Artists in lockdown Q&A: Renie Spoelstra

Over the past year we have learned to organize our daily life in a different way. A lot has changed for artists too: there were no – or fewer – opportunities to exhibit work, while a lot of time was spent in the studio. How do artists shape the changing world? In the Artist in lockdown-series, we’ll talk to our artists about their experiences during the pandemic. Today’s Q&A with: Renie Spoelstra.

“I used to travel for my work, now I’m stuck in the Netherlands. It is exciting for me to draw as if I am some place else. Drawing the dreamy and haunted reflected trees of parks like I am drawing the Everglades once more…”

How has life been during lockdown? Has it been a time of solitude or has it brought you and your family closer together?
My life has changed a lot. I’ve got 2 children (8, 13) who both needed assistance with their home schooling. That meant I couldn’t go to my studio as many days as I used to. At the same time, I couldn’t see other people, for instance at the gym, so my family was/is the only social contact I had/have. That definitely brought us closer as a family. Solitude is something I’m used to when I’m working, but these days the solitude has expanded to my social life. It’s a strange time.

Did the lockdown alter your vision of the world?
I’m pessimistic about the world today. I don’t want to be, but there’re so many problems to solve: climate changes, Covid-disaster worldwide and in the Netherlands, refugees, the elections of America etc. Because of the lockdown there’s lots of time to check the news and be bothered about it. It’s hard to ignore it and there’s no distraction from it.

How did the lockdown affect your art practice?
I used to travel for my work. Film and take pictures of landscapes worldwide. Now I’m stuck in the Netherlands. I walk a lot, with my dog and family and noticed the beauty of the Dutch landscape again. I started my art practice almost 20 years ago with drawing the Dutch landscape (Recreational Areas). It was exciting for me to draw this landscape again but then as if it were some place else. Drawing the dreamy and haunted reflected trees of parks like I was drawing the Everglades ones more… I chose a different composition and size, vertically instead of horizontally. More focused on the reflected part and depth of the water instead of wideness.

I wanted to start a new series of these reflected trees-works. So far, I’ve finished 3 works and I’m working on the 4th. It’s a true Covid-series, created out of restriction. It’s all about reflection, literally and reflection of time. And it’s the world upside down, again literally and metaphorically. But it’s not only depressing or melancholic: seeing the world upside down can bring clarity and wisdom.

Could you tell me more about one specific work you created during lockdown?
The work Reflected Tree #1 is the first of a new series. It’s a huge chestnut tree reflected in a little pond that I walk by almost every day with my dog. I was struck by the beauty and darkness of its reflection more than the actual tree itself. The idea of drawing a new series with vertical composition and only the reflected part of the landscape, was born. This was after two months of not being able to work because of everything that was happening. It sounds a bit over the top, but I saw the light again and could breathe again! After this, me and my family had inspiring trips to the countryside of the Netherlands and had a great summer!

What do you think about the surge of online activities during lockdown? Besides negative experiences, like being unable to see art in real life, were there any positive experiences? Is there a specific initiative that inspired you?
I try not to be online that much, but I enjoyed seeing all the energy that’s out there. It makes you feel united.

What will 2021 bring us?
Hopefully lots of art and l a meaningful, free life again and renewed as well.

ABOUT Renie Spoelstra

Renie Spoelstra’s arduous process of drawing always begins with a journey. For close to a decade, she has travelled to coasts, lakes and beaches throughout North America and Europe. Recently she visited the volcanic islands of La Palma and Iceland, looking for landscapes that evoke overwhelming existential feelings. Once she has found these locations, she films the scenes, and by using the stills from the footage, she is able to move on to the next phase of conveying a personal representation of a geographic location. Her work is never about the locations she depicts – no matter how beautiful they are. They are always about triggering emotions and associations that sharpen our senses.

Spoelstra uses film footage as a starting point for her charcoal drawings. The suede like and velvety texture is achieved by the many layers of charcoal, which are skillfully positioned on top of each other to re-create an almost cinematographic scene. The balance between darkness and soft beams of light is rendered through the many shades of black and grey, creating a notion that something may be lurking below the surface.

Spoelstra looks for an atmosphere, and it is this atmosphere that she tries to re-create in her drawings. The dark hues, empty landscapes and sheer size of the works evoke an existential, melancholic sentiment, and allows for the viewer to lose oneself in each piece. Although these works are reproductions of real places, and are not imagined sceneries, the soulful nature of the drawings, and dark depths, reveal a personal interpretation of the artist’s emotion.

Themes of intensity, secrecy and mystery are reoccurring in Spoelstra’s works. There is an alluring and mythical feel of a place. The series ‘Stretching Universe’ refers to the scientific fact that our universe is expanding, while here on earth it feels as though it is shrinking with the rise of xenophobia, narrow-mindedness and the continuous threats of climate change. Fleeing, or escaping to nature is not as easy as it may seem.

Renie Spoelstra studied at St. Joost, Breda and at the Academie Minerva, Groningen. She has exhibited in the Netherlands and abroad, notably at institutions like the Albertina, Vienna; Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and Stedelijk Museum Schiedam. Her work is included in renowned collections such as the Centre Pompidou, Paris; MACBA Barcelona; Stedelijk Museum Schiedam; Centraal Museum, Utrecht; Cobra Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Amstelveen; Museum Voorlinden, Wassenaar; the Guerlain Fondation, Paris, and many other (private) collections.