An Interview with Roos van der Vliet

In anticipation of tomorrow's print release, "Storytellers XV," we sat down with Dutch artist Roos van der Vliet to discuss her life and artwork in a fantastic short interview.  Roos speaks of her discoveries as an artist and explains her artwork as well as life outside of her studio.

Where are you from and where are you currently?

I was born in Dordrecht, the Netherlands and I’m currently living in Arnhem, also in the Netherlands.  As you may know, The Netherlands is small.  You can drive from north to south and from east to west in a few hours, but the landscape changes quickly.  Arnhem is near the German border so it’s a lot more hilly and green than Amsterdam, for example. I like it, I don’t have any plans to leave soon.

What lead you to creating hyperrealistic portraits?  Has portraiture always been your focus?

I was always drawing as a kid and as far back as I can remember I’ve always wanted it to look real.  My dad used to tell me how you don’t have to draw every little hair if you just add some pencil strokes at the right places.  Although I agreed it still didn’t feel right because if people have 100,000 hairs on their head, why would I only draw four?  Not much has changed since then.  I get lost in details.  I want to get so close to the reality I’m presenting that it almost feels real.  The eyes must look back at me while painting, hair must look like it’s touchable.  It has something to do with the feeling of alienation I get when looking at the world around me.  Life is something so enigmatic and watching it from close up, reproducing that reality, seems to give me more control over it.  It’s like when I am creating something real, it makes me more real.

Could you tell us a bit about your "Storytellers" series of works and specifically about the piece you're releasing with us?

The most important theme within the Storytellers series would be the struggle with the unimportance of being human while we might feel that we are the center of the universe.  We only have ourselves right?  Our own eyes, our own perspective from which we see this world.  And we get judged by others this way as well.  People only see what we show to them.  In real life, as well as on the internet we carefully choose how much we want to share of ourselves.  The storytellers show the desire of hiding from that world and at the same time the will to be seen, to be noticed, to not be ignored.

The girl in this particular painting is someone I met on a night out in the restroom of a club.  Really.

I’d just flushed the toilet and opened the door when I saw her standing in front of the mirror.  She had her hair in a knot.  It was a lot of hair, an enormous knot.  She untied this knot and all that hair fell down and it was like I was staring at a painting already.  She looked at me in the mirror with these big brown, slightly sad eyes and said something like “Pff, haven’t done anything to my hair lately, it looks like shit” and then I knew I had to say something so I just asked her to model for me.  She said yes immediately.  On the day of the photoshoot she told me that the reason that her hair was so long was that her mom had passed away a few months before.  Her mom was a hair dresser and she used to do her hair.  Always.  So not cutting her hair was a way of grieving and honoring her mother.

You could say that, in a way, this is what all my Storytellers are about.  The actual story behind this painting can’t be heard but you might sense some of it by watching it very closely.  That’s always my intention.

What's a typical day like in the studio for you?

I have my studio in my garden and, yes, it’s as romantic as it sounds and freezing cold in winter, but let’s not get into that… But it’s always a mess.  I usually get up early and start at 8:30AM with a hot mug of coffee and the heater on its highest setting.  There’s always music playing.  On the best days I can paint for 12 hours without taking any real breaks.  My boyfriend usually brings me a sandwich and drinks because I’d simply forget to eat if he didn’t.  Time flies when I’m painting.

What's the best advice you've received as an artist?

That must have been the moment when this teacher of mine, in art school, convinced me to try acrylics instead of oil paint.  Because I thought of oil paint as traditional and because that’s what we all learned to work with it was quite a step for me to try something else.  But it turned out to be just what I needed.  I could paint in multiple layers, wet and dry.  I could paint soft focus or very sharp and the colors would stay bright instead of melting together until it would be a dirty brownish color all over the canvas, which always happened at a certain point and which used to frustrate me.  I never went back to oil.  What I can do with acrylics, I could never do in oil or with a pencil for that matter or with watercolors or ballpoints.  Everyone should find their own, perfect medium to work with.  I’m still grateful that my teacher stimulated me to at least try it and to break down my preconceptions.

What do you do when you're not painting?  Any hobbies?

I have a son and I love having weird, deep conversations with him about politics and space and how people can be bad and about the possible existence of a heaven or how reincarnation works.  I have a fluffy rag-doll cat that I hug to death out of love on a daily basis.  I’m addicted to music, my boyfriend is a DJ so I go to parties often and I enjoy reading.  Oh, and yoga.  I started again recently and there are very few things that I like so much right now as standing on my head with an empty mind.

Do you collect art yourself?  If so, what are some of your favorite pieces?

Well, I have some art but I wouldn’t call it a collection yet. I sometimes trade works with other artists which is an awesome way to start!  Two of my favorite artworks in my house are made by one of my best friends and favorite artists, Lys Vosselman.  She used pornographic images of women from old dirty magazines, attached them to canvas that she overpainted with blue and golden paint.  It gives these paintings a delicate religious atmosphere.  She made those dirty pictures innocent.  So amazing.

What's coming up next for you?

The first thing that I have coming up is a Tondo themed group show at Spoke Art SF. It’s my first show in San Francisco, so it’s quite a big deal actually.  Let’s hope that it’s the start of something more!

"Storytellers XV" will be available at 1PM PST, Thursday, April 20th, 2017.

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