The Cycle of Life: Interview With Jennifer Nieuwland

The Cycle of Life: Interview With Jennifer Nieuwland

I am an emerging artist living and working in London. I am fascinated by the concept of time and the cycle of life we all go through. In my recent work our older and younger selves are merged to create an ambiguous ‘other’, portraying our physical change through time and hinting at the connection between past, present and future. 

The figures are suspended, floating in space and time and there is a sense of solitude and transience about them. I have painted them the actual size of a baby to give them a delicate and intimate feel. Some are cocooned or suspended in what looks like ethereal matter, suggesting an otherworldly space. I am trying to convey a sense of the mystery and fragility of life while also trying to capture an ‘eternal essence’. The narrative is about the power and inevitability of time but also our beauty and resilience. 

My work has been selected for the Emerging Women in Art exhibition and the National Open Art exhibition in London this year. I have also exhibited at the Wallace Collection earlier this year. 

My desire to add depth and intensity to my work was inspired, in part, by the works of Freud, Alice Neel, Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon and their ability to transmit a deep and unique psychological narrative. I am also interested in the Dutch Masters, their use of chiaroscuro and dark backgrounds. 

I am primarily self-taught. I took Art A level and got offered a place at Central St. Martins but at the time I decided to pursue a different career path until recently. I have attended short-courses at various London art schools and have been working with oils in my studio for the last two years.

jennifernieuwland.com

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Tell us about your artistic background. You mention that you are self-taught. When did you know you wanted to become a painter?

I had a great art teacher at school and deep down I knew I wanted to be a painter but I gave up a place at Central St. Martins to study at the London School of Economics and then pursued a career in branding and traveled the world for a while. I picked up painting again after 12 years or so and started taking short-term courses at various London art schools after which my passion for painting was truly re-ignited and I decided to practice it full-time. 

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When did you develop an interest in the human figure and the aging process? 

I have always been inspired by people and I love painting portraits and the figure. Through life/portrait classes in London, I developed my technical skills and I became fascinated with older people due to the wrinkles/lines and more complex pigmentation of their faces, lending them more depth and character. I began to contemplate the effect of time on our physicality and wanted to capture the shift from the baby skin to older skin, both being quite translucent and fragile. I had been working on some 'hybrid portraits' of family members and I decided to transpose the idea of the hybrid onto the aging process, creating ambiguous beings where the baby's body is merged with its older self.

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What do you hope to show the viewer through your recent paintings?

I am trying to capture a sense of the fragility of life but also the beauty of it through the passing of time. I am experimenting with different representations of figures; some are floating alone in darkness to reflect the solitude we experience, especially at the beginning and end of life, their delicate white dresses add an element of fragility but also luminosity. Some are 'sheltering' on what looks like the ethereal matter to give them an otherworldly feel and a sense of transience. I have started to introduce symbolic elements such as the moon, butterflies, and stones to add depth to the narrative. My backgrounds are often dark, representing fear, emptiness and the unknown but the figures are luminous and somewhat 'angel-like' representing life and light.

How do you decide what figure to paint and which portrait to place on the bodies in your work? Describe your creative process.

I tend to pick the face first, it has to transmit something meaningful to me and have intensity, something soulful about it. I work with people from life and also from photos and images. Often there is both an inner strength and a sense of melancholy about the faces I choose, the latter links into the narrative of nostalgia and time. I am hoping to go beyond physical mortality and capture an eternal 'essence'.

The figure comes second and the pose depends very much on how it fits with the face, it has to look like the body and face belong together. The pose also has to contribute to the message and narrative, some are in an almost fetal position cocooning themselves, others in more 'cherub-like' poses.

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Name a few artists that influenced your work up to this point. 

My desire to add depth and intensity to my work was inspired, in part, by the works of Freud, Alice Neel, Egon Schiele and Francis Bacon and their ability to transmit a deep and unique psychological narrative. I am also interested in the Dutch Masters, their use of chiaroscuro and dark backgrounds.

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Share a favorite quote or piece of advice. 

I have a lot of favorite quotes but one I like is "The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art." When I paint it is the only moment where time stands still.

What do you have planned for this year?

I have a group exhibition coming up 21st-25th March where I will be exhibiting some of my work at Burgh House in Hampstead London through Ecclestone Art Agency. I have also sent my work to quite a few competitions that I am waiting to hear from so fingers crossed!

Katelyn Ledford

Katelyn Ledford

Painting Kindness: Interview With Diana Dzene

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