STAN VAN STEENDAM
To begin, could you tell me a little about yourself and your background?
I am a Belgian artist, born in 1985. I live in Brussels, Belgium but over the last years Ihave been living and working between Brussels, and Lisbon, Portugal. Lately I am more and more in Portugal.
Describe your journey to becoming, (or identifying as) an artist. Has it been easy? Natural? What has been difficult?
As a kid, I did not like sports a lot, instead I made my own artist studio in the tool shed in the garden. I guess I must have been a romantic dreamer, from the very beginning. I drew and painted, while singing in my own studio. This solitude in the studio felt so comfortable and free. I was always driven by my own freedom. Being or becoming an artist has never been a question or an option, it just happened.
A couple of years ago, I was painting more and more, and I felt that it had to be more in a studio to work. I had to let go the distractions and put my focus on to my practice. In the beginning, the self-motivation, the self-belief, and the constant giving (and almost not receiving), was a very big struggle. But even this struggle was with a big smile of happiness, gratefulness, of the freedom that was created in the studio.
How would you describe your work to someone?
Honestly, I prefer to not give away to much to the people. It must remain a moment of itself, that can not or must not be explained. I can describe the use of materials, also I can talk more about the process of the work, but I hope it won’t change the perspective of the viewer.
The works are somewhere between painting and sculptures, but even that is up for interpretation. It’s just putting a label.
The works are created by a lot of layers of plaster, pigments, dust and ash, on top of each other. These layers have been created with my bare hands, as I want to be as close as possible with my materials. I feel that even the short distance created, between my hands and the painting, by a brush is too large. Lately I use natural ashes in my works, and I need to have the personal sensation to feel these ashes in the process.
Working as a monochrome painter, for me, is not about the color on the surface.
What is important for viewers to note when viewing your work?
I understand that the first thing people see is the color of the surface, but for me it is not about the color. I like them to see what is underneath the color, like you have with a lake. The thin surface is just what we see, but we can also observe the reflected light, the shade, the movement or the stillness. Maybe we can also observe what is under the surface, even though it remains mostly invisible. It is great if people dare themselves to go behind a certain layer; to observe and absorb: a moment (shortly or very long), a stillness, a reflection, a shade, a texture, a light or darkness, a movement, a certain material, a drift, a memory... and maybe even a confrontation.
What is your process like? How important is process in understanding your work?
My process follows a natural flow, not created in the brain, but realized with my hands, soul and inner being. I need to have some space around me, so I feel that I can breath. Also during my process I can go wild; but still at the same time, it is very concentrated and focused. That is why I prefer to have a semi-clean space around me, so there is no distraction during the action. The less working tools I need to use, the more I feel free. As I am the creator, I need to feel the power to be able to manipulate the materials myself. For my personal works, I have no idea if the process is needed to understand the works. Although I feel I am always intrigued by the process of other artists.
I'm interested to know how you arrived at your choice of process, materials, and 'style?' How did this develop?
I constantly search for materials; to find the proper materials that I could handle and that felt comfortable. That lead me to the current materials I mostly use: wood, plaster, pigments, ashes and dust, varnish and... the main tool... my hands.
What does your work aim to say?
As I always try to give priority to honesty and authenticity, my work will be mostly a reflection of me. For me, personally, it is very hard to ‘invent’ an idea. My works aim to create the moment who I am on a certain moment. As lately, I have been struggling with some dark anxiety and insomnia, a certain amount of darkness entered my works. It also explains my use of ashes. Things were not created by thoughts, they just happened.
My practice is characterized by two different approaches; I have the more sculptural objects, presented in this exhibition, and the more monochrome paintings. Both of them have a completely different approach to work on, and I also personally have a different relationship with them. As small as the small sculptural objects are, they are constructed with rough thick layers of plaster and in the end ‘closed’ — as I experience it — with a glossy layer. Because I have the sensation to close these works, they become petrified in their existence. It feels like a part that is closed, finished, and can not continue to evolve, like the past. It could be seen as something going inwards.
On the other hand, I work on (big) monochrome paintings, although it is hard to call them paintings, as there hasn’t been a touch of brush. These works have no closing finishing-layer. So they are open and have a sensation that tend outwards.
Can you highlight some of your influences and discuss how they have impacted your work?
I still feel that a changing point in my work was when I went all alone to a desolate island in The Azores, Pico. It is a very mystic place, which is impossible to describe in words. The island is almost completely black; full of black stones of the volcano eruptions combined with dark green vegetation from the humid weather coming from the Atlantic. It is a place where not many people live, so the solitude could not have been greater. On the other hand, I was confronted with myself surrounded by the rough nature. I climbed the volcano to the top, high above the clouds, in an ultimate silence. I dove into the cold Ocean. I meditated at the side of magical dark lakes, where I was surrounded by a constant fog, hard wind, wild cows and horses. I think it explains my recent Lagoas-series of works, and my use of green.
Where do you find inspiration?
I am very sensitive of the places where I live and work. This goes from the city where I stay to the inside of the studio. Places have always been a influence for me and my work; so as I explained the Portuguese island Pico. I have worked from dark humid workplaces to very bright big spaces. Lately, I need more than ever the natural light, the more the better. That is why I am working more and more in Portugal; this light is very unique for me, and gives such a good energy.
Inspiration comes from the energy that I absorb, the air I feel, the light that I see, the water I feel, the emotions that stream through my veins, the persons I meet, and the moments being with myself.
In your experience, what is the best thing about being an artist? What is the hardest thing about being an artist?
Freedom, I think it clarifies the best and hardest thing at the same time.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
Besides the studio, I spend the most time in the kitchen, so I guess I would have become a chef in a small simple restaurant of my own.
What piece of advice would you give to a young artist?
Not easy to give advice as a young person myself, to other young people. Maybe cheesy... but really just stay true to yourself. Do not tell people you are an artist, just be one. Being an artist is not a hype, because then it won’t last. Be aware that failing is the best, so don’t be afraid to make a ton of mistakes. And also... don’t sell your soul, just work hard.