Lives of the Artists: Erna Reiken


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Untitled, 2010,  mixed media on paper, 216 x 191 cm

What I like best as an artist is this never ending freedom and urge to surprise myself. To not rely on things I already know but to keep searching, trying, failing and wondering.

To me, painting is the best way to communicate with the world around me.

I start painting those images which grab hold of me. A classic painting that moves me to the bone. A photograph from my youth. A sculpture in an exhibition. A photo attached to a Twitter-tweet.

escapeintolife ereiken 2Untitled, 2009, mixed media on paper, 150×160 cm

Once moved, I feel the need to capture that moment in paint. I never know where it will take me, though.

A painting hardly ever ends up resembling that image that grabbed me at first. A landscape from around the corner turns out being a lady lying on a couch. A still-life ends up being a woman from a painting by Matisse. While working on a painting I add and take away, always inspired by things I notice: an interesting composition in a painting by Luc Tuymans, patterns in work by Vuillard, the reflection of light in plastic in a still life in my studio, a hand-made explosive in a newspaper photograph, a detail from last year’s drawing.

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Untitled, 2009, mixed media on canvas, 100 x 100 cm

When I get stuck in a painting and don’t know how to move on, I start feeding myself in exhibitions, by reading books, drawing, travelling, looking at work by other artists, going through my own work, and all of a sudden I see what the work needs.  This can take hours, days, even months. But the moment I see it I know: that’s what the painting needs. I love those moments. And then, often, the whole process starts over again.

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Untitled –  Drawing 31, 2010, mixed media on paper, 19 x 22,5 cm

Communicating with my surroundings is essential to me.

I’ve tried it with words, either spoken or written, in several jobs over the last 25 years. As a teacher, a consultant, a manager. To me, the meaning or intention of a certain message was always clear. But, as is normal in language, it turned out the receiver just remembered a small or insignificant part of that message, or interpreted it completely different, or even disagreed! This frustrated me immensely every now and again. It led to miscommunication and loss of energy. But what to do?

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Untitled – Drawing 046, 2010, watercolor on paper, 20 x 29 cm

Aged 17 I had already started studying fine arts but turned out to be far too young and insecure at that time and quit after two years. However, I stayed curious about the creative process I experienced and I never stopped wanting to discover what more I had to learn. Aged 34 I enrolled at the ArtEZ, Institute of the Arts in Enschede, The Netherlands. What I discovered there was a world in which there was no right or wrong. In communicating through art the intention was just as important as the interpretation and I experienced a freedom and energy I had missed so far in my jobs. I decided to put as much energy as possible into my creative development as a professional artist.

escapeintolife ereiken 6Untitled, 2010, acrylic on paper, 175 x 160 cm

Personal insecurities, together with a need to do everything to perfection, is a theme which is part of my work. There is this constant struggle between wanting to be seen, to be present, and the feeling of never being good enough, wanting to disappear and hide. It’s my way of coming to grips with who I am, exploring and visualising it in paint.

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Untitled – Drawing 058, ink and watercolor on paper, 21 x 27,5 cm

This contrast is also visible in the way I paint. I love the contrast between rhythm and structure next to an abstract shape and I use different materials in one work to create contrast in texture and surface. I usually make life-size paintings in which I have to use my whole body to tackle the surface and I’m able to almost literally step into that world.

escapeintolife ereiken 8Untitled, 2010,  mixed media on paper, 187 x 140 cm

If it moves me, I’ll draw it.

On the other hand, I make small drawings to keep adding to my personal database of visual language: shapes, patterns, composition. Anything will do: classic paintings, snapshots on my camera, pictures by others (whether artists, journalists or amateurs),  my garden. If it moves me, I’ll draw it.

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Untitled – Drawing 069, watercolor and ink on paper, 27 x 35 cm

My intention is to move viewers as well. It’s like a poem: if people feel the need to read it again, to take another look at my work, I think I succeeded.

When given the opportunity, I love talking about what they experience and see when looking at a painting. Here the difference in interpretation is a gift instead of a loss of energy. It fills me and makes me want to create more.

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Untitled – Drawing 047, 2010, collage, watercolor and ink on paper, 19 x 21 cm

I used to have a full-time job. Each year I strive to work one day less, paint one day more. At the moment I’m still working three days a week. It feels like a turning point: now I have more days to spend painting than working in a week! I can’t wait for the day I can say I’m a full time artist. Hopefully in three years’ time.

Erna Reiken on the Escape into Life Arts Store

Erna Reiken’s Website

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Erna Reiken’s Flickr

This autobiography is part of the Escape into Life Lives of the Artists project.