“When people see my art, I hope they start thinking about certain assumptions. “Is this or that really so?” The viewer could leave the possibility open whether a certain assumption is true because not everything is as it seems. People like to create order out of chaos, but you also have to remain open when your assumption is not the case.”
My 25-year-old me told to the newspaper Brabants Dagblad when I graduated from the Art Academy in 1999 in The Netherlands.
In the photograph, taken by Jan Verhoeff (who would later photograph me again for the atelier route), you can see the artwork Describe an Artist. It is the first artwork to my left in the photo.
During my time at the Art Academy, I had to face a lot of prejudice around the profession of being an artist. That was quite difficult for my then sensitive me. And I expressed these physiological growing pains via my art.
A female figure is standing naked in front of a map of the Netherlands and part of Belgium. It is me, the artist, Kim Engelen.
The map is in color, and the nude artist is in black and white. On my body are pasted twenty-seven white labels with black texts. On them are the statements of people describing an artist.
And on my face is the expression of aversion and shame.
The body is shown how it is and not glorified. The artist exposes herself to the remarks of the outer world. And they stick on her in essence naked/pure body.
My left foot planted on the little harbor town Maasbracht in the province Limburg—where I grew up.
The Birth of an Artist
Unlike Botticelli’s painting The Birth of Venus, which shows the goddess of love and beauty, painted as if she is ashamed of her body (what a contradiction), I am not covered or saved by others, and I am not pleasing patrons.
I am exposing myself in a realistic, personal, and vulnerable fashion. And as a mirror reveal, merely what others showed me. I used the nude female figure (me) as a former painter myself. This artwork I could have also called: The Birth of an Artist.
In 1998, I traveled to various locations in cities in the Netherlands to ask the general public this question: Describe an Artist.
The results of these live inquiries I bundled in the book, Omschrijf een Kunstenaar. In English: Describe an Artist. Of this Dutch version, I only made two books. One version has on the back the label: Inkijkexamplaar (Preview copy).—Because I exhibited it during my final exam exhibition at the Art Academy in 1999.
In 2021 this book is digitalized and made available in Dutch as well as English. The Pdf version I offer as a Digital Download on my website. And the paperback version is available on Amazon.
Describe an Artist
When people asked me what study I was doing, and I told them I was studying at the Art Academy, they most often than not responded in surprise. And at that time, this really annoyed me, and I wondered how an artist in their imagination looked.
And more things like this happened at the Art Academy itself, which you can read in the foreword. Here I boldly write that perhaps the bias is being held up by the artists and the art teachers themselves.
And that the image that prevails is still a rather entrenched and prejudiced one.
That is why I wanted to hear from people in the Netherlands what their idea of an artist is. And whether it was all as dramatic as I experienced it.
So I decided that I would go to all the provinces of the Netherlands. And I would ask a random stranger: Describe and Artist. I would not cheat and would use that one answer for this booklet, so despite what the answer was, I didn’t ask another person in that particular city.
In the book, you can read all the answers I received.
Immediately after my final exam exhibition, I exhibited the laminated print in two solo exhibitions in the Netherlands. Both fitted very well location-wise with the concept of this work.
One exhibition was in 1999 in Den Bosch for RSP Wonen. For six months, I hung a new work in the public window shop of their broker agency office.
And after this at De Volière in 2000. This solo exhibition was outside in a park aviary in Hengelo. Outside in the open, yet behind bars.
Prejudices are something we probably all face at one point or the other, in our lives, and some of us, perhaps more than others. And despite I am aware of it, I find myself sometimes guilty of it too.
What about you?
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