Barbara Broekman Part 2: The creative power of mankind
Barbara Broekman creates breathtaking large-scale textile art using both hand and machine embroidery. Her abstract work is created through the complex layering and overlapping of multiple images. In part one of our interview we discovered Barbara’s early influences, delving into her artistic journey and her strong sense of innate creativity.
In part two we take a look at Barbara’s approach to both personal and commissioned pieces as well as finding out the reason her practice has become more enjoyable with age. You can read part one of the interview here: textileartist.org/barbara-broekman-part-1
An opportunity to try something new
TextileArtist.org: Tell us a bit about your process and what environment you like to work in?
Barbara Broekman: All my work starts as an idea, as a concept. I create a framework in my mind from which I work out my ideas. There is a slight difference in the process if I am creating autonomous work or commissioned work.
My autonomous work always starts with the idea of a certain topic or theme. Usually this is something that I have been thinking about for a long time or something that relates directly to events in my life, for example the loss I felt when my daughter left home, or when I was confronted with sexually charged images during her upbringing. In the past I would layer and overlap multiple images until the end result was reduced to a completely abstract image, carefully built up out of different layers of colour and form. Or pleat and weave different images together. At the moment I have been distorting newspaper images on the computer and making collages of my personal and family history. My methods are very varied. I have been creating work for 30 years now and each project presents an opportunity to try something new.
Part of my work is made in commission. I use the assignment to inspire me and start doing research: Who is the client, what are the aims and subjects of the company, what kind of artwork do they want, what kind of artwork do I think they need? Which technique and materials will suit its purpose well? What is the budget, what is the time schedule, etc. etc.? In commissioned work it is equally important that I challenge myself to develop new methods and ways of expressing myself. The next step is gathering images, making collages, painting the designs. I will rearrange and redo the design until everything suits my ideas. Along the way I will contact constructors – carpet, weaving, tile, concrete, ceramics, glass mosaic companies – whatever is needed to realise my idea. The final realisation is mostly done by skilled craftsmen. At this stage of the project I am more of a manager. One of my latest commissioned works was a large art application for the new Palace of Justice in Amsterdam, where I was inspired by the ancient roots of the law. I borrowed images from classic Baroque paintings and created a collage which was later translated to woven wall panels, a carpet and a hand embroidered painting.
Most of my work is very large, so I have always needed a large work space. This workspace used to be in my home. But once my daughter was old enough to move out I decided to find a separate studio. This way I can surround myself with my work, and then return home to a neutral environment to reload. My current workspace is a large loft in one of the ugliest industrial terrains in Europe, in the North-West of Amsterdam. The walls are lined with my work and books for research. I like to work in a quiet space, so there I don’t play music.
Beauty and consolation
Do you use a sketchbook?
Not really. But I am constantly writing down my ideas. Sometimes even in my sleep; I will reach out in the dark and scribble something on a notepad I keep next to my bed. I am also constantly collecting all manner of images that inspire me and often end up being used in my work. This archive functions as a kind of sketchbook to me.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
The Baroque. Painters such as Tiepolo and Rubens. It is all about emotion and movement. Tiepolo is a master of three dimensionality in the flat surface. Very, very inspiring! My present heros are Marlene Dumas (expressing everyday and political human subjects and emotions in a breathtaking way), Frank Stella (evolved from minimalistic to outstanding and abundant), Sheila Hicks (very large scale, daring works and she struck a blow for textiles), Tadao Ando, Architect (superb, grand, impressive in creating space and use of materials), Anish Kapoor (addresses the senses in a beautiful and poetic way, though by now I think his work is getting out of hand, megalomaniacal) In my opinion art is all about beauty and consolation.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
In 2008 I created some pieces for the Dutch Cancer Institute (Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek), which is where my mother died. Sometime later I received a letter from a patient there who told me that every time she came in for treatment, my work helped her through the day. She said my work had soothed her during this difficult time, and even inspired her to make an artwork of her own. This moved me so much, I still have her letter and the photo of her work. It means so much to me to know that my art made such a difference in someone’s life.
A certain peace of mind
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
Most of my early work show a distinct influence of the formal legacy of Bauhaus, part of my original training. In America I was introduced to a more free manner of approaching art. I used the methods I had learnt in Amsterdam as a fundamental technique, while allowing my work to be a lot more intuitive, borrowing from visual elements in art history and other cultures as well as sampling existing images. Where my early work tended to be more abstract studies of colour and structure, my work now combines figurative elements with varying levels of abstractness. I can see my work becoming more and more figurative.
Getting older makes things easier in a way. Having so much more experience in life, gives a certain peace of mind. I can enjoy my work more and more, I am more focussed and concentrated, and drawn towards topics I feel a need to address and for which I didn’t have the courage when I was younger. I can look at certain subjects from a distance now, and therefore more analytically. My creativity grows as I get older. I have solved some issues that in the past put a strain on me artistically, such as: Am I a good enough artist, is there any need for my work in this world, are my subjects interesting enough? My profession is sometimes a little like doing exams your whole life, but more and more it gives me pleasure to do so instead of stress. I feel much more relaxed.
Take your time!
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Take your time! Don’t hurry. Don’t feel frightened if your work is not taken in by society right away. Try to enjoy making your work, try to be content and joyful about the fact you have the capability to express yourself. Later on learn to be an entrepreneur. Don’t wait to be seen and acknowledged, make plans, go after it yourself! But… take your time. And become a master of your technique.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I collect images from newspapers and magazines. I have been doing this for years. Whenever I see something that inspires me I cut it out and place it in my collection of clippings. I have amassed quite a few over the years. These images are then sampled and used in my work. I have just finished a new series based on disquieting images of violence and destruction which are woven into soft, semi abstract ‘paintings’.
Insert image: Faith 2014
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I could not carry out my profession without scissors, glue, paper, writing equipment, paint and literature. Nowadays the computer has also become an important part of my work process.
Classes and exhibitions
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Sometimes I am invited to give a lecture or workshop, though my agreeing to do so it depends on how busy I am at the moment. People are always free to email me.
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I do this intuitively. I present a lot of my new work at the larger renowned art fairs or exhibitions, but if I sympathise with a certain venue or initiative I am more than happy to exhibit in a smaller setting. As long as my work fits! For example, at the moment I am presenting my new series in a doctor’s office. His practice also houses a gallery, which I thought was an interesting initiative. Another exhibition I did recently was in a gallery/flower shop.
Where can readers see your work this year?
At the moment I have a large monumental carpet on display in the Amsterdam Museum. We are currently working on a more durable version of the carpet which will be visible for the next 10 years at least. I also have a selection of work in Hotel Arena, my favourite hotel in town www.hotelarena.nl and at the practice of doctor De Boer, both in Amsterdam. But new exhibitions are always popping up, mainly in Amsterdam and the rest of the Netherlands. Most of my activity can be found on my website www.barabrabroekman.nl or facebook page.
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