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.

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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 ‘WordPress.com 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
DESigns

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
DESigns

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