We are not going to make a pretty painting here!
Mieke van der Weij
Visiting Ineke van Koningsbruggen’s studio
I would not want to miss the large canvas by Ineke van Koningsbruggen, hanging in my house. For some time it stood in the basement because of renovations. I was happy when it was back in its familiar place. I also cherish her smaller work on paper. It hangs in the bedroom. When I wake up, it is there.
The first time that I saw her work, was at our mutual friend Janine Smits. I was immediately impressed, because, as Janine says: ‘her work radiates an enormous strength, space and freedom, with many layers, not just of the earth but especially of life.’ I cannot come up with words like that, but those layers, also on the canvas, I can see. I literally see them when the light falls on the painting in a special way. You can see that her works require a long process. But what does that process look like? To find out, you have to visit the head, and the soul of the artist. It’s not easy to go there. However, I can visit her studio.
A visit to an studio has an intimate quality about it. Still, I am welcome to try and catch something of that process. She speaks of it in an enthusiastic and fiery manner. Even though in the midst of all that fire she can suddenly belt out: ‘Words limit it!’
‘She takes an entire landscape into her studio’
Her studio lies hidden in the green, in the enormous garden of the modern-classic villa in Vught, where she lives with George, since the children moved out. It is surprisingly large, with many different rooms. Still it is a whole.
In the studio, a tangle of papers, newspapers, pictures, negatives, cans with erasers, glue, and business cards is on the table. And there is a silver platter with cream puffs, to have with our coffee. On the floor, boxes with slides, a plastic bag... I hear music, (classic) radio 4. It is cold... Ineke does not think so.
It is immediately clear who the director is. Ineke has been preparing herself. A book with pictures of her work comes on the table, and she immediately starts talking about artists who have inspired her.
‘I wrote for a day...’
‘Giotto, of course, I did my thesis on him, El Greco and Velazquez! With him, when you look at part of a gown... that is almost an abstract painting! Frans Hals with his coarse strokes, that is almost twentieth century use of paint!’, and then, with the self-deprecation that is so typical of her: ‘...here I am, again the teacher that would write out all her lessons completely.’ You can never erase that many years in art education.
Soon enough it is about the aspects that played a role in the transition of figurative to abstract in the course of art history, a transition also present in her work. And then it becomes clear how good of a teacher she must have been. She is immediately able to interpret that wondrous transition.
‘When there were no more clients for portraits, because photography took over, the art of painting lost its function. The paintings had to be sold in another way, and the gallery arose...’, and then, suddenly, in the middle of her ‘class’: ‘but in fact, I don’t think qualifications like abstract or figurative are important.’ Typically Ineke, a transition like that.
I’m still drooling at plowed fields
Remember: Ineke van Koningsbruggen always departes from the landscape. That passion for the spaciousness of it started with objects in that landscape.
‘Clods of soil, I would draw... I’m still drooling at plowed fields. Why is this not my subject?’, and she takes the silver platter that holds one last cream puff, in an immaculate linen napkin, a whole that forms a peculiar contrast with the colorful and lumpy surroundings.
‘She takes an entire landscape into her studio’, I read in the meantime in an old catalogue about her work, lying around on the table. That is nicely put. But how do you do that?
I am a person that clings to rituals
It starts with drawing ‘in the field’.
In a separate corner of the studio lie her stuff for the yearly two weeks in Spain, where she has been traveling to for a long time with the same group of painters. you see pictures of earlier trips, it looks like fun.
What does she take along?
An old wine box full of used crayons, a plastic bin with bottles of paint, a dingy foldable mattress for lying in the sun, since recently a folding chair and a jerry can that has had its day. An almost perished folding table. Everything is old and dirty, or well used you could say.
‘I am a person that clings to rituals ’, she says. That is quite clear!
There are also panels, on which she attaches the paper with clamps, otherwise the wind will blow them away.
‘I lay them out around me, on the ground, which gives me a good distance to look at them, until the drawing can go in the folder.’
‘It is nice, those things’, she says with enjoyment, obviously looking forward to the imminent departure.
‘I forgot the paint once. Panic! With a cigarette I calmed myself down and then in the end I worked only with crayons. The materials are important, but ultimately that is not what it’s about.’
Talking for hours about brushes
After the trip, that could also go to Bourgogne, the drawings are pulled out at her studio. An exciting moment. Are they really good?
And then, in the lighter, higher part of the studio, where her paintings actually are produced, I see how important materials are for her.
‘It seems like chaos’, I say
‘It is’, she says cheerfully, calmly adding: ‘but I need that.’
The table is full of stubs of charcoal, trays with oil, paper, on the wall pictures of sketches, a color sample card,of oil paints etc.
An exposé follows, on Scheveningen purple brown, the prices of paint (which have to do with pigments, never trust brands that have equally priced colors!), the weight of some of the tubes (pigments make the paint heavy, for example blue paint is heavy) and the different brands, Le Franc, Talens, Goya. ‘They have a beautiful red. They all have their strong colors, Raw Umber from Rembrandt is very good, but from another brand it is not. Schmincke has very mean colors. Yes, that is also out there: the department of mean colors.’
She opens a tube, smells it. ‘Fantastic, very good! I could talk about this for days!’
I believe her immediately.
‘Yes, I am a material fanatic. I drool in front of a store like that.’
‘Is there a system?’, I ask
She walks over to a bundle of brushes, affectionately picks one up. ‘This is a good one, that one is not so great. I could also talk about brushes for hours, or about knives!’
People don’t know how to look
‘Do you work every day?
‘Sometimes I write. But in fact, that is because I make up excuses. Everything that I do here, except for painting, is ‘excuse behavior’... Didn’t sleep well. Have to go somewhere tonight.’
Then suddenly: ‘Of course it is a disaster. It is incredibly difficult, exhausting. I will look at this canvas and think: What am I doing here? Do I have to freaking make something out of this? I would rather sit on a terrace with a glass of wine. Apparently I have to fight that battle. And I don’t give a fuck what people say. I distrust their way of viewing things. People don’t know how to look.’
The drawings serve as material for the paintings.
What is the difference between drawing and painting?
‘Drawing is a completely different approach of the plane. You don’t have to worry about the space around it. But a painting goes until the edge. Painting is much more difficult. While drawing you can trust your perception. But that step in between is essential to me... It is tough material, oil paint. I always say: oil paint is like a person, acrylic paint is like a silly guy. You can do anything with it.’
‘I simply have to take that journey. Just thinking about it already makes me tired.’
‘When a painting is done, I’m already curious about the next one. I still have so many paintings to make. But hey, how long do I expect to live? I think I’ll forget to die. No, I’m not afraid that it will end, even though it is a very physical profession. I have always been one of the few women that would clamp her own canvases. It has a lot to do with motorics. I like to work barefoot. Everything is motorics.’ Approvingly she stands near an immaculate canvas: ‘Beautiful size, 200 x 280.’
There is a lot of self-hatred as well. ‘Often I find it so dreadful, I will be scared to go into my studio for two, three days. With an excuse (I have to get something), or I will coincidentally gaze through the window, I then have to admit that it’s not so bad. But, I am very apprehensive of the fall of esthetics. When people say they think my work is so pretty, it annoys me. Esthetics don’t get you anywhere. You have to be careful that it doesn’t become too goody-goody.’
‘We are not going to make a pretty painting here!’