences.

Check out my new Street Art pages to see my favourites in Yogyakarta, Bristol and Rotterdam. I’ll be adding more pages soon: one on The London Policemen (the internationally acclaimed, Amsterdam-based duo) and one on the Crimes of Passion exhibition in Bristol.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns

(Co)mission Accomplished

A commission is not to be underestimated.

Normally, I paint from inspiration—an idea, a feeling, an urge—basically, to satisfy a desire to express myself in colour and forms.

As soon as someone asks you to paint a piece in a particular colour or form, the freedom to satisfy yourself is caged up and replaced by a need to satisfy someone else—to ‘touch’ them, in fact. So instead of being a relaxing pastime, it becomes a task tinged with stress.

The excitement builds the nearer you come to finishing a piece and reaches its climax at the unveiling of the final painting to the commissioner. Will they love it? Hate it? Is it what they had in mind? Do they still want to buy it?

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is ‘yes’!

My very first commission piece met with approval. Now hanging proudly in the space on the wall for which it was intended, “it looks great”, the buyer informed me, extending an invitation come and see for myself how well it fits. You can imagine how pleased and relieved I am to hear it.

Sonal and Dieuwke with the commision piece Aeolian

Sonal and Dieuwke with the commision piece Aeolian

Three months in the making—discussing the assignment (the colours and forms), coming up with a design, buying the materials and then the building up the painting on canvas—it was a rewarding learning experience. For the commissions I have in the pipeline, I will be altering my approach, using the insights I’ve gained.

If you would like to commission a painting, I’d be happy to discuss ideas and wishes with you. Please refer to the contact information in the Acrylic Artwork page on this blog.

Dieuwke Swain
Fine Artist & Photographer
DESigns