Francien Krieg is an artist who lives in Holland. Her art is motivated by her desire to start a discussion about how convention has distorted our perception of beauty. Krieg www.francienkrieg.com paints mainly older women who she believes are symbols of beauty but also represent something much deeper … humanity. We had a great chat about her work, her life and what it’s like to live in Holland.
MICHAEL: Hi Francien, Your work is very intriguing. There's definitely something going on with your subjects and how you portray them. It's sort of like Lucien Freud's technique, except your work is more clinical and the subjects look slightly distorted. They almost look like spoiling meat. Am I on the right track?
FRANCIEN: Hi Michael! Funny to hear how you see it. I can imagine this perspective on my works. I like the skin. The things that happen in the skin say something about the person and what this person experienced in her life. To show this, I zoom in on these details and blow things out of proportion. It’s a way to make a statement. I always had a fascination with meat. During my study in art academy, I wanted to make sculptures with meat. My roommates at the time were not too happy about this. The kitchen was full with my meat experiments and the worms also found their way to the meat. It was disgusting, but a great experience for me. They all thought I was a nutcase, but I had great fun and liked the texture of the meat. This fascination was always there and slowly I started to paint skin.
MICHAEL: Since most people are troubled by aging and are afraid of death, I would imagine that your clinical approach makes it difficult to sell your work.
FRANCIEN: I do agree with your point of view. They do have a clinical vibe in them. I guess that’s because I isolate my subjects from any personal surrounding most of the time. I want the focus to be on the body and I do not want to tell a story so much about a person. They’re really paintings about all of us, not portraits of a specific person. They are symbols.
MICHAEL: That’s interesting.
FRANCIEN: Sometimes I feel like a laboratory worker. I investigate the skin and build up the human flesh in layers of paint. I still have the desire to paint a deceased body and I was trying for some time to get in contact with the right people to help me with this. It must be fascinating what happens to the skin when the person has died. It’s a project that’s going to happen within time. The body I see as an object, but the love I have for skin, I show in my way of painting the flesh. Every inch of the skin, I explore and with the brush, I caress the skin. It’s a development in my work from the last three or four years. Before that time, my fascination was more for the human shape. So for me, I just follow my feeling in this and sometimes I feel also like an observer of my work and I’m surprised by it. But my work is about more than just my fascination for skin. It became a dialogue. By starting to paint the bodies of older people, I started a discussion that I thought was intriguing. Apparently for a lot of people, the subject is shocking and I got a lot of extreme reactions. It seems like it’s taboo to paint an older lady in the nude. For some people, this forces them to confront their own aging process and their fear of dying. For this reason, the many layers in the subject I feel are very inspired by the bodies of the elderly. I noticed that my work is also very appealing for many people. Art is not only to please is it? Since I can still make a living from my art, I can also say it’s not going too bad. For me, my main goal is not to sell, but to make good art.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. But great art should sell, shouldn’t it?
FRANCIEN: Crap also sells. Doesn’t it? That’s the weird thing about the art world I think.
MICHAEL: True. Aren't you in the Netherlands? Where? How do people view art there? What's the art scene like?
FRANCIEN: Yes, I live in the Netherlands, in The Hague. In general, people get easily shocked and they prefer to be pleased by art in the shape of a landscape or flowers or something like that. The art scene is pretty conservative and classical I think. It’s the reason why I don't work with a gallery within my own town. In Amsterdam, people are more liberal and there, it’s a better market for my work. At the moment, of course it’s difficult to sell your work anywhere. It’s hard times for the arts in Holland and probably everywhere. At the moment, a lot of cultural subsidies have been cut off by the government, which of course has its effects on the art scene in general. If they make the entrance fee of an art museum higher, less people will go to see art and the interest in art will not be motivated. That is really a shame.
MICHAEL: That's for sure. You know, I think many people, especially Americans would picture the Netherlands as a beautiful, quiet little place of milk and honey that has a royal family and everyone rides their bicycles and is happy. Is this image correct? Does it hurt your country at all?
FRANCIEN: I think this Disney image of Holland does not hurt, but the opposite, I think. I always notice that people from other countries get very friendly when they hear I am from Holland. But I have to disappoint you. Holland is not this innocent country. I think it’s getting more and more like a miniature U.S. For me personally, I ride my bike every day, wear wooden shoes and have a smile on my face at least a few times a day.
MICHAEL: It's always nice to be able to smile. Holland also makes me immediately think about the Old Dutch Masters ... Vermeer, Rembrandt, etc. I would imagine they still have huge impact on everyone there. Does contemporary art have any influence there?
FRANCIEN: To be honest, it doesn't really excite me. Maybe it's the same idea that when you live in a city you never go and see the tourist attractions of your town, even if you never saw it. Of course, I did see some of the Old Dutch Masters, but it doesn't excite me as much as contemporary art. Probably that is my loss, I am aware of this. But contemporary art is very alive in Holland. You never heard of: Joep van Lieshout, Erwin Olaf or Marlene Dumas? They are very successful Dutch artists. In this time, I think artists get influenced by each other from all over the world. It has become so much easier to get to know the work of artists across the world. I think that is so wonderful in this time, you get inspired by art that is thousands of miles away.
MICHAEL: Yes, those artists are amazing. You say contemporary art is very alive in Holland, but does art affect the lives of everyday people there? While art is big in America, most Americans don't own any original art or know anything about art which is a shame.
FRANCIEN: Well it's a pity, but I guess I can say the same about the average Dutch person. During my study time, I was working in a very commercial gallery inside a warehouse next to the carpet department. What I noticed and why I started to dislike this job very much is because most people came directly from the carpet or curtain department to find a piece of art which would match with the colors of their interiors. They did not buy with their heart, but with their mind. They saw it like an accessory which for me as an artist was painful to witness every time. Many years later, the most heartfelt comment for my work was: "Fantastic! But not for above my couch." It is a Dutch expression to say it is too intense for in the living room. So next month, I will have an exhibition with a colleague painter, Eline Peek, who gets this same comment about her work. Our exhibition will be called: “Above the Couch.” For many years, I was saying that one day I would use this title for a show and now the time is right. We are fed up with this comment!
MICHAEL: It's unfortunate, but that's how people have been conditioned to view art; as an accessory in home design. I think that another word to describe your portraits would be "Raw." Skin is raw, but so are your subjects because they are unclothed and exposed, they are raw. In this sense, the raw nature of the portraits really makes them poignant. Does "raw" work for you?
FRANCIEN: You mean to say that my nudes are not polished and photo-shopped like we are used to seeing in the media? This is true. This image of women that is planted in our heads is ridiculously unrealistic and makes me angry. It is like a mask; like these women are hiding themselves. For me, showing these raw nudes is also the way to show vulnerability because nobody wants to be shown like this; we always want to look more beautiful and hide ourselves behind a thick layer of make-up. Somewhere along the line, we created a strange idea about beauty, I think.
MICHAEL: Francien, I visit some of these big, international art fairs and see some of the faces of these wealthy women (and men for that matter) and I'm often horrified! Many of these people are walking around with these snatched, cosmetically-ruined faces. It's the very opposite of beauty. You're so right. It's like someone is playing a big joke on society by making people think that beauty is supposed to fit into a certain physical model. I think the whole notion of beauty also hurts art because art shouldn't always be about "beauty" or what we stereotypically perceive as beauty anyway.
FRANCIEN: It is a development that people will look more and more the same. You can see that in the future it will probably be a dying species the ones who still walk around with big characteristic noses and floppy ears. We are like sheep; we follow the crowd and we don't want to deviate from the standard. So instead of outshine with our beauty, we shadow this stupid ideal.
MICHAEL: Definitely. When did you first become aware of yourself as an artist?
FRANCIEN: When I was 16 years old, I quit high school because I hated it, but I discovered I wanted to go the art academy and needed for this my high school diploma. So, I went back to get this. I was always drawing and painting which was always something I really enjoyed. My father was a musician, but also a talented painter. He choose to play in a military orchestra which gave him the security of a regular salary, but he never really liked his job, had no creative freedom at all and was a slave to his job. I always had in mind, as a little girl, that I wanted to do something in life I really enjoyed doing. But the feeling of being an artist, I don't know, maybe I still don't feel like one.
MICHAEL: Isn't it interesting how society and the world glorify things like money, power and beauty, but if you don't have creative freedom and the ability to lead your life as you wish, you're still not happy ... or at least, that's what I've heard people say.
FRANCIEN: I agree. I always think in situations where you have to make a decision between money or following your heart, which decision will make me proud of myself? Also, when I lay on my deathbed, what are the things I want to be remembered for? It is the "simple" things in life that truly make you happy: love, freedom and a way to express yourself.
MICHAEL: Absolutely. When you're creating a portrait, you're obviously capturing the outer-shell of the person, but do you think an individual's
inner values show in their face or neck or hands? As a painter, how do you show that?
FRANCIEN: I let them pose in a very natural way. I don't tell them how to pose. It has to look natural. So, all of them have different body language which tells a different story. One of my favorite models has a very gloomy, almost depressing body language, while another model is full of life and moves in a very sensual way. One is not better than the other. I like the differences. I don't think I am only showing the outer-shell, I try to capture some kind of soul in it.
MICHAEL: Have you done a self-portrait yet? What would you like to capture in yourself? Do you think your values show in your face or body language?
FRANCIEN: When I started to paint, I only painted myself. I used a lot of distorted perspectives. For me, it was interesting to show a body, but in such a strange way that you almost don't recognize anymore. It is this struggle I feel with my own body; on one hand, I feel very comfortable in my skin, on the other hand, I don't know anything about what is going on underneath my skin and sometimes it stabs me in the back and betrays me. This whole subject, the body and soul fascinated me for a long time and it still does.
MICHAEL: Finally Francien, What do you ultimately want from your work and what do you want people to see in your work?
FRANCIEN: I want to start a discussion with my work. I hope it will make people think and affect them in any way. Not necessarily to please them, but to touch them. I want people to see themselves!
MICHAEL: Thanks Francien. This has been great.
FRANCIEN: Great! So thanks again and if you are ever in Holland you are welcome to drop by.
Check out Francien Krieg’s work at www.francienkrieg.com.