Artist Interview with Jeanne Krabbendam

Artist Interview with  Jeanne Krabbendam

This month I'd like to introduce Vancouver artist, teacher and friend Jeanne Krabbendam. Jeanne and I met last year via Artists in Our Midsts and got to know each other better during the Roundhouse show in Yaletown 2011 in which she and I both sat at the front reception table during the show.  

Jeanne, first off, when we met I remember you telling me that you grew up in the Netherlands. Can you share with us what your experience was like growing up in Holland with our readers?

I grew up in a large city (Rotterdam). We lived with 7 of us in a small apartment on the 6th floor, right at the inner harbour of Rotterdam. I remember from very young making things with my hands, always creating stuff with anything I found. I had to work small though, because there wasn't much space...maybe that's why I now like large art works!

There wasn't much space outside for us children to play and explore, so we played as siblings at construction sites and even played underground in the unfinished metro...!
I also very early in life started visiting museums, something I mostly did with my sister who is in age very close to me. Historic museums, anthropological museum! Soon enough the guards got to know us, two little girls coming into the museum every Saturday, that's different! It was a cheap and easy entertainment for us and we developed our taste in art, both with different favourites. I remember seeing Oscar Kokoschka's Mandrill: it was my first and outmost favourite for a long time! 

Were you always creative as a child, that is, did you know that being an artist was going to be your life path, or did your life take other twists and turns? Was your family supportive of you being an artist?

In my family there were a few choices for girls and becoming an artist wasn't one of them. I know that I wanted to be and I even sent a few drawings in to be accepted into a school of art. I did this without my parents knowing...and for sure they weren't happy with me! My life took twists and turns, I ended up working as a paediatric nurse and studied for years part time (art, psychiatry and adult education). I became an art therapist, worked for years in psychiatry, using art as a medium to connect with others. In the meantime I created my own art at my studio and exhibited my art work in many places in Europe. I taught at colleges and universities art and art therapy. When I immigrated to Canada in 1999 I decided that I would leave the therapy part behind and focus completely on my art. Since that time I have been creating art, exhibiting and teaching art here in Vancouver.

As I recall I think you have a Masters in Fine art. Can you share with us your educational background and journey. What was your favourite class or experience during school?

My most favourite time was in France where I studied for a while at the Academie of Beaux Arts. It was an amazing experience, very international, very open and stimulating!
I hold degrees in Art and Design, in Adult Education and Psychology - Art Therapy. I did some courses in photography and printmaking on the side, but in the end I  still feel I am a painter!

Looking at your portfolio online I can see that you do work in a number of styles - figurative ( your balance series)  and, abstracts, and landscapes, etc. Is there one particular style that you enjoy the most. Why?

Yes, when you look on line at my art work you can travel far back in time (the series on my website start in 1987). My paintings became more and more abstract over the years. I find abstract art more challenging and fun to create. I also like to add suggestive figurative images into my abstracts, so they often end up becoming semi-abstracts. I totally love mixed media and from the very start of my art career (after my art education) I make mixed media art in its many forms. I've done projects like installations, art boxes, I created videos, interactive community art pieces and collaborated with poets, musicians, film makers, photographers and landscape artists. In the end though, as I said, I always return to painting. Over time I have changed my way of art making, inventing new techniques, working with home-made tools, mixing non-traditional art materials with store bought paints and mediums. I think I am a bit of an inventor, an alchemist maybe...

Jeanne, Looking at your most recent works I see a lot of textures and perhaps the use of a palette knife. Would you share with us about your painting process.

I make very loose sketches, with some colour swabs and ideas of different textures I want to use. I write small notes on them and create sample textures. This sketch sits  beside me while I am creating the art work. I start with a loose under painting in large strokes with knives, work tools like trowels, sometimes house hold tools and of course large brushes, my hands and rags, leaving areas light where I want to light later, so I can apply thin layers without loosing the light in the work. Then I create the shapes, these could be abstract shapes, transfers, textured shapes, any shapes the art work needs, followed by working on the contrast, outlining things, accentuating the values in dark and light. And at the end of my painting process I will go in one area in detail and create the finishing touch with fine tools, dropper bottles, ink, pens, scratching tools etc. etc. The sky is the limit!

Jeanne, can you tell us how did your passion for painting began?

I started really as a very young child, drawing, sewing, putting things together. I mostly made the presents I gave to others and remember a little book I had that I used for inspiration. In school my art work was appreciated by the art teacher and  she was a first very important influence to me. Later when I signed up for the drawing course, without telling my parents... (the course I never got; the instructor was sent out of our apartment) I heard the instructor telling my parents "But she has talent!" and I clung onto that and kept that inside of me for years to come! I sometimes wonder maybe when we are not encouraged, we develop a stronger inner drive...

What's your favorite all time favorite art piece of yours and why? of another artist?

At the moment it is the painting "Hastings, Hastings". It just got sold during my last exhibition and was shipped to Luxembourg, so I won't see much of it anymore. I enjoyed working on it, threw my full heart in it and I believe viewers feel that, get a taste of that when looking at it.

Favourite work of another artist is hard to say; I am inspired by artists like Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, but my favourite artist is since years I think  Anselm Kiefer; An example of his works is 'The Wave' . To me it has so much impact: the size, the textures, everything; just so dramatic!

And what about this poem of Reiner Maria Rilke (1923):

Strange it is, to inhabit the earth no longer,
To have no more use for habits hardly acquired -Roses, and other things of singular promise,No longer to see them in terms of a human future;To be no more all that we nurtured and carriedIn endlessly anxious hands, and to leave by the roadsideOne's own name even, like a child's broken doll.

What are you working on currently and please tell us about it... (what inspires this new work, what is the meaning in it for you, etc.)

I am currently working on a series called TOUCHED. This series tells the story of the back side of our cities, the places we don’t like to look at and show our visitors. This series is also about how I've been touched by these places, which we normally quickly pass by, but that are for many residents of our rich cities the places where they live: their 'wall paper', their 'bedroom'.

The first impression that I got when I moved to Vancouver from The Netherlands was the enormous amounts of people living on the streets. I had never come across numbers like that. I started asking around, talking with people and learned how this phenomenon happened here in our city. 

I offered a 6 week course and started painting with people at Coast Mental Health Resource Centre and this became a volunteer job that I am still weekly involved in, now since almost 8 years! Getting to know a large group of people who live or lived on the streets make me look at the alleys and back side or the city more and different: the walls are touched by environment, rain, snow, traffic exhaust and human hands AND I am touched by the many people that find these places their home. 

Recently I am working on paintings about people moving from the street into housing after a long time and about us building huge apartment buildings right in the neighbourhoods where street people live out of their shopping carts.

I love the physicality of working on wood and canvas. Found objects and out of the ordinary materials inspire me to the point where they end up in my art work. I now see the world in a whole new way, putting a spotlight on areas and things that are often unseen or forgotten by others.

For you, What is the best thing about being and artist?/ For you, What 's the most challenging thing about being an artist?

The best thing of being an artist is the freedom I enjoy. The freedom to create what I love to make and the freedom to use my days and time the way I think  is useful and supportive to others around me. 

One of the most rewarding experiences for me is seeing the 'light go on' in a student, seeing them evolve and develop their own unique style. It is as an artist to me also very rewarding to get a work sold, to see someone fall in love with one of my pieces and 'get' what I tried to communicate with it!

Most challenging is of course the always unpredictable income. By teaching at Emily Carr University, Community Centres and privately I created a base though that seems to work very well; there is nothing to complain, I have a great life!

 What are some key success you have achieved thus far on your journey as an artist, and what do you feel has been a key factor in you achieving your success?

Overseas exhibits have been great to me personally and my art career. Being asked to come and teach at Emily Carr University Continuing Studies as a new immigrant was another, and recently my two month residency at the Banff Centre was an experience I will probably never forget! To be selected and be part of this international art community has been a pretty special and wonderful experience to me. 

Key factors? Maybe just working hard. I have quite a high pace and have the fortunate ability to work organized; I can work on many projects at the same time and keep to my deadlines. (Being Dutch? Being a woman-artist? Having worked in different art-fields? Living a meditative life? Or is it simply mainly getting my 8 - 9 hour sleep every night???)

What keeps you motivated and if you had to achieve 3 more things in your art career before your life ends, what would they be?

Finding myself inventing new ways for expressing myself, finding new ways to support, coach en mentor student-artists, the rewarding art works that come out of the hands of my students, they are all huge motivations for me!

I would love to one day have an overview exhibit of my work that I created over the years (it will be hard to accomplish because my work is spread out over de world). An exhibition in a large gallery in New York City and meeting Anselm Kiefer (someone who I greatly admire as an artist!)

What 3 pieces of advice would you give to other artists -- specifically to other painters or your students who want to work and live as a professional artist like you do?

Try and paint every day, better every day 15 minutes than once a month a full day. It is like learning to play a musical instrument, or maybe just developing a painting muscle!
Connect with others, support one another in stead of being driven by the so well-known art-envy and jealousy.

I am a big believer in self care - especially for artists! What do you do to nourish your self and soul? to re-charge your batteries so to speak?

I keep pyjama-days, movie nights, the theatre, going to galleries, reading great books
More importantly I am a spiritual person; my believe in God and knowing my life has a purpose in the greater scheme, is a major drive in my life! I  wouldn't know how to live or what to live for if  I wasn't connected with this higher power. Meditation and prayer is essential in my daily life. 

What recent or upcoming shows/and or gallery representation can we look out for or go and see of your work?

This summer (2012) I will show a selection of work from the 'TOUCHED' series at Richmond Cultural Centre. Also this summer, during the month of August, I will be showing work of the same series together with three artists who I befriended through Coast Mental Health

We will be showing art works at the Seymour Art Gallery under the title 'INVESTIGATIONS - places and things, found and re-found, seen and re-seen'. Again paintings about the streets. 

It will be an absolutely amazing show with different points of view on the same theme. 

There will be an opening night August 7th and an Artist Talk/Interview Sunday August 26th. 

In the fall I am planning on another studio Open House and next year March/April 2013 I will be showing art work with my students at the Britannia Mining Museum!

Jeanne, It's been so delightful to hear about your story, your passion. I love the threads we have in common - the basis of a deep spiritual life and the belief of being in this together and supporting and encouraging other artists to thrive and succeed. With so much gratitude, Thank you for taking the time to partake in this interview!