INTERVIEW WITH ROOS VAN DER VLIET

Tell us a little about yourself and your process

​I’m an artist from the Netherlands, I got my BFA in 2009, and have been painting ever since. I was always drawing as a kid and as far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted it to look real. Not much has changed since then, although I switched from drawing to painting when I was 18. When I paint I tend to lose myself in details. I want to get so close to reality, my paintings should almost feel real. The eyes should look back at me while I’m painting, hair must look like I could touch it. My longing for this hyper realism stems from the feeling of alienation I get when looking at the world around me. My paintings tell the narrative of that. Life is something so enigmatic and overwhelming that for me studying and replicating reality seems to give me more control over it. I’m very aware of my own mortality and the unimportance of being human in general. Painting is a way of understanding my own existence.

What motivates and drives you as an artist

Above all, I paint because I just have an unsupressable urge to do so. It’s this indescribable desire to create that I simply can’t ignore. That doesn’t mean I don’t need the outside world to motivate and drive me, but I’m sure that I’d still paint if I didn’t have an audience. If the world is coming to an end and I’m the only survivor, I’ll probably eat out of cans, move to an art supplies store, and paint the days away.

But art is more to me than that urge, that desire to create, art has the power to tell a story, move you or provoke or even shock you in a whole new and unexpected way, without using words. I want my paintings to tell their stories in a nonverbal way. Whether the painting has the same meaning to me as to the observer doesn’t matter, because I sincerely believe the experience you have with a painting is personal. What I’m always striving for is that moment when the model in my painting looks the viewer straight in the eye, connects and almost forces the viewer to stand still.

In your current series you hide your muses faces behind their hair, you also paint portraits of women you identify with, what motivates you to do this

It’s mostly about the feeling of being a stranger in a world that was already in existence for billions of years while you weren’t. You’re born and have to cope with it, do as others do, with only one chance to get it right.

We humans tend to think that we are little islands, unique beings. We make ourselves the centre of the universe, which is understandable, since we only have our own pair of eyes, our own vision as a gateway to how we see the world. But in the end, we’re only here for a very short time. Because we are such complex creatures, it’s almost unbelievable that while looking at us from outer space, we are nothings. Invisible even.

And than there’s me, making art. Seems almost silly doesn’t it? It is. And that’s exactly what my work is about. Because it’s pretty big thing to be alive, thinking about that in general is already enough to keep me busy for the rest of my days. By painting only the small parts, a face, hair, eyes, I’m making my world smaller, focussed.

Please tell us about the piece you’re showing with ArtLeadHer as part of the KingWoman show at Pen and Brush

I have the great honor of showing two Storytellers in this show.

Storytellers XV is made in 2016, and this particular painting carries a story that I’d like to share with you. I met the girl in this painting in the restroom of a club. I’d just flushed the toilet and opened the door when I saw her standing in front of the mirror. She had her hair in a knot. It was a lot of hair, an enormous knot. She untied this knot and all that hair fell down and it was like I was staring at a painting already. She looked at me in the mirror with these big brown, slightly sad eyes and said something like “Pff, haven’t done anything to my hair lately, it looks like shit” and then I knew I had to say something so I just asked her to model for me. She said yes immediately. On the day of the photoshoot she told me that the reason her hair was so long was that her mom had passed away a few months before. Her mom was a hairdresser and she used to do her hair. Always. So not cutting her hair was a way of grieving and honoring her mother. You could say that, in a way, this is what all my Storytellers are about. The actual story behind this painting can’t be heard but you might sense some of it by watching it very closely. That’s always my intention.

The other painting is starring Mashonda herself. We met in Amsterdam this July to talk about the KingWoman show. We shared some personal stories and soon it felt inevitable that I would paint her as part of my Storyteller series. She’s vulnerable and incredibly powerful at the same time. She knows what it’s like to want to hide, while at the same time wanting to be seen and listened to, to not be ignored.

Lastly, what does it mean to you to be an ArtLeadHer

I had to think long and hard about how to answer this question since the title ‘ArtLeadHer’ gives reason to believe that it’s about gender, but to me being an ArtLeadHer isn’t about that at all.

Even though the art world is filled to the brim with men, and women are underrepresented in the industry I still believe it shouldn’t be about the sex (or gender) of the artist. Being an ArtLeadHer to me means creating equal opportunities whilst putting the emphasis on the feminine aspect of art. The title ‘King woman’ perfectly exemplifies this by combining two highly masculine and feminine words in a way that they amplify each other. For me being an ArtLeadHer is about just that, taking the most powerful and beautiful aspects of both the masculine and feminine that can be found within all of us, and combining them in a way that they strengthen each other.

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