Biography: a time travel
I was born in Zwolle as Suzanna Maria Dikkers. That day the apple tree stood in full bloom suddenly. The view from our house was on the Willemsvaart, a canal. People passed by on Friday market day, and on Sunday in the Sunday-best. On the water wooden freight sailboats sailed down the canal with a dark brown sail carrying freight for the building contractor opposite or somewhere further away. This frequent passing movement lingered in my mind.
STIEN EELSINGH brought out the artist in me as an adolescent. Instead of the suffocating little box with colourpencils she put a sturdy piece of charcoal and broad paintbrushes in my hand, and as live models she produced street kids from the neighbourhood. She stimulated my courage and self-confidence. Sent my work to an international travelling exhibition.
Wessel Couzijn: "Hé Steward, this woman is good!"
The rigid atmosphere at the Rijks academy in those days scared me off, so after high school I chose to start the study of Art History at the university of Amsterdam. A few years later I changed my mind preferring to make art myself after all. The academy class meant as a preparation for the Rijksacademy itself taught me the basics of art.
On that foundation the way was free for ATELIERS ’63 in HAARLEM, recently founded by Wessel Couzijn and Ger Lataster and other prominent artists, as an answer to the suffocating atmosphere of the Rijks academy using the Art Students’ League in New York as a blueprint. Young artists were given the chance to find their own way and to develop and realise their ideas independently, while the artist-teachers came once a week to look and give their reactions and advise. Fellow students in the other studios formed another source of support. It is hardly conceivable these days how much the Ateliers meant a breakthrough for art teaching in Holland.
FLAGS FOR NEW NATIONS
In 1966 I received a grant for the Art Students’ League in the class of LARRY POONS in New York. Instead of abstract expressionism in impasto oil paint I came across Colour field painting in large areas of colour in acrylic paint on unprimed canvas.
The painting surface was velvet soft and transparent and often evoked a certain stillness (and spirituality). Great models were Barnett Newman, Helen Frankenthaler, Frank Stella, Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. The incredible colour combinations and the knowledge of the interaction of tints and shades I saw in the work of my fellow students too apparently came from Josef Albers (Bauhaus). Their abstract colour bands became ‘flags of new nations’ in my interpretation, like my undulating Sad Flag in indigo blue and purple, and also my wavy curtains in silkscreen print referring to relationships (among people) or just a washing line were less abstract to me.
After New York I participated in a sculpture class at the campus of Berkeley (Cal.) winter ’67, in a lively flower power atmosphere and then I returned to Holland. Suddenly I belonged to the avant garde and my work was shown as one of the official exhibitors from Holland at the 2e Biennale Internationale de l’estampe in Paris (1970) and with ‘Dutch Graphics’ in the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard university, Cambridge(Mass) (1970). The exhibition was intended to give an impression of contemporary Dutch Graphics. In addition to acrylic painting I had taught myself silkscreen printing, because the even smooth surface of matte printing ink and the sharp contours fitted so well as an alternative for the colourfield paintings.
In the late seventies and early eighties my artwork often reflected my inner world. It was more figurative and sometimes emotionally coloured. The subject could vary from grief, farewell to my father who died, a memory of my youth translated in a new form, or a strange fantasy. They were quick pastel drawings or water colour sketches and opaque acrylic painting.
In order to make this liberating experience available for children with emotional problems I started to work part time with children individually on a Medical Pedagogic Bureau. This choice lessened the pressure to achieve and gave me more financial scope. The study in psychology seemed useful and after finishing my studies I became a parttime family artpsychotherapist at an institution for child mental health from 1981 to 1998. Ultimately it culminated in a book, written in Dutch together with my colleague Wim Klijn titled: Where words fail, Practice and theory in family art therapy, Publ. Acco, Leuven 2006.
DOGS FLYING THROUGH SPACE
After the intense feelings a stillness grew from practicing Zen Buddhism since the late eighties. In this period dogs appear on the canvas floating in a carefree way above a wide landscape. There are night dogs and day dogs in unusual colour combinations. A feeling of lightness, of being part of the world and at the same time breaking free took shape almost accidentally in this way. In a certain sense the works are a continuation of the movement of the waving flags and curtains from the earlier years. The technique too is mostly transparent acrylic on unprimed canvas in large sizes again.
TOUCHED BY THE LIGHT
Around the year 2000 there was a short period of my being touched by (the) light. It carries the emotional aspect of being lit , touched by the light, but at the same time it was visually very interesting to see how an object changes colour: what is its true colour really? The way it appears in the sunlight or in the shade? There can be an enormous discrepancy. So sunlight produces a wealth of colours. As a shape shadows are interesting too. Sometimes they are vague, and seem to run, sometimes they are crystal clear.
Just as I planned to be a fulltime painter from then on the above mentioned book (Acco 2006) interfered. It took a lot of time and creativity.
Searching for a continuation of my path in life I happened upon small resilient fruit trees during a journey in the Alpujarras in Spain under the Sierra Nevada, and later still oak wood and other trees in the dunes of Holland. They entered my work in a short series mostly done in sumi-e, a Japanese method of painting in ink. 2007/8.
STRANGE ENCOUNTERS IN AN OTHER WORLD
Since 2000 modern Shamanism crossed my path. This ancient spirituality goes back to a religious vision of experiencing everything as having a soul and being connected (like one found with the Celts and the native Americans). For healing and wisdom the powers of nature are invoked. Basking in the monotonous earthy sound of the drum one enters a light trance. Images of great intensity appear before my minds’ eye, that are very inspiring to put into a painting too.
I saw for instance a yellow butterfly one yard high in a landscape of dunes, while I was making a trance-journey about the element air. Or I saw how a youthful soulpart that had been lost through trauma, returned to the original owner helped by an animal.
Quick watercolour sketches were appropriate for transmitting this intensity, but also more complex acrylic paintings were devoted to these subjects.