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Joline Kwakkenbos and The Art of Portraiture

Joline Kwakkenbos and The Art of Portraiture

The Netherlands has become a home away from home for Can Pep Rey, with a cherished community and numerous creative personalities. Joline Kwakkenbos, an artist based in Utrecht, struck us as we found her collection of incredible oil paintings. The emotions, colours, and utilization of the female gaze were all intriguing subjects we yearned to delve into. Joline explains, “my self-portraits constantly change over time, depending where I am based, by which rooms I am surrounded, whom I am in love with and what I am longing for.”


Joline Kwakkenbos wearing our Striped Shirt "Franz" in Stripe Green.




Could you please tell me where you are based and how this place inspires your work?

I am based in Utrecht (The Netherlands). From 2022, I will have a studio in my home where I work as often as possible. Working and living, as with many artists, are intertwined. At home, everything smells of oil paintings spreading through all the other rooms. I could say; when I am at home I am working, when I am working I am at home. My home is part of my persona, all the elements around me and all the rooms that each carry their own function serve as inspiration for the portraits I create at the moment. It is not so much that I choose a place that inspires me, for me it is more where you bring yourself and allow yourself to be present, that can be anywhere, if I’m able to paint.

What is your earliest memory of creating art?

My first memory is the creativity of my parents. During my weekly searches in the attic, I found my mother's old drawings from when she was my age. I felt inspired for the first time. I was about 5 / 6 years old and my father had made a big tree house in the garden around our house. That felt like my first own little house where I always drew. My parents gave me a small easel and an acrylic set. Now when I visit my parents, the nostalgic smell of nature always brings me back to the time when I could spend days painting and learning the power of my own imagination.

I'm curious to hear about the role of portraiture in your work. Could you share the internal dialogue that has inspired your work?

My work largely follows my self-portrait. Painting a self-portrait is vulnerable because in the process of making it, you are only with yourself and, in addition, you share a piece of yourself with the world that thereby also becomes everyone's. 

In my diaries, I have been observing my own thoughts for years and making characters of my own restlessness and longing, of my youth, of the part in me that would rather be an artist than 'human'. In them, I write letters to 'the painter' in which I talk about my days as a human being, what I remember and regret about my childhood, what I learn and who I meet, and that I so terribly long for the day when I can fully be 'a painter'.

My self-portraits constantly change over time, depending where I am based, by which rooms I am surrounded, whom I am in love with and what I am longing for. Within my self-portraits I am endlessly translating myself, my paintings show a woman in all her different ways, free, spiritual, as a mother figure, seductive, historical, lonely, surrounded, traumatized, naive, hard-working, as a lesbian woman, as a painter, as a human being. 


Is there a particular book that has influenced your creative practice?

Yes: ' De Verhalenreus’ by Untermeyer Bryna and Louis. A thick book with all kinds of fairy tales and magical stories. Best of all were the illustrations done by Gordon Laite, which lavishly decorated the book which I still admire.

What kind of music do you listen to when working in the studio?

Most of the day it’s classical music. Also, I love listening to Leonard Cohen during painting!

Your early work seems to be closely connected to themes of love and human relationships. How does this influence continue to play a role in your current work?

Besides painting self-portraits, I also paint portraits of inspiring loved ones and strangers, a group of artists from different disciplines, from the queer community, people who enhance my persona because I feel connected to them. That’s ongoing.

CAN PEP REY advocates for the concept of slow living across all facets of life. How do you interpret and incorporate this principle into your life and work?

Yes absolutely! Let’s slow down. Things move so incredibly fast these days and what pressure there is for constant change and improvement in our lives as human beings. In my opinion, making art is not connected to time, it transcends time. Everything has its own time, you can't mess with that. In the process of making my work, I am learning to take more and more time. I am currently learning to make my own oil paints. I never studied or learnt painting at an academy so sometimes I don't know what I have in my hands and what is possible. By taking my time, I discover more and more that a lot is possible, and with that I can choose more clearly what really suits me. 

An artist once asked me what had inspired me recently when I told him I didn't know whether I am good enough because I don't exhibit much. I told him that it had been Luca Giordano's work at the National Gallery in London. He understood why it had touched me so much but told me that he was almost 80 when he was able to make work like that, he has worked his whole life towards that. I still have so much time ahead of me to explore and improve, I look forward to that more and more.


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