Feminine and sensual

Despite the pressure to be a ‘cool’ artist, Wendela de Vries has developed an authentic style. Feminine sexuality, sensuality and the deterioration of the female body fascinate her, as do antique wallpaper and fruits. She gets her inspiration from music, and from people, people and more people.

“See, that’s what I mean! She’s glowing, and others give her the room to do so. Their time will come.” Wendela de Vries explains a painting of her daughter at age six. The child is wearing a mermaid dress and stands out like a shining star among her classmates. “I painted this three years ago. I had just heard about the famous text by Marianne Williamson that Nelson Mandela used at his inauguration speech. It says that if we let our own light shine, we are unconsciously giving others permission to do the same. I really related to that idea. If I have a message, that’s what it would be.” Wendela seemed to have had an accurate picture of the future: her daughter Féline is sixteen now, and recently began an international modeling career. “She inspires me,” says Wendela happily, “like many other people do. My husband, for example, who is the peaceful, stabilizing factor in my life. The conductor of the chorus I belong to, because music and singing are also very important to me. He is from an older generation, and he teaches me a lot about music and literature. I’m also inspired by the director and collegue in the board of “Meneer de Wit”, the center where my studio is located. His knowledge of eastern philosophies has helped me be a less judgmental person.”
Positive and authentic
Wendela did not have the average childhood. “I was born in Enschede, but I grew up in New Guinea, Surinam and Bonaire. My parents were teachers. When I was thirteen we returned to the Netherlands. High school in Enschede as a terribly skinny girl with thick glasses was a depressing period in my life. To attract attention I drew a lot and played class clown. My cartoons in the school paper, in which I made fun of the teachers, got me some popularity, but it wasn’t until I attended the art academy in Kampen, that I blossomed. I had a lot of friends, experimented with love, and had various relationships. At first I studied to become an illustrator but I found it lacked content, so I started working autonomously. Back then, and to this day, I feel a need to be authentic in my work. During my years at the art academy conceptual art was hip, while my style became increasingly classical. Being able to draw from observation was sometimes even an obstacle. ‘What is your concept?’, they would ask. But I’ve accepted that that’s where my strength lies. My work is never extremely hard or confrontational, although that’s currently ‘in’. There’s always something positive in it. To me it’s important that it’s about real people, that it’s authentic. For a while I was even giving human attributes to the trees and plants that I drew. I can’t get something totally lifeless like a car on paper.”
Erotic fascination
Something imminent like an exposition, helps me get going. That’s why I have a least two expositions a year. A particular idea or material determines my work. I’ve been working with antique wallpaper for three years now.’ A big drawer in an antique cupboard appears to be full of beautiful small pieces. ‘I like to work with live models or with photographs, and then I make a drawing or painting directly on one of those pieces. For the series of black women from the eighteenth century I asked the model to strike a particular pose and then I painted her directly onto the chair that’s printed on the background. It’s all about the contradiction: a black woman in those times was a slave, while white women were even able to have academic careers. Eroticism and sexuality fascinate me, from the burgeoning kind on the one hand, to the deteriorating female body on the other. The latter probably because I have a hard time accepting it,” she laughs. She shows an example: a somewhat older woman depicted on antique wallpaper with a clock pattern that symbolizes time passing. “I don’t come up with a concept like that beforehand; I work intuitively.” It’s not only eroticism, but also sensuality in general that pervades her work. A small child touches a fruit, a young woman touches a horse’s nose. “That’s ‘The green grocer’s horse’, a painting made from a old small photo. When I look at it, I can almost feel the warmth of the horse’s nose in my hand. As a result of my fascination with fruits, I bought a book about symbolism in painting. But everything was explained in terms of the devil or fertility. A cucumber symbolized sin and damnation,” says Wendela, grinning. Another painting shows a woman putting on her makeup while a baby plays at her feet. “That stands for the changes that accompany motherhood. My child was very much wanted, but I had to get used to the responsibility that came with it.” In ’91, after a period of traveling and working in South America, Wendela ran into Jan Kees again, her husband, who she knew from the art academy. “We knew relatively quickly that we wanted a family together. I moved to Amsterdam for him. After we got reacquainted I took a trip to Ecuador to paint the walls of an orphanage. My daughter was on the way soon afterwards.”

One hundred procent satisfied
Wendela’s studio in Amsterdam is located at Meneer de Wit, a fast-growing center for art, culture and development. Aside from a studio complex, it’s a gallery for unique expositions. There are lessons in theater arts, and readings and training courses on personal development are given. “This is an ideal environment for me. I’m on the board, work together with a group of people, and have my studio. I can concentrate on my work here, but if I go out the door I’m surrounded by loving people with whom I’m accomplishing something. I’m one hundred percent satisfied with what I do. In my view, we’re even doing our part to make the world a better place. I’ve always enjoyed working with others, maybe because I’m an only child. In 2000, for example, when together with seven fellow artists, I made the longest linoleum print in the world, which got us in to the Guinness World Book of Records. On Bonaire I built huts with other children, made from things we scavenged on the beach, and I always wanted to make a club with rules. I’ve also built a ‘hut’ in this arts center, but now I know you can play as you build.”

The power of faith
Wendela has had numerous expositions and has done many consignments, among which the Chamber of Commerce in Groningen and the children’s ward of the Weezenlanden hospital in Zwolle. She also gave lessons for several years at the ‘Vrije Academie’ in Rotterdam.
“I used to play music during the lessons to allow the students to experience two different art forms simultaneously. Looking back, I find that a bit forced, but back then, I believed in it religiously. And with that conviction, faith if you will, you can get people to go along. That’s one of the things I attribute to my earlier Christian upbringing: Peter could walk over water as long as he believed he could. If you really believe in something, whatever it may be, you can move mountains.” The future looks bright. “I’m expanding my work. I’m making roomdividers in collaboration with interior designer Caroline Molenaar, for example. She designs the screen, I paint the Japanese paper panels with sensual scenes in East Indian ink and watercolors. I’m working on a new series about people and animals. And for the rest it’s pretty simple: I want to keep moving up to the next level with my work.”

More information at www.wendeladevries.nl en www.meneerdewit.com.
Translated by Nicolette Wildeboer from an article by Achsa Vissel in Vivenda magazine, no. 8, August 2007