I can't get over the marvelous pink and peach tones in these paintings! Marleen Pennings, currently based in Germany and originally from The Netherlands. Her latest work has involved explorations of abstraction, influenced by her interest in illustration as well as fashion design. Her practice spans a few related styles, inspired by patterns and careful combinations of hues. She calls her studio Stroke a Bird, and I'm happy to share a great Q&A!
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YS: You initially studied fashion and pursued a career in that industry. What interested you initially in fashion?
MP: I studied Fashion Design & Fashion Illustration in Rotterdam. I was really drawn, and still am, to fabrics and colours. I wanted to design a collection and see it on a catwalk. But during the process of designing my collection and graduation, I noticed that I found designing and stylingthe concept of the collection much more exciting than the actual making of the pieces. So that's when the first signs appeared.
Do you feel that it still influences your paintings?
Yes, in a way it does, I think. But I can't tell exactly how. Maybe in my decisions which colours I'm using or structures I'm creating. Old love never dies.
How did you first discover painting as something you wanted to pursue more seriously?
As I was working in Fashion Design, I've always been illustrating on the side. Out of curiosity I began painting one day. I liked it so much, the process, the mixing of the colours, the layering. I think it's kind of a mysterious process and I wanted to get closer to it. And now it feels like a part of me.
Can you describe what your studio is like? How much time do you spend there?
Since I moved to Germany I have a studio in the house where I live. Which is kind of a luxury, because in Rotterdam, where I lived before, I had different temporary studios, but the temporary thing was not so great, in the end. Now I can make my studio look the way I want it. There's paint everywhere. A radio, old and new canvases, brushes. Some inspirational pictures on the wall on the other end of the room. When I work, I often listen to podcasts, hours of podcasts, and then at the end of a painting session, I turn on my favourite music of the moment. Really loud. I love that feeling.
You have previously worked in representational painting, often on found wood surfaces, and now you've been focusing on abstract work. What sparked the new direction?
I have always been drawn to abstract painting. There's so much in it. I like the confrontation in abstract work. It's a good change of focus for me. I like both, very different, processes and techniques. I can get lost in both just as easy, but at the moment I'm more focused on abstract work, because I want to learn more about it and explore my process, it inspires me to not really know where a painting is going.
What is your process like? Do you plan ahead before you begin a new piece?
I usually work on a few pieces at the same time. That way the paint can dry, I can apply more layers and I can experiment more. Colour has an important role in the decision-making and also when I start new pieces, which are often a follow-up to the previous works. Sometimes it's like I'm painting one big abstract work, on multiple canvases and over a long time period. This way a 'never-the-same' perspective creates a depth and an off-balance in the story of the images.
Because I love the process, I don't plan very much ahead. It can go anywhere anytime. Which can be inhibitory too. When I produce lots of 'no-goods', and when it gets really frustrating, I have to keep telling myself it's part of the process.
What do you find most compelling or exciting about working as an artist?
Working as an artist is total freedom and that freedom can get on my nerves. I think about my work a lot, especially when I'm not in my studio. There is no off switch to it. It's not like colouring in between the lines, which can be a welcome change of focus. Sometimes I can't paint or be in my studio for days, because I need some distance. I'm trying to be ok with this.
Because the work is so personal and coming from my mind, mixed with my feelings and surroundings it gets to me in another way as it does to the viewer and I like that idea. The image is seen by so many eyes, processed in so many minds, in a way I can't experience. This makes me curious and thrives me into new stories and ideas for paintings.
Are there things that you find particularly challenging?
For me, painting is the most obvious way to translate an ongoing pace, the world, its people and environment. It's my language at the moment, so it's always there. That can be challenging.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice about pursuing the arts as a career, based on what you know now, what would it be?
Perfection is a killer.
Do you have any upcoming exhibitions or projects?
I'm planning to make lots of new works because most of my recent work is at Gas Gallery in London at the moment and in 2017 I'm having a solo exhibition at Friday Next in Amsterdam.
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You can find more examples of Marleen's work, and more information, at strokeabird.com.