Interview with Boris Anje for ‘Black Is the Color of Gold’ | Exhibition on view November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace Projects presents Boris Anje’s (aka Anjel) latest body of work and U.S. solo debut, ‘Black is the Color of Gold.’ Featuring an entirely new collection of his vivid neo-pop portraits of contemporary African dandies, this exhibition is wildly engaging.

By placing his subjects against contrasting heavily logoed backgrounds, Anje reveals their sartorial elegance and pride, while drawing attention to the pervasive influence of consumer culture. His work toes the line between societal issues including race, identity, and consumerism. Paying special attention to depicting compelling portraiture from different generations, Anje’s work creates an unspoken dialogue between the subject and viewer.

In anticipation of ‘Black is the Color of Gold’ our interview with Boris Anje explores his creative process and talks about the artistic voices who helped inspire his own development.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you come to be introduced to Thinkspace?

I was born in Bamenda, a city in the North West region of Cameroon. I started art at a very tender age, getting my first art classes from my cousin NJOMKE Samuel. After a professional master’s degree in drawing and painting in 2018, from the institute of fine arts in Foumban I decided to engage full-time in my artistic practice. I live and work in Douala, the economic capital of Cameroon.

I got introduced to Thinkspace through the bias of social media, Instagram.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

The inspiration behind this body of work exhales from my encounter with people. Discussions I had with fellow artists during studio visits, all centered around similar topics I’m working on now like, identity policies, race, the consumerist society and self-esteem.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

The most challenging piece in this series was ‘Black is the Colour of Gold’, it was challenging because it appears to be the most finite representation of the different topics I have developed so far. It has helped me grow because I later realized how essential and subtle a creative process could be.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

My everyday ritual is listening to good music, it feels good to paint and be accompanied with some lyrical sonic poetry. Music that feeds the soul like Jacob Banks, Marvin Gaye, John Legend…..and a prayer of belief.

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?

It’s always a pleasure getting to see my creations. I start work at 9 am to close by 6 pm, all depending on the feeling and energy of the day. I get to structure this so because my workshop is at home and without discipline and consistency nothing big could be accomplished. It starts with a prayer of commitment accompanied with some sweet music, to nourish and feed my soul. Throughout the day is painting, and a break time by 1 pm.

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite moment in the creative process is the making of — that is the process that involves colour mixture, setting values, getting to enjoy the gaze and entering the soul of a subject you haven’t met before.

My least favorite part is the very beginning, the thinking process. Mind mapping always get me tired.

Who has been some of your creative influences? Artistic voices that inspired you to develop your style and technique?

Creatives like Kehinde Wiley, Kerry J Marshall, Tim Okamura, and Amy Sherald have been of great influence to my creative process. The artist statement they attach to their portraiture had me going. Dario Calmese, Wole Soyinka, Michael Feugain and many others are critical thinkers that help me

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?

Managing the human condition as a topic and singing as a skill.

What does the perfect day in the Douala look like? Where would we go and what would we eat?

Beautiful days in Douala are characterized by sunny and hot climate, a visit to the coastal seashores of Youpwe where you are served fresh fish, a plate of eru, or ndole and miyondor a lot of varieties to savour.

Do you have a piece of clothing that has acted like armor in your own life? An outfit that changes your stride?

I have this white shirt, whenever I have it on I feel like I can fly, with a pair of denim jeans it feels good to, casual and simple. Aside from this combination, there is nothing else.

If you could throw a dinner party for five people dead or alive, who would be on the guest list? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

My wife, my mum, my kid brother, my best friend and my grandmother (Dead), we will have as dinner a hot pot of fufu and eru accompanied with freshly tapped palme wine.

‘Black is the Color of Gold’ will be on view from November 13, 2021 – December 4, 2021

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, November 13, 2021
6:00-9:00pm

Interview with Stephanie Buer for ‘Hiraeth’ | Exhibition on view November 13 – December 4 at Thinkspace Projects

Thinkspace is pleased to present Stephanie Buer’s ‘Hiraeth.’

Hiraeth is a Welsh word, meaning to miss/long for a place that you can never visit again. It perfectly captures the emotions felt by Buer for her beloved Packard Plant in Detroit, Michigan. Buer’s urban landscapes explore the many layers of history found in the marginal areas of cities. She is fascinated by how these places change as they succumb to the manipulation of vandals, artists and the resilience of nature ever slowly growing alongside.

In anticipation of ‘Hiraeth,’ our interview with Buer discusses the impact of the Packard Plant on shaping her artistic style, her MFA program and the type of teacher she would like to be, along with the power of women (especially when in avalanche territory).

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

The inspiration for this work came from a box of old photos I found while cleaning out my studio last summer. The photos were about twenty years old, taken during my first years of undergrad at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, and they were of the Packard Plant, all from my first visits to the factory. The inspiration is two parts, first a beautiful bunch of old faded analog photos, and second this beautiful, old automotive factory in Detroit that I fell in love with during my formative years as a young artist and which in turn became the inspiration for my early art-making. It is about exploring the themes of connection to and love of place and also this feeling of nostalgia. Remembering a place, a time and all the feelings and inspirations that came along with it, being young, moving away from home for the first time to Detroit, falling in love with the city, and finding my voice as an artist.

Do you recall the first time you visited the Packard Plant? Who were you with, what did you find, and what were the feelings/emotions it stirred in you?

I absolutely do!! It’s such a wonderful memory. Outside of school a friend and I used to spend a lot of time at the Heidelberg project, we loved exploring that spot and getting to know the artists who worked there. One day, one of the artists was planning to go gather materials for an installation piece he was planning and he was telling us about this old factory where the Salvation Army used to store donated goods and then at some point abandoned the operation. So, there was this rumored space in the basement of the Packard plant where there were supposed to be loads of old, donated goods and he wanted to go there to gather supplies. We joined him in the adventure and that was my first trip to the Packard Plant. We found out that there was indeed a giant room filled with abandoned, donated goods, I remember distinctly a small mountain of old pumps and we all climbed to the top, it was so surreal. There were giant boxes filled with belts, ice skates, winter boots, pants, etc. It was so weird.

We also wandered the whole factory which is about a mile and a half square, so it was enormous. It was so wild and I immediately fell in love and started going back to visit at every opportunity. When I moved to Detroit from my home, it was the first time I had ever lived in a city. I’m a rural gal, my childhood was spent almost entirely out of doors. The city was a bit of a culture shock and I was so homesick for quiet, rural spaces. The minute I entered that old building, it made me feel like I was home, it brought me back to those spaces that I missed. It was so quiet and peaceful, plants and trees were growing wild, I remember in the spring you could even hear the winter ice melting, dripping from the floors above. So much of it, oddly enough, reminded me of home. Those were the feelings and emotions that it first brought up in me.

When exploring buildings or finding source material, do you need to connect with a space or focus more on its visual textures/composition?

Both of those aspects are important in my practice. I absolutely need to connect with a space, to spend time with it, to walk and explore it. I think the second aspect, takes place more often in the studio, but I do spend time in real life exploring visual textures and compositions, especially in framing the photos that I take but then through those photos, in the studio is when those aspects become imperative.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

Because I was trying to mimic the look and feel of old, analog photographs, I found the color palette to be new and challenging. The most pronounced difference was in the pieces Sunset and Sunset II, I loved the color palette so much, it was very nostalgic but very different than my usual colors which lean heavily into a blue/purplish range, these had so much green and yellow. I like how they came out though. I think that any chance you get to venture outside of your normal mode of working, helps you to grow as an artist, it adds a broader range of knowledge to your ever-growing toolbox of skill sets.

Can you share with us a piece of artwork or an artist who has had a significant impact on you?

The 20th-century American painter, Andrew Wyeth has definitely had a significant impact on my work. Especially his watercolor landscapes of winter scenes of the countryside in Pennsylvania where he lived. I am so madly in love with his monochromatic palette, his minimal compositions, and his dedication to representing the banal in such a classical and melancholic style. They’re just so beautiful.

You love to backpack and go mountaineering when not in the studio. Can you share with us your pack must-haves and one of your favorite trails you’ve hiked or places you’ve climbed?

I do love backpacking and mountaineering! What a fun but challenging question! Let’s see, my backpacking pack is entirely different than my mountaineering pack. When I’m mountaineering my pack is so full of essential gear for whatever climb I’m doing, whether it’s alpine ice, alpine rock or glacier travel, that and I have to go as light as possible so I can be quick, so I love to splurge on pack weight when I’m not mountaineering. I love to bring fun food items when I’m just backpacking, like a fancy mountain charcuterie, some wine or fresh veggies, something surprisingly luxurious for a remote mountain camp. It’s always such a joy to share with your friends and such a treat for yourself too. Food tastes like a million times better in the mountains after a long day of hiking.

I have way too many favorite places to pick just one!! If I’m just rock climbing, it would have to be Smith Rock State Park in Oregon, it’s like a home away from home for me, filled with a lifetime of happy memories. For alpine climbing and hiking, definitely Northwestern Washington, The North Cascades National Park, The Enchantments, The Monte Cristo Range there are so many amazing places to hike, camp, backpack and alpine climb in Washington State. To narrow it down though if folks are looking to visit, I recommend a hike to Lake Anne on Mount Shuksan, its beyond stunning. I’ve climbed that mountain so many times and it never ever gets old. Very close by too, is a hike to the base of Mount Baker starting at the Heliotrope Ridge Trailhead, it takes you, in very short order, right to the terminus of the Colmen Demming Glacier and I think getting up close and personal with an alpine glacier is something everyone should do in their lifetime if they are able. They are sadly, melting so fast and are one of the most beautiful and life-changing things I have ever experienced. You can even camp up high, next to the glacier, and fall asleep on the mountain, listening to the glacier move and calf. Really words cannot express how amazing it is, and its actually very accessible.

Do you have any rituals for tapping into a creative flow?

Since so much of my work is inspired by place, I find going for walks or bike rides to be great for getting inspired. Wandering around, mind empty, just taking it all in, looking for interesting moments, textures, and scenes, this really gets me excited to make new work.

We’re very excited for you and your pursuit of an MFA; we imagine that studying on top of your studio work is a lot to juggle. What are some of your strategies for balancing both responsibilities?

It is a lot to juggle for sure but I think working full time as an artist really prepares you for heavy workloads like this. I do have a few strategies; the most important I think is to stay incredibly organized and on top of things. That sounds so lame but for me, it really helps. I make so many lists and have multiple calendars with deadlines and goals, going at once. The unhealthier strategy is that I just work too much, a 12-14 hour day is not out of the ordinary, which is not cool I know, but I think there are busy seasons and slow seasons in life and I’m just in a busy one. In order to balance that though, I think it’s important to take long breaks and schedule one in advance so you can look forward to it. Right now, I’m working towards a break at Christmas time which will be amazing! The other is to carve out time every day for something you enjoy that helps you care for yourself. For me it’s time on my bike during my commute, going bouldering at the gym, doing yoga, or making good healthy food for myself. Whatever makes you feel grounded, and cared for, do something every day to keep yourself healthy and happy.

The MFA will help you be able to have the opportunity to teach. What are some of the characteristics or techniques you’d like to adopt from the teachers who have helped guide you? What are some things that you’d want to do differently than some of the teachers you had?

I was actually awarded a graduate teaching fellowship this year which is pretty cool, they give two students out of every cohort the opportunity to teach a class during their time as a graduate student, so I’ll get to try out some of these techniques sooner than later. Next semester here at Emily Carr, I will be teaching an introduction to drawing course! I’m so incredibly nervous but also excited. In my experience, I have noticed that teachers have this habit of projecting their own art careers, their biases, and ideas of what the art world is onto their students. I’ve had both really amazing teachers who didn’t do this and really awful learning experiences where teachers did project and it’s stifling. I’ve had teachers who believed in what I was doing and supported me, gave me space to be myself which was a game changer, and, on the flip side, teachers who thought that what I was doing had no place in the “art world” that it was too boring, too safe, too commercial, too childlike, too anything, you name it, I’ve heard it. I would love to be the type of teacher who could be more inclusive in showing that there is a place for all types of artmaking, that “making it” in the art world can look like many, many different things.

Most of my teaching experience up until now has been in the mountains, which is a heavily male-dominated space. I’ve really enjoyed watching other women teach, and lead in the mountains. They have a way of creating such a supportive, inclusive environment, one where you feel safe in expressing your feelings, whether it’s a hesitation or an excitement over something you’ve accomplished. These expressions are often stifled in male-dominated climbing spaces, but climbing in all-women spaces is like a festival of feelings and encouragement and I’m here for it! There’s a statistic we all learn about in backcountry travel that I will try and summarize, regarding avalanche safety, which says that there’s this incredibly dangerous age range among men in the mountains, roughly like 24-34 years of age, I’m just guessing here but it’s around there. Anyways, if you add a female to that team the likelihood of the group avoiding an accident goes up like 50% or something ridiculous like that. Women are amazing, they communicate better, they’re more supportive, they listen, they delegate more, and express hesitation because they don’t let their egos get in the way. I think women are incredible leaders and teachers and I plan to bring this energy to the classes I teach. To create a safe, brave space for expression, for trying new things, and for learning, connecting, and sharing. I can’t wait!!

What is one of the most memorable meals of your life thus far? It could be the food or the company that made it have a lasting impression.

A couple of years ago, I went to Japan for the first time to visit my friend Kozy Kitchens and her husband Dan. They were moving back to Japan and had bought an old farmhouse to renovate and turn into their home and an artist residency someday. While we were there, she took us to visit some friends who had a similar old farmhouse in the mountains that they had turned into a bed and breakfast style place to stay the night. We had this most amazing dinner cooked in an Irori, and we all sat on the floor around it and roasted wild game from the surrounding countryside and ate wild, foraged foods from the forests, there were some other friends visiting as well, from all over and it was just magical. The company and conversation were amazing, the food was amazing, and all in this ancient farmhouse in the mountains of rural Japan. What a great experience, I will never forget it! I really hope to visit again someday when travel becomes possible and the grad school craziness is over.

‘Hiraeth’ will be on view from November 13, 2021 – December 4, 2021

Opening Reception with the Artist(s):
Saturday, November 13, 2021
6:00-9:00pm

Interview with Jimbo Lateef for ‘Shades of Feelings’

Thinkspace Projects is excited to present Jimbo Lateef’s ‘Shades of Feelings.’

Lateef explore using modern calligraphy also known as contemporary calligraphy to represent his subject as an identity and style in art ranges from functional inscriptions and designs to fine-art pieces where the letters may or may not be readable, in my own aspect is not readable, it just a design that represents the forms of the subject.

In anticipation of ‘Shades of Feelings’ our interview with Jimbo Lateef explores his desire to create, how he developed his artistic style, and what other skills he’d like to explore.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background? How did you come to be introduced to Thinkspace?

My Name is Jimbo Lateef, am from Nigeria, Lagos b.(1999)

I studied Art at Yaba College of Technology

I was introduced to Thinkspace art by an art Collector 

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

My new body of works is the theme “Shades of Feelings,” I was inspired by different varieties of people’s emotions around my society. The people I see and meet every day and their various thoughts, feelings, behavioral responses.

Can you share with us one of your most colorful and impactful memories?

My most colorful moment was when I got admitted to study creative arts. After trying for 2 years, I had an art teacher in secondary schools that encouraged me enough to go further and study more about art. That has actually had a great impact on my life 

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

All the pieces were challenging. I learn from one piece to create another one, the process actually helps me focus on developing and strengthening my skills — explore more of my creativity 

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days? 

Making art is the most important thing that artists do. I will always create when am in the studio, I work every day and probably rest when I need to make some research and immerse myself in culture.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow? 

No, I don’t have any rituals that help me tap into a creative flow. I make research. 

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process? 

The most favorite part of my creative process is using my lines to create forms, light and shade.

Your use of calligraphy style strokes is really dynamic, when did you first start experimenting with this style and how long did it take you to really perfect the look and feel? 

I started experimenting with calligraphy lines when I first came across “GOTHIC” font in a design. That has been my favorite font. I use the font to write each time I’m given assignments to work on in school. I’ve really perfected the look and feel that it doesn’t take a lot of time anymore. It’s now part of me, have mastered it over years.

Who are some of your creative influences?

Every good artist I have met is part of my creative influence.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be able to do/ be an expert at?

I will love to have good skills in sculpting to explore more with my lines 

If you could throw a dinner party for five people dead or alive, who would be on the guest list? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

I will love to have a dinner party with a great contemporary artist and creative mind, and the question will be “What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?”

Interview with Olga Esther for ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates and Other Stories’

Thinkspace Projects is excited to present Olga Esther’s U.S. west coast solo debut ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates, and Other Stories.’

Esther broaches the subjects of gender and feminism using the symbolism of princess tales. Specifically examining gender mandates, Esther investigates how the construction of our identity as women is based on the fulfillment of expected roles and further explores the women who disobey and stray from these societal expectations despite society’s pressure. She turns a critical eye to the myth of Prince Charming and romantic love, exposing patriarchal motivation within classic tales.

In anticipation of ‘Princesses, Gender Mandates, and Other Stories’ our interview with Olga discusses the science fiction world she would inhabit, the structure of her days in the studio, and the techniques she explored with this latest body of work.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I have been painting for as long as I can remember. I was a very shy child and had difficulty relating to other people — I was very responsible, studious, perfectionist and sensitive. I was an only child and lived with my parents in an isolated house in the countryside. So I took refuge in reading, painting and caring for animals. Although I was a happy child, I also felt lonely many times, alone and different.

Feminism came into my life with force, with the liberating force of awareness. And after an experience where I suffered gender violence, my painting began to speak for me.

When I paint I express what moves me, of what I am, and I think there is a lot of that little girl who felt alone and strange within the work. My paintings reflect on all the nobodies in this world, the forgotten, the weird, the vulnerable, the crazy, the ugly, all those who feel that besides having no one, are no one.

I paint princesses who do not want to be princesses. I use the narrative and the symbolism of fairy tales and princesses to make a critique on patriarchal society.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

My paintings talk about feminism. With this exhibition I wanted to talk about gender mandates, how the construction of our identity as women is based on the fulfillment of certain mandates or roles, and how, despite all the pressures, some of us sometimes disobey. Like Tara, who against all recommendations, vowed to adopt only female reincarnations on her path to awakening.

Unconditional surrender, waiting for Prince Charming or the criticism of the myth of romantic love are some of the themes that appear in the paintings. The patriarchy finds in the myth of romantic love the perverse key that exposes the heart of women as an offering of unconditional surrender and sacrifice.

“Never safe” one of my favorite works of this show speaks of the double discrimination suffered by black women due to male chauvinist and racist violence.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you grow as an artist?

In general, this last exhibition has been a challenge for me, I wanted to investigate the pictorial process of working with grisaille and glazes, which is something I had not done before. And it has been enriching for me, despite the slowness of the process, the doubts and the dramas (I admit, I am a great “drama queen”), there has been magic, and that already compensates everything.

However, I wouldn’t know how to choose the most challenging piece, I guess all of them. When I start a painting I feel as if it were the first and, at the same time, the last. And that always happens to me, with each one of them. It is a feeling of nudity at the beginning and of totality at the end.

Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

The only ritual I have is to love what I am doing. I don’t know if it sounds corny and maybe it is, but for me painting is an act of love.  I am not able to paint under stress, or in a hurry, or forced. I cannot paint if I am not one with my painting. And for that I need to fall in love and feel that there is truth in what I do.

What does a day in the studio look like for you? How do you structure your days?

My day starts with a little meditation at dawn. And after that moment of connection with myself and silence, my coconut milk with cocoa in my Frida Kahlo mug is sacred.

Then I enter the studio, and from here, the planning is over. Once I start painting, I don’t know when I will finish. I might work for four hours or ten. Sometimes I stop to eat, and sometimes it gets dark in the studio. I only know that I am diurnal, my cycle is solar, and once it is gone, I start to say goodbye until the next day. There is no difference for me between Saturdays, Mondays, or Thursdays. I paint between eight and twelve hours a day. Even though I try to structure my weeks, days and hours, my nature is chaotic and time and time again, my nature overrides any plan.

What is your most favorite and least favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is always the beginning and the end. The beginnings are exciting. A door opens to something new, it is the birth of something unknown. After that first step, the path is a mixture of doubts, certainties, fears, discoveries, sufferings… and when that process comes to a close, peace arrives. The end of a painting is a moment of absolute pleasure, of enjoying the small details, of pampering that being that before was not and now is. Sometimes I compare it to childbirth and I suppose that in a way it is like that.

Do you have a story for your compositions before touching the canvas?  Or does the narrative behind the pieces emerge throughout the creative process?

There is always a story before, always. The process before starting to paint that canvas is almost as long as the moment of painting it.

Once the story is in my head, I start a research work, looking for resources, making sketches…

Although it is also true that once you start a painting, it is as if it takes on a life of its own and will demand changes that you did not foresee. I feel that a dialectic relationship is established between the work and oneself, a dialogue that changes both of us in the process.

If you could live in any book or movie for a day, which would it be, and what would you want to observe/experience?

It would be Dune without a doubt. Dune was the first adult book I read. I was 16 years old and I fell deeply in love with it. I would like to live one day with the Fremen of Dune, ride a worm and fight against those who oppress them.

I admire people who fight to build a fairer and better world for all. In Spain we suffered a civil war in which fascism came to power and stayed in power for forty years in a terrible dictatorship. Many people risked their lives for freedom and democracy. My parents were among those people. My mother was arrested when she was pregnant with me. I remember that when I was a little girl, instead of children’s songs, she sang revolutionary hymns.

I know that we do not live in a just world: poverty, inequality, wars, racism, sexism… Economic interests take precedence over the life and dignity of people, of nature and of all its inhabitants, and yes, there are children who continue to die of hunger. And although each and every one of these injustices fills me with sadness and sense of helplessness; I also know that there are many beautiful and generous people who do not close their eyes. People who do not look the other way. Those who stand by the dispossessed of this Earth helping, building, contributing with big or small gestures.

If you could have any skill or topic downloaded into your brain, what would you want to be an expert at/ able to do?

mmm…I would love to be an expert in quantum physics. I find it an exciting subject that the more I read about, the less I feel I understand.

If you could throw a dinner party for five people, dead or alive, who would be on the guest list? What would be on the menu? What would be the ice breaker question?

Ohhhh, I love this question!!! There are so many but since I can only choose five I would choose Frida Kahlo, Hildegard of Bingen, Camille Claudel, Alice Walker and Abuela Margarita. It would be an absolutely amazing dinner.

As a menu it would be nice if each of them brought a dish from their culture, or one that they identify with.

To break the ice, the first thing would be to make a toast to them and thank them for all that they have bequeathed to the world.

On view: October 16, 2021 – November 6, 2021

Opening Reception:
Saturday, October 16, 6-10 pm

Due to State-mandated guidelines, masks are required at all times while visiting our gallery. Thank you.

Interview with Roos van der Vliet for ‘Mirrors of Your Soul’

Thinkspace Projects is excited to present Roos van der Vliet’s latest solo show, ‘Mirrors of Your Soul.’ Featuring an entirely new collection of the hyper realistic depictions of hair she is known for, there is a piercing energy at the heart of each piece.

The body of work is the result of the recent pandemic, a return to portraits at a time of extreme isolation. Van der Vliet begins each painting with the eyes, bringing the subject to life from that first moment, a magnetic vitality that is immediately evident to viewers. While the concepts of this solo exhibition are familiar for the artist–hair, piercing eyes, golden hour light–the intention behind the works has changed. Rather than focusing on differences, ‘Mirrors of Your Soul’ highlights the similarities between us, emphasizing that we are all more alike than we often care to admit.

In anticipation of ‘Mirrors of Your Soul’ our interview with Roos van der Vliet discusses her journey back to drawing, a deeper look into her creative process, and her dreamy garden with full of fruits and vegetables.  

For those who are unfamiliar with your work, can you share a little about your background and how you came to know about Thinkspace?

Of course. I’m from the Netherlands, was born in Dordrecht, famous for the light that inspired many artists like William Turner.

My art career has been a bumpy road. I’ve been drawing all my life and becoming an artist seemed like the only option for me ever since I learned the word. After being rejected to art school for illustration at 17yrs old, I was heartbroken. I decided to do a gap year and work on my portfolio. When I discovered that illustrating would maybe not be enough, that I needed more freedom as a future artist, I applied for fine art the next year and got in. I started painting and stuck with it. I became pregnant at age 20 and gave birth in 2006 to a boy while attending art school, so I’m a mom too. I painted with my son in my lap, dragging him to art school where he was cuddled and admired by the students and teachers. I graduated about 10 years ago and have been painting ever since. It’s been a bumpy road, but I’m super grateful to where it led me.

 I’ve known Thinkspace for a long time. It all started when I did a show in the Netherlands next to a work by Kyung Yup Kwon, who then had a solo at Thinkspace coming up. I admired her work so much and showing at this gallery seemed like miles away for me at the time. I had no idea things would go this fast! I still have to pinch myself sometimes.

I moved to my forever home last year with my love, my son and my cats. It’s a small old farm with a huge garden with an orchard and a big vegetable garden. When I was a kid I fantasized about being a witch (I actually told myself that I had been one in a previous life, burned on the pyre of course). Not a witch from old fairytales, but a wise woman, grey-haired, growing medicinal plants, herbs, and mushrooms, knowing exactly what to use for what illness. I’m now given the chance to become that, to learn with my hands in the soil. I really hope I can live here for a very long time. The lady that owned the house before me was born here and lived here for 90 years…

I’m currently building my studio out of straw and clay in the garden, it’s quite a project and I hope to finish it next summer.

What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work? And were there any specific themes or techniques you were exploring?

My inspiration basically came from the pandemic, and the strong urge to feel a connection with the paintings I was working on. I painted portraits before of course, but this time it felt like I NEEDED them. They became like imaginary friends to me in a time that I hardly saw anyone. I was having whole conversations with them while painting. This must sound like melodrama but that’s what isolation made me realize, that I might think of myself as being an introvert but that I’m actually not the hermit I always considered myself to be. What a relief!

Regarding themes and techniques, a while back I became interested in the divine feminine, deities from all over the world. I listened to a lot of podcasts and read books about this theme and became fascinated by the symbolism behind every deity, the part she represents that’s within us all, not just in women. The paintings all represent a different deity that I felt particularly inspired by during the time I made the painting. The technique has always been to paint as realistically as I can. In a way, this is how I try to understand life, by observing it from up close.

What is your most favorite part of the creative process?  Least favorite part of the creative process?

My favorite part is the part where the canvas is blank when I only made a sketch, and the final result is still a promise, a fantasy. When I don’t actually know if the painting is going to be good, but I can feel it in my gut that it will. I love it when I know that this process needs time and all I can do is create, there’s no need for impatience, the painting takes the time it needs.

The part that I least enjoy is the part where I have to finish it, accept it the way it is because it’s never truly ‘done’. I could go on forever. And, maybe this sounds strange, I don’t like the part of showing it for the first time, which is on social media most of the time. It’s not that I’m afraid of negative feedback or whatsoever, I’m okay with that, it’s more like I just gave birth and have to leave my baby to strangers. But the funny thing is, as soon as I start working on a new piece, I don’t feel that anymore with the previous painting. It’s like I keep replacing babies, only loving the newborn. Wow, this sounds so bad, hahaha.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition, and why?

That must be Medusa, and I think it shows why. All the different shades of black in the background, the lack of light in the braids, the piercing eyes that I wanted to be looking right through you… All of this made it the most difficult piece I created in a long time. It was one of the first I started working on for the show, and the last one I finished. It’s one of my favorites from the series though, maybe because of all the energy that went into it and how rewarding it felt when I finally stood back and saw that I accomplished what I was going for. There’s no need to put up a mask for Medusa, she looks right at you and knows your true you. I don’t feel judged by her though, she doesn’t scare me. That’s the sad part about the myth, she wasn’t always like this, she is actually a sad brokenhearted lady, a beautiful and sweet one, trapped in her own myth. So, the painting is not meant to be scary, it’s meant to bewitch you in a way, makes you feel seen on a deeper level than a fellow human could.

How do you go about sourcing models for your works? Do you know the look you’re searching for ahead of time, or do the models inspire the pieces?

I pick my models intuitively, sometimes because I have a particular idea that fits the model but in most cases, the models inspire the work. I don’t know exactly what makes me gravitate towards a certain person. Some women I work with are friends already (like the girl with the bug on her forehead) or a model might be my sister (like the model in the purple painting ‘Eyesis’), sometimes I meet them during a night out, or even on the streets. And sometimes I paint myself (like the painting ‘Ave’ which is a self-portrait). Or, what happened in this series, I saw the LA artist Rachel Silva on Instagram posting a picture of herself and I knew she’d be perfect for a painting I had in mind.

Does your work encompass a lot of symbolism? What is the insect that sometimes appears on a person’s forehead? Does the free-flowing hair mean something different than the braids?

The firebug on the forehead is a wink to the Indian heritage of the model, meant to look like a living bhindi, the dot that women in India wear on their foreheads. I chose a firebug because it looks like a third eye in the form of a living being, the shadow it leaves on her forehead is the dot that symbolizes the center of the universe, like the center of a mandala.

Whether I chose braids or free-flowing hair depends on whether I want the viewer’s full attention, or give more space for a dreamier atmosphere. The purple painting for example was an attempt to create a purple world of luscious hair in which you almost have to dig in to get to see the girl underneath, like she’s hiding yet still a little visible, in her safe space. The free-flowing hair allows me to improvise more. I’m not looking at a picture when I paint hair like this, it just develops on its own. This gives me more freedom and painting like this is like meditating.

Can you tell us what is planted in your garden, and what is one of your favorite things to make from its bounty?

My favorite subject! I only live at this place for less than a year so everything I planted I’m seeing growth for the first time. The previous house owners left us with a garden full of vegetables.  In April rhubarb was the first thing to be picked from the garden. It’s not my favorite vegetable but it’s great when processed in chutneys and jams. Around May/June we could literally pick kilos of strawberry every day. This was the best surprise of the year. I made dozens of pots of jam which I shared with all my family and friends. I discovered a new berry that was already in the garden, the tayberry, a cross-breeding between a blackberry and a raspberry. Super delicious! We own a little greenhouse that produces too many tomatoes to be eaten (is that even possible?) and I’m looking forward to the fall when we can harvest some big pumpkins that we planted a few months ago.

Right now, the trees in the orchard are heavy with pears and apples, and I’ve already baked a few typically Dutch apple pies that are delicious and that make the house smell so wonderful. Cooking, in general, makes me incredibly happy, but baking cakes and pies have been lifesavers. Whenever I feel depressed, I just start baking something. Success guaranteed.

The drawing you created for our friends at SpokeArt for their Moleskin show was your first true drawing in 15 years – have you continued to draw since rediscovering that part of your artistic voice? Did you consciously know that the rejection you had experienced from applying to illustration school was the reason for walking away from drawing?

Yeah, that was quite an important moment in my career, picking up the pencils again. I had no idea that I quit drawing because of that rejection. That’s something I remembered as soon as I started working on this piece for Spoke. I even said in interviews before that I never draw because I’m terrible at it, and believed it to be true. I started drawing again because I sometimes miss the spontaneity and easiness of drawing. Making a painting requires so much. A lot of time, the perfect lighting, all the art supplies, a great idea… I thought that it would be good to learn something ‘new’. So, I bought pencils and started. I literally burst into tears after half an hour of drawing, because I saw myself doing something that felt so natural because it once was! Then the memories came back to being rejected, how that felt, and how I just gave up drawing and switched to painting and that was that.

Over the past few months, all my time has gone into painting for my show. But I’ll be giving myself some time off from painting, and I’m definitely planning on making some drawings in the garden under the sun.

What is a piece of advice you would give someone currently experiencing the sting of rejection?

There are two different worlds you have to deal with as an artist, the inner and the outer world. The inner world is where creativity comes from, where you can find the innate need to create, but also the joy, the self-criticism, the discipline, the courage to walk your path. This inner world is an endless ocean of inspiration that’s just there, ready for you to dive into. The outer world is the public, the galleries, art school, but also your parents and friends, basically everyone with or without an opinion, social media, and so on. You need the outer world to be able to make a living and not only that, a lot of interesting, fun, and inspiring stuff happens in the outer world that can definitely help you forward in your career. But be aware that the outer world and the inner world don’t get mixed up. When you’re being rejected, that doesn’t have to change anything in this vast ocean of creativity. That’s yours and it’s beautiful and eternal. It’s always been there. That’s something I didn’t know when I was 17.

What are the musical artists or songs that you’ve had on repeat lately?

Oh, this is such a hard one for me because there’s so much I listen to, and in a way it feels very personal to share. I’m addicted to Spotify, have many different playlists I made over the years that keep growing and growing. Music is there wherever I go and it highly influences my work. Depending on my mood I switch between many different genres. But while making the paintings for this show I had Nils Frahm – Fundamental Values on repeat, Kevin Wrenn – Unwoven, and Rey&Kjavik’s remix of Earth by Mogli. I listened to Wardruna, Dead can dance, everything by Tool but especially Pneuma, from their latest album. This song resonates with me so much. And all of that was mixed with some psytrance, Indian mantras, African beats and singer-songwriter. So don’t try to put me in a box!

You’re throwing a dinner party!  Who would be on the guest list (it can be anyone, dead or alive)? What’s on the menu? And what is your icebreaker question?

I’d love to invite mother Mary, William Blake, James Maynard Keenan, Ram Dass, Vija Celmins, Plato and the goddess Kali to the table. My icebreaker question would be ‘Plato, would you please tell that story about the cave?’ And that would be the start of an evening full of enlightenment.

ROOS VAN DER VLIET
Mirrors of Your Soul

Opening Reception:
Saturday, September 18 from 6PM- 10PM

Masks and Social Distancing Required