Pauline Nijenhuis: Man and machine
Dutch artist Pauline Nijenhuis uses acrylic paint and embroidery on untreated linen to explore the conflict of inertia, speed, hardness and softness.
In our interview with Pauline she tells us about the moment she decided on art as a career, the techniques she uses to create her painted embroideries and her fascination with the relationship man has with machine.
Soft and fast
TextileArtist.org: What initially captured your imagination about textile art?
Pauline Nijenhuis: I arrived in a very different landscape when I moved from the urban area of Rotterdam to Zutphen, a landscape of grass, plants, shrubs and trees. This was a huge contrast with the urban area of Rotterdam that mainly consists of concrete and stone. The soft look of this rural area surprised me – in addition to the softness, I saw also an underlying tissue. When I look closely at a grass field, I see a lot of blades of grass. Together they form a kind of pattern, all the blades of grass together form a kind of tissue.
The Stedelijk museum Zutphen invited local artists to paint and draw the river IJssel and the surrounding landscape of Zutphen. At first I tried to paint this river landscape in acrylic but I could not express the softness and the tissue-value of the landscape with paint. This was when I had the inspiration to use yarn, I had not embroidered since elementary school. You can see my first attempt to embroider with acrylic yarn in ‘Watermirror 1’. I painted with acrylic paint and India ink directly onto the linen fabric.
What was your route to becoming an artist? (Formal training or another pathway?)
My father had a construction company and the idea was that I continued this bussiness. But after seeing a painting called ‘Blue Outremer’ 1958 of Antoni Tàpies during the exhibition La Grande Biennial in the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam (1984) I was not so sure. It became clear to me that I wouldn’t be happy in this construction business. This painting set my world upside down. I felt goose bumps and a huge feeling of happiness which led me to investigate. So my future changed and I went to the Art Academy.
During art school I chose publicity design and illustration because I could follow several techniques and disciplines in this direction. But there were still no textiles. After graduation, I started painting in a realistic way. My themes were imbalance, man versus nature, environmental problems etc.
In 1993 I participated in the Royal Price contest which is for young talented artists in the Netherlands, I was also one of the nominated painters and was selected for the exhibition at the Royal Palace. It was here that I saw a painting with textile/yarn, this work was of Michael Raedecker. I liked the way he used this material; especially the 3-D effect of the yarn on the canvas and the contrast of yarn and paint.
What is your chosen medium and what are your techniques?
My work consists of two techniques: partly painted with acrylic paint and partly embroidered on untreated linen. I use the flat stitch ( ‘plat steek’ in Dutch language). I can fill forms using this stitch and it feels very similar to sketching. The way I paint is very time consuming because I reduce the image in many acrylic painted lines. In your interview with Melissa Zexter she says: ‘I loved the meditative process of sewing – it was in such contrast to the technologically more immediate art of photography. I was also interested in how thread blended in and reacted to the photographs. The combination of sewing and photography brought together two very different processes that I love’. I have the same meditative process of embroidering.
I’m always surprised when threads react and respond with my painted lines. I’m all for technical development; but we must continue to develop handwork as well. Working on a screen is a supplement. Only working digitally is not enough for me.
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
I’m imagining ‘speed’ in a very labor intensive and time consuming technique. My method is decisive for the story I want to tell. I ask myself the following question: ‘What is the impact of the increasing rate of our lives, the constant ‘racing’ and our perception of multimedia?’ You feel you are forced to live life in a rapid way. Can our brains cope with this increasingly fast living and overwhelming amount of imagery? What are the consequences? Are our ‘hasty’ decisions the right ones?
When I start the process to create a new picture I go to the highway and look for velocity/speed and shoot pictures from a moving car. The bias in the photos, caused by the speed of the car, give a different picture of the world, another truth. The change of speed can make another outcome, provide a different gradient.
As well as my ‘Fast landscapes’ I’m also working on a series of Auto portraits. The theme behind these paintings is our increasing use of robots and on the implantation of artificial devices/organs in the human body. I ask myself if we’re moving towards a ‘cyborg’-culture? The car is my metaphor for this story – the first sign of a premature cyborg.
The car and man stand side-by-side. The car gives man a faster and greater range. It’s unthinkable to be without cars, despite the pollution this brings. You can see this symbiosis of man and machine in my paintings. The colours of the cars are derivative of my skin colour and the behaviour of the driver is translated in the form of the car.
I use the same techniques as in my Fast Landscape paintings. The canvas is partly painted (acrylic) and partly embroidered on untreated linen. The use of soft materials reinforces the humanity of the car.
Do you use a sketchbook?
After sorting the photo material I look for a strong composition; This can be a collage of multiple photos. I write and draw in my sketchbook from the moment I start any new work. It’s also a way to handle the work during the time consuming process of creating large canvases, which can take between 7-8 months. The notes also help to make the right choices.
What currently inspires you and which other artists do you admire and why?
I have several artist who inspire me:
- Heringa/Van Kalsbeek for the freedom and experiments in their work
- Rembrandt for his shading technique and the interplay of lines
- Anselm Kiefer for his composition-building and the use of road or rail to lead the spectator into his painting
- Christiaan Bastiaans dares to use difficult themes (child soldiers/trade bodies) to handle, he creates sculptures which are both bizarre and beautiful
- Kristin Sæterdal – I recognize my work somewhere in her work; The popular culture of computer games and science fiction as well as the absorbing landscapes.
Tell us about a piece of work you have fond memories of and why?
Fast Landscape Coincidence/Snellandschap Toeval from 2010 has created a huge change in my work. It brought new imagery to my work. And this was my first piece to be hung in an art museum, the gemeentemuseum Den Haag (exhibition Summer Expo 2011).
Texture, skin and colour
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
I recommend visiting lots of exhibitions with different disciplines. And to see textile art in real life, you lose a part of the texture, skin and colour on the computer screen and in books.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
My needle! Because this needle has become crooked by my embroidery, I hope it never breaks.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
I give workshops and courses in my studio called Atelier Z7+ in Zutphen. These lessons are focused on drawing, painting and general visual arts, not specifically on embroidery. I offer experimentation in mixed media.
Fast Landscape, Magic Kiss
How do you go about choosing where to show your work?
I have exhibited my work in several galleries in the Netherlands. A good open equal relationship with the gallery owners is important.
Where can readers see your work this year?
You can see two of my paintings, ‘Fast Landscape‘ and ‘Fast Landscape, Magic Kiss‘ at the Den Haag art museum Summer Expo 2014.
From 29 may till 1 September 2014. More information www.gemeentemuseum.nl.
And possibly two more exhibits later this year.
For more information please visit: www.paulinemmnijenhuis.nl
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