MikoVeldkamp is deeply and consciously engaged with all the formal elements of his paintings; attentive to nuances in brushstroke, size, weight, and speed in ways that allow emotional depth and meaning to emerge from his painterly strokes. His paintings are idealistic attempts at capturing a pure representation of imagery, stripping down his paintings to what is essential and necessary for his project. Deceptively simple and incredibly fluid in their rendering, Veldkamp’s paintings depict everyday scenes, memories, or personal thoughts that he then translates into actual figurative images on canvas. Less concerned with perspective and true-to-form representations, his paintings reflect instead an interest in physical mark making and the articulation of clarity of subject and image.
MikoVeldkamp is from Rotterdam, NL, where he received his BA in Fine Arts from Willem de KooningAcademie. He has had residencies at Rijksakademie van BeeldeneKunsten in Amsterdam, NL, CCAAndratx in Mallorca, ES, and was the Hodder Fellow at the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton, University, NJ. Most recently Veldkamp showed with GalerieRianneGroen at ING Art Center in Brussels, BE, was included in the van Bommel van Dam Prize Exhibition at the Museum van Bommel van Dam in Venlo, NL, and had a solo exhibition at GalerieRianneGroen in Rotterdam. Veldkamp permanently relocated his studio practice to New York in 2016, and currently lives and works in New York City.
How did you first begin making art and get interested in painting?
I started painting around 2009, so it was about five years after receiving my BA. In art school I only did video, sculpture, and installation. With my sculpture and video work, I would do a project, finish it, and then sit down and do another. I was constantly just moving from project to project to project, but I wanted something that was one continuous thing without ending. That’s what attracted me to painting. I also appreciate the lack of infrastructure and logistics that you need to paint, which you do need if you work with multimedia. In painting, everything you do is a creative decision, and that’s definitely reflected in the work that I am making now. I don’t show any struggle or polish. Instead, it’s a pure kind of painting, or an idealized painting.
What was your installation and sculptural work like and how was that transition moving from multimedia work into painting?
There was hardly any transition between the two. After art school I felt lost --I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what I needed to do, so I just did all sorts of different things. Making all the multimedia work outside of art school was very hard because the resources were so much more available in school, and so I went back in my mind and asked myself why I even went to art school in the first place. I went to art school because I wanted to paint, but I had completely forgot about that when I was actually in school, so it took me a few years to realize again what I wanted to do.
I’m interested in the subject matter of your paintings because they are very much everyday scenes or banal subjects that are often overlooked. Can you talk about your choice in subject matter and what attracts you to certain images or scenes?
I think the subject matter is very everyday. I paint mental images that come back to me over time, or give a strong emotional response, without worrying too much about being consistent. I think that elusiveness in itself has become a thread in my work. When I see that there is a pattern or a repetition of subjects happening, I have to break free from that because for some reason it doesn’t feel like it represents me or who I am. However, I like that by avoiding repetition, my philosophy and subject matter expands in a meditative way. It can be both individual and collective.
Can you talk about your work process?
I look at painting all the time, first of all. I look at classical painting, contemporary painting, amateur painting, folk painting as much as I can. I also sketch and write continuously from those thoughts which allow for my ideas to crystallize. Most of my practice takes places outside of my studio, basically just through thinking or wandering off in my daily life.
I’ve developed a writing shorthand of my own that lets me to refer to formal elements, painterly concepts, or different aspects of my painting process through icons and symbols. It’s basically a way to pick apart my mental image and translate it into an actual image. It’s hard to explain in words, but I have symbols that represent fluidity, or how you think of space, for example. This icon language allows me to write down ideas about how my paintings faster than writing down words, and it reads faster as well because the symbols translate directly into an idea or a concept (as supposed to translating to the sound of language first). It’s naturally evolved over time just from sketching and writing. Perhaps changing studios and moving places so many times within the past few years has also forced me to be less dependent on the actual studio for my work process. It has become very cerebral.
Your titles also add a narrative element to your pieces that add to the image by revealing things that perhaps aren’t immediately apparent. Can you talk about this?
Titles interest me because they are part of "the format" and the tradition of painting. They are a very important part, but they’re not part of the physical object in any way. They are not even tangible. But then the most important part of the painting is the cultural, intangible part. My images are often really open, which I like. I used to call a painting of two chairs just ‘Two Chairs,’ even though the painting had a lot more context behind it. I felt that if I made my titles more specific, it only emphasized how the emotion or meaning of the piece is in flux. So I’ve played with the titles and I think a lot of them are a little overdone, but I think that’s okay.
There is a level of humor that gets added sometimes through the titles.
Yes, definitely. I do try to be honest with them and often the most honest thing is just funny, just like the saddest thing can sometimes be the funniest. But when you make a painting of it and reflect upon it, it becomes a very different thing. That’s what I like about it. My really specific or overly descriptive titles make the painting more open ended in a way.
Your brushstroke is very fluid and visible, and your hand is very apparent in each work. How do you marry the actual act of mark making with the content and approach what you’re actually representing?
A lot of the thinking and planning before painting is largely about eliminating any unnecessary brushstrokes. I try to figure out the logic of representation in a way so that I don’t have to think about it when I’m actually painting. That way I have more room to think about the actual physical mark making.
I like when things seem to fall in place perfectly and effortlessly. It’s a feeling of clarity I guess, where all unessential things are stripped. But I work very hard for it, I’m always sketching and writing, looking at painting and looking at my environment.
So how do you approach your overall compositions? There’s a flatness to your works where depth is added through your use of color and applied light, but also strongly implied through the subject and image itself.
I couldn’t have said it better. I’m not interested in perspective really, but I’m very interested in space. I’m interested in the mental picture of something, and black, dark light is essential to that. There’s an emotional way to how I use my colors and a very in-the-moment nature too, but I’m also just thinking purely about space. How do you show flat, spiritual space? That’s basically what my colors come down to.
When did you develop your current palette?
Thinking about color as consisting of three primaries -- red, blue, and yellow -- has always felt a little forced to me. What feels more intuitive is a framework of four primary colors, where I have two cold colors and two warm ones. In that framework, yellow is complementary to blue and red is complementary to green. For me that just makes so much more sense. It developed over time, and I’ve been using it for a few years now. Recently this past summer, I took out the color blue from my palette. I like blue, it makes everything dreamy, but I took it out as a conceptual gesture. My work is very optimistic and positive I think, and taking blue out kind of felt like it became more balanced.
What do you think makes a painting successful?
I only know afterwards if the feeling was right, but I think success in my paintings depends on the feeling beforehand. If I’ve misjudged it and I wasn’t ready, then it’s a failed painting, which happens. But it’s very important to me that the end result shows it just the way it is -- everything that I may have overlooked or missed or didn’t think about.
What’s the most challenging part of painting and making these works?
As little as I seem to care about the consistency of subject matter, it’s always subject matter that is the most difficult for me. Subject matter is a process of coming to a subject that I need to paint now, and then figuring out how to actually do that. I love that, but it’s also very challenging. Even though I don’t show struggle in my work, in my process miniscule details can suddenly become overwhelmingly important.
What are you working on right now?
Almost a year ago I started working on exclusively 12x16 inch canvasses. I feel like this project is coming to an end now. I like that when you limit yourself in one way, you open up other possibilities. This 12x16 inch size could be a way of exploring other materials, series and formations, experiment with repetition, and/or look at them as starting points to make bigger works.
Can you talk a bit more about the rhythm and balance of a painting and how you fine-tune that?
I paint with oil paint and I paint from thin, transparent paint, to thick opaque and impasto. The thin paint is very light, almost like ink. It has a sense of urgency, as every gesture remains visible, so you only have one shot at it and have to be precise. It's also very fast that way. The thicker paint is slower but leaves you more room for correction and it has actual physical weight. It makes the painting more real. A small brush can give a lot of detail, and a big brush is much faster and cruder. I don't know how to explain it, but the words rhythm, balance, gesture, and material seem appropriate.
Can you elaborate on your interest in technology and how that enters into and influences your work?
I find it interesting how images on the Internet move faster and faster and almost become a fluid whole. The line between image and text also becomes blurry. We read images so fast that they basically lose form and become symbols for abstract things. That’s how I look at images and technology in general, through our own experience of it. Another way of looking at technology is pictorially. I used to make landscapes, but technology, infrastructure and architecture are landscapes too. In Phone Signals, for instance, I literally painted phone signals, so I’m thinking about how you might paint emotions or a pattern, and I’m applying them to these invisible, electronic symbols.
It’s putting paint to something that’s understood but not actually visible. How do approach tackling subjects like that -- representing these more invisible subjects and evoking emotions or the underlying operational forces?
Sometimes there’s a lot of thought behind the painting. I’ll think about destruction and creation as philosophical concepts in our world and how they function as modes of transportation within that, but then I’ll just paint some everyday scene like a subway train. Other times it’s just as simple as “I’d like to try surfing one time, but I’ll just make a painting of it instead,” so I made this infantile, Dada-ish painting of me surfing. I think that in that way my work is also about painting failing at capturing certain things and the medium's inherent shortcoming. Often a painting is only a starting point to talk about that invisible, intangible thing.
How do you deal with not getting overwhelmed by all the ideas and context behind them?
Like I said, I just started to paint one day and I was really terrible at it. I had to learn how to paint, and every time I painted I always faced an incredible indecisiveness. I guess I was overwhelmed. The best works were the ones that went fast, in scarce moments of clarity. So I’ve learned to wait until the right moment to actually make a painting. That’s basically what I’ve been learning -- how to have the right amount of mental distance from a subject, rather than the actual act of painting. I think what defines my work now is this mix of clarity and elusiveness.
Is there anything in particular now that you’re looking at that you’re consuming or seeing that’s informing your work?
I always look at painting. I look at folk painters, especially American ones like Horace Pippin and Grandma Moses for some reason. Their work has such a clarity. I never stop looking at the painters that transition between figurative and abstract work, particularly thinking about Paris around 1900 and the usual suspects working then. I look at late contemporary “media painters,” for lack of a better word: Tuymans, Dumas, Doig, Joffe, and Katz even. Lately I think a lot about Merlin James, and the most recent thing that I’m blown away by is Benjamin Butler’s simplicity and variety.
I think that my work is very narrative without having a strong consistency. I want my work to be truthful, which is a weird concept to work with. I’ve been thinking about how my subject is always shifting, and also how everything authentic becomes branded eventually, so to be authentic you have to be constantly changing and in flux.
How are you defining truth?
I think about truth as an idealized truth, sort of clearing things away and find the white noise in the background. That’s what I think truth is. And maybe confusion is also the truth.
Has your work or thought process changed much since you’ve moved to New York?
New York is definitely influencing my work. Coming from the Netherlands where everything is so flat, New York has this great scale and vistas. It’s sublime and you can feel that. It’s such an interesting place to be. You have the grid layout, which is the pinnacle of rational enlightenment thinking and design, but within that there’s so much raw energy, on top of which they’ve built this extremely stratified and status-oriented world. Before, I always looked at my work as landscapes or types of -scapes, but this has developed a whole different meaning in New York. There is also so much amazing painting in New York, and so many great established and talented young painters showing work. The only downside is that you’re missing a lot because there is so much happening around you.
Do you see your work in any particular direction?
I’ve been thinking about formations of paintings and balance, weight, gestures and repetition. I can see myself using different materials and surfaces too. For subject matter, I've been thinking a lot about technology as a symbol of status or fashion, the way you see kings and emperors depicted. I've also been thinking about Social Realism, Courbet, Lowry, Benton, and socialist propaganda. There is something about it in combination with this corporate mentality that we are all expected to have; this idea that we are all essentially businessmen and every human exchange is essentially a business exchange. It’s pretty extreme if you think about it. I can see some of it in Goya’s nightmarish visions too. I don’t know though, I’ve always been really bad at predicting what I’ll paint next.