Brigitte Picavet: From conception to creation
Brigitte Picavet is a textile artist who uses recycling alongside mixed-media techniques to create art of intricate beauty.
As a keen visitor of exhibitions and museums, Brigitte sees lots of beautiful and inspiring artwork made by famous predecessors as well as by artist friends. Her interest lies in a wide variety of styles, from minimal painters such as Jan Schoonhoven and Brice Marden to expressionists like Philip Guston and Francis Bacon. Although she loves their paintings Brigitte feels reluctant to quote any of these beloved artists or use their art as a direct source for her own. “Perhaps this comes from a fear of failure, she says “but it certainly has to do with my admiration and respect for their achievements”.
In 2015 it was 125 years since Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853 – 1890) died. Throughout the year, the artist was honoured with exhibitions and cultural events both in the Netherlands and in various European towns.
In this interview, which is part of our From Conception to Creation series, Brigitte, inspired by Van Gogh’s Almond Blossom, talks us through her decision to make a painting in honour of his great work. We learn about the processes and materials used to bring her piece to life and how it found its spiritual home in the Netherlands.
Name of piece: After van Gogh’s Almond blossom
Year of piece: 2015
Size of piece: 120 x 130 cm
Materials used: Textile, pigments, ink, oil paint, glue, mirrors, sawdust
Techniques used: Mixed media
Finding my own way in art
TextileArtist.org: How did the idea for the piece come about? What was your inspiration?
Brigitte Picavet: I have been a great admirer of Van Gogh ever since I attended secondary school, the age at which I discovered the possibility of becoming an artist. Van Goghs love of nature, his very personal style and unique handwriting and his treatment of colour are a source of inspiration and a joy to watch.
For long I felt restrained to make a painting so obviously based upon his work, being aware of the risks involved when quoting a masterpiece. The exhibitions and interesting events accompanying the 125th anniversary in our country made me reconsider the idea, however.
In addition, I came to realize that when a piece of art is such a source of happiness to me, it might just as well be a challenge to respond to it, perhaps it would even encourage me to find my own way in art.
Serenity and simplicity
Earlier on I had a similar experience when taking part in a contest organized by the Jan Cunen Museum in my hometown. Local artists were invited to submit work in response to artworks selected by Jan Marijnissen from the museums own collection. Marijnissen is a well-known Dutch politician and an inhabitant of my hometown. My contribution Aquilegia discolor was a tribute to Amaryillis, a painting made by Erik Andriesse. Visitors of the accompanying exhibition could choose their favourite work and from 3 works with the highest number of votes Jan Marijnissen picked mine as the winner. Subsequently, I was offered the opportunity to show some of my works in the museum. For me, this was a nice encouragement to continue my practice.
What I like about Van Goghs Almond blossom are its serenity and simplicity. Van Goghs work was inspired by Japanese art, he collected so-called ukiyo-e prints. Characteristic features of these prints include their ordinary subject matter, the distinctive cropping of their compositions, bold and assertive outlines, absent or unusual perspective, flat regions of uniform colour, uniform lighting, an absence of chiaroscuro, and their emphasis on decorative patterns. Like in many of my own paintings, a natural still life is isolated against a monochrome background.
What research did you do before you started to make?
I frequently looked at a picture of the work in a catalogue, while working on other things in my studio.
At the time, I also had a postcard of a print by Kokoschka on a shelf, as a souvenir of the Portraits of people and animals exhibition at the Rotterdam Boymans van Beuningen Museum in 2014. It depicts a girl picking cotton, but to me, the cotton looked more like skulls hanging from vines. I was intrigued by the contrast between the beautiful girl and the ‘decaying’, as I saw it, cotton-skulls. I doubt if this is what Kokoschka intended, but I simply could not ignore this connotation.
Creating a certain distance
Somehow the two images by Van Gogh and by Kokoschka intermingled in my head and were leading in my conception of Almond blossom.
Usually, I do not spend lots of time on research beforehand. I just start with a vague idea and then step by step the work develops itself. The paint and the way it behaves on the surface of the canvas with the structure of circles underneath, leads to a more outlined image. Of course, I regularly take a break, do a lot of looking and observing, with the canvas on the studio floor, now and then lifting it a bit, rocking it to and fro, enabling the liquid paint to find its way on the surface. Once the paint has dried I put it back on the easel. By turning it round and round, I see clearer what has come out of it. I needed to create a certain distance, some space between my own work and that of Van Gogh, it is a vital aspect of the creative process and it enables me to make a work of my own. All in all, it took several months before my work was completed.
Materials and processes
What materials were used in the creation of the piece? How did you select them? Where did you source them?
I started off with a canvas of 120 x 130 cm. On the surface I usually make a collage of white circles, pieces of cotton or other textiles. Various sizes together form a structure. On top of this rather sterile composition, I drew some branches in more or less the same way as Van Gogh. Opposite I drew a branch that vaguely echoes the cotton branch of Kokoschka. I cut out flowers from a piece of cloth with a flower print on it and applied them to the painting, thus creating a kind of blossom, Kokoschkas ‘cotton-skulls’ were replaced by slivers of black cloth, small ragged slices. Then I laid the work on the floor to sprinkle sawdust, paint, pigments and small pieces of cloth over it. The structure of circles by then was covered with a rather messy, chaotic layer. Step by step I added or removed pieces and materials, some pieces were cut out of the surface. In this particular painting, some circular forms were replaced by small round mirrors. Of course, my selection of materials was also based on color, texture, and effect.
In my studio, I collect all kinds of textiles, old clothes and leftover pieces, in different colours and textures. I also collect all sorts of waste and useless materials like plastics and organic materials like wood, plants and shells. In my Almond blossom version, I used dried poppy seed pods for example. By cutting materials into small pieces they can easily be mixed with pigments and glue into a homemade paint. I often scatter loose pieces over the work on the floor. I even collect stuff from my studio floor after wiping it. All these remains can be used in works to be made, depending on the theme I am working on.
A creative hub
What equipment did you use in the creation of the piece and how was it used?
The equipment I used in the creation of the piece included different kinds of brushes, all sorts of cups and bowls to mix homemade paint in, scissors and knifes to cut out and remove pieces and stuff from the surface if necessary and to cut raw materials into tiny pieces. I used a hand sanding machine and sanding paper to smoothen the surface. I used a pen to apply ink.
My studio is situated in a former Catholic church, St. Pauls. This twentieth-century building is now called @Paulus, it houses 10 artists studios and some small businesses in the creative industry.
On the occasion of the bi-annual open house weekend of 12 – 13 September this year, my painting hung in the central hall of the building. It was part of an exhibition curated by one of my colleagues and me to help visitors find their way through the building. Participating artists presented a few works that enabled the public to choose which studio to visit.
Right now the work hangs in the conference room of the neighbouring building, the former home of the pastor who used to lead the church. Nowadays a platform of freelancers called Bizztopia, uses the house as a meeting place.
In 2016 my work will be on display at ALARM, an artist-run exhibition space near Nijmegen in the South of the Netherlands. In June and July, new works will be presented there in co-operation with artist Ada Dispa.
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