Ineke Damen's visual orchestra

TUA: What do you think would it feel like to be inside one of your works?

Ineke: Scary, but free. Scary because it would feel confusing, but free because you would be free to observe and investigate why you are there, to see a lot of things. Whether these things are beautiful or not is uncertain, but as a human figure you have to lose your arrogant attitude and try to see things from another perspective.

TUA: You say that your works are very impulsive, that you never plan beforehand what you will create. Is it always based on the state of mind that you are in at that moment?

Ineke: I often have a kind of plan - a vague one, but a starting point. They are not based on my state of mind as I don’t consciously bring my moods or feelings in my work, they are more like writing a novel, I think. After a while I see what it should be - “ah, it’s this or that”, and then I follow that idea. The idea develops while painting, and it’s always different from what I thought it would be, as I’m always creating and discovering what is necessary for the strength of the painting, which is always a surprise in the end.

The painting process is also always very intense for me. Colors, lines, drops, composition... Looking, really opening my eyes and my mind, is the most important thing. Right now I am changing my working process a little; I try to make a scene in my studio, with models and objects, and paint that, so it is more clear at the start. But even with this it is a creative process, not just playing out the scene.

TUA: Are all your works individual stories or are they all connected?

Ineke: They are all individual stories, but they come from similar places. The idea of the relation of humans to nature is a common source of inspiration for me - how it has been represented in (art) history, and what the current state of nature/the earth is because of that. However I do not paint about nature itself, as that would place me outside of nature as if it were an object. I really like how the history of painting shows this relation - people were depicted in nature as if it were simply décor. In my opinion that is where the relation went wrong.

TUA: What do you want to say with your works? Do you want to say anything?

Ineke: I want to show my passion for painting, and invite the viewer to share in this passion. My paintings are very dense, there is often a lot to see, and people like that - they can more easily connect with the painting as they can always find something to identify with.

There are a lot of ways to search for meanings in the works. I start by presenting several (unfinished) meanings, and the viewer can take these and make stories if they want, wander/wonder a bit, have an encounter. That could be where the art starts - in the ‘encounter’.

I want to explore the relation of humans with nature or with history, to leave you with questions or confusion. In my painting Class the children are perhaps learning about classification in nature, distinctions between ‘living’ things and ‘dead’ things, animals and humans, creating hierarchies - this is how we have taught for a long time. They also sleep a lot, or are bored. Class is also about class society, the chinese text means ‘class’ in this way. In Where It‘s At you see nature in a kind of theatre scene, like a set dressing. Palace is about mirrors; the outside is inside. The woman with the shield is Minerva (France), and the Lion is England, but that is only one part of the story. There are a lot of story lines in that painting, and also a lot of composition lines. It is very complex, reflecting the reality of the world.

TUA: Why do you choose to leave ‘modernity’ out and instead depict mostly historical scenes?

Ineke: I don’t directly depict historical scenes, but rather my works sometimes refer to historical pieces. In art history these were often big paintings that showed religious, mythological, allegorical or literary scenes, and I play with that while also adding elements from the present or the future - I love the figurative aspect.

I also like modernity in art, but I think it can be very strict and minimal, and I do not always comprehend the ideas in modern artworks. To me they can sometimes be inaccessible in a way.

TUA: How would you describe ‘modernity’ - what is it for you?

Ineke: My conception of modernity is very inspired by the book “Facing Gaia'' by Bruno Latour, in which he describes modernity in a way that helped me to formulate my understanding. Modern culture asserts that the future is so important, and the modernists broke with the past, but in doing so they kept looking back to the past for inspiration and not to the possible future or the reality around them, recycling images of Futurism, utopias, and dystopias. In modernity the idea surfaced that nature and social civilization are separate things, but now we see that as very problematic.

TUA: What is your personal connection with history/historical events etc.?

Ineke: I am in line with history, it’s everything. In school it was always a very boring subject, but that is because we mostly learned facts and timelines about wars. Underneath all of that there are a lot of stories that are never told - there is not one line or set of facts. For example I am very interested in how women lived and acted in times of war. I am also very interested in the position of painters in history, which was very different from the present. I think that maybe they were more important, and perhaps they played a role in the splitting of nature and civilization/society by depicting nature as a sort of decoration or paradise.

TUA: Do you think it is important to hold onto our history?

Ineke: If you mean hold on to our traditions, then no. We hardly know of our history in Holland - we were monsters in parts of the world, and our being rich now is because we stole a lot from Indonesia, Suriname and other countries, and because we sold a lot of weapons to Norway and Sweden. It is important to just be curious and open to history, and to learn from it, but so few do. Maybe this is the reason that fascism is rising again, and why don’t we act properly in the climate crisis.

TUA: Your works seem very chaotic, and you describe them as “countless elements, having nothing in common at first sight, but yet deeply related”. How are the elements related? What stories are they telling?

Ineke: I like to add figures and elements all the time - it is a way to make compositions. I also like to make scenes and collections, which result in very eclectic pictures. There is not ever just one story in life, and, when there is a lot happening, I try to ‘paint’ it together. This is also what your brain wants to do all the time. Things may look like chaos, but the choices I make are very conscious. I guess I just like an orchestra more than a quartet.

TUA: Do you reflect on your works afterwards, or once a work is finished it is out of your mind?

I constantly reflect, and my work is always developing - having your diploma from art school is just a beginning. I am constantly trying to improve, to know better what and why I paint.

TUA: Do you use any specific techniques?

Ineke: I work with oil paint now, but previously I worked with water based oil paint, and I prefer linen canvases. I am learning more about master painting techniques, for example I first make underpaintings, and I hope this will show more and more in my paintings - to make the figures better. But I always focus on maintaining my own style, using these techniques and not just copying the masters.

TUA: What is it like to be an artist for you?

I feel more like a painter. Being an artist is something that is more in my personal life - the way I look at the world, combining observations all the time, connecting everything with each other, relating all these things that at first don’t seem to relate. I have a busy brain, and I am glad that my output is paintings, it could just as easily be mathematics.

TUA: What are your inspirations? How do you document your inspirations, thoughts, and ideas?

Ineke: My inspirations are painters like Velasquez, Borremans, Jonas Burgert, Neo Rauch, Munch, Breughel, Cecily Brown and a lot of others. All very different, and figurative.

I start with an idea, and then take in things around me by association. I also take photos, often of old objects, pots, things that would be interesting props. I document a lot of pictures on my iPad, and I write a lot in notebooks, but I am trying to have more real objects and materials to compose scenes. I also want to try drawing more before painting.

TUA: Do you like to talk about your art?

Ineke: Yes I like doing that, at expositions and atelier routes. I like inviting people into my studio, which I find both exciting and nerve wracking. After a visit I am almost always inspired.

If you want to stay up to date on Ineke's artistic journey, follow her on Instagram and check out her website here.