It is not always necessary to travel far for inspiration – at least not if you are a good observer. Dorine van der Ploeg has trained her eye to perceive light, colour and depth. She does not have to go any further from home than the abandoned swimming pool in her grandmother's backyard and the trees in the adjacent woods to her studio. These places form the starting point for collages of painted paper, abstracted representations in which Van der Ploeg creates the illusion of depth. Van der Ploeg has also been making spatial work using this technique for some time now. For example,the man-sized collages of the trees around her studio are part of Bright Spots, a duo exhibition with Ana García. Bright Spots can be seen until the end of the month at PontArte in Maastricht.
Where is your studio?
In the centre of Maastricht. I cycle there in about 20 minutes from my hometown of Cadier en Keer.
What is the significance of your studio for you? Is it a space where you do not want to be disturbed or do you like to receive visitors?
It is my first studio that does not also function as the subject of my work, which means that I experience the space differently. There's more room for new ideas now that I don't constantly feel like I'm running out of time to capture my subject. The high and light space forms the ‘container’ for my work. I spent my first six months there working on a space-filling collage installation and more recently on a series of stand-alone objects.
With the exception of my sister, who lives practically around the corner and drops by regularly for a cup of coffee, I prefer not to be disturbed. Visitors are welcome, but only after I have finished working.
You make large collages with painted paper. How did you end up working in this medium?
After graduating from the realistic, figurative Wackers academy in Amsterdam, I deliberately started experimenting with different materials and techniques to discover what else there was for me outside of still lifes and landscapes in oil on canvas. Through abstract compositions painted on plastic bags and discarded pieces of cardboard, I ended up with painted paper. At first, I used it to create a counterbalance to working with oil pastels and paint on cardboard, but it later developed into a medium in its own right. I love how I can create the illusion of depth with a combination of pronounced brushstrokes and sometimes very evenly painted pieces of paper and cardboard, but in a very flat and often alienating way.
What is your approach?
What hasn't changed since my time at the art academy is that I still work with perception, albeit in a more abstract and colourful way. I prefer to make my collages on the spot, but if that is not possible due to lack of space or weather conditions, I make oil pastels or digital drawings of what I see. I examine my subject with the help of my eyes and fingers, feeling it as it were.
The collage technique cuts the work process in half: I paint my sheets and pieces of cardboard before using them. The fact that I don't yet know what I'm going to use them for gives me a lot of freedom during the painting process. When I work using digital or other drawings, there is an extra interruption to my work. All these interruptions, and the apparent limitation of freedom – I have to make do with what I have at hand – make the final collages more abstract and, I hope, more concise.
At PontArte, your work is currently on display in Bright Spots, a duo exhibition with the Spanish painter Ana García. How did that collaboration come about? And how did you know whether it would lead to an interesting dialogue between both of your work?
It was gallerist Marieke Severens who proposed the collaboration. It turned out to be a hit. I knew Ana's work through PontArte and vice versa. Our most recent series has common ground, so we both work based on observation and trees, with the park and forest playing a role in both our work. Humans are lacking, while light and space are very visible or palpable. But because our interpretation, technique and elaboration differ so much from each other, it is as if we are showing a more complete picture together. In recent months, we have both made new work for Bright Spots, Ana in Barcelona and me working on my objects in my studio in Maastricht. During the installation of the exhibition, it turned out that we used an almost identical palette for some works.
Are there any materials or disciplines you would like to experiment with?
The collage process continues to intrigue me. Recently, I started working on wood, which adds an extra layer. I want to explore this further. I also want to experiment even more with different types of paint. What happens, for example, if I use lacquer in addition to gouache, other types of paper, as well as glass (stained and otherwise), fabric and mirrors?
What is more important to you, the process or the end result?
Especially with the larger collages, it takes a relatively long time before there is anything to look at. The challenge during this process is to remain alert to coincidences and discoveries, not to stick too rigidly to what the work should ultimately look like. When making collages, you can improve endlessly by simply cutting and pasting over and over again. For me, the challenge lies more in recognising what I could not have imagined myself and working with what arises spontaneously. In that sense, the process is at least as important as the end result.
Last year, I built a collage installation of a forest in my studio. Because I wanted to make maximum use of the space, I could barely move around it at a certain point. It was only during construction in a much larger space that I realised that I could actually see the image I had been envisioning for several weeks. I became aware of how much I picture the end result during the process, but also how the end result still carries the process and I could experience this retroactively.
What are you currently working on?
The collage installation has unexpectedly put me on an important track, in which I combine flat work and spaciousness. I want to develop this concept further. The group of trees I have been living next to for two years remains my source of inspiration. In Bright Spots, I show the first idea from that new direction. In the meantime, new ideas have emerged and I look forward to shaping them as well.