On Saturday 11 June, the 'Chemistry' exhibition, featuring work by David Engel, Sigrid van Woudenberg and Sanne Terweij, will open at Galerie Helder. Sanne Terweij, 38, creates compositions consisting of flat, metal elements that she arranges by colour: from light to dark and from warm to cold. The countless shades and nuances of brightness bring the square or elongated metal elements to life as it were. The energy radiated by her work can be compared to that of an abstract painting with colour use that is simultaneously stimulating and soothing. On the occasion of the exhibition, I asked Sanne a number of questions about her work on the interface between craft and art.
“The trick is to be open to change
without losing sight of the end goal.”
MK When did you decide to become an artist?
ST Later in life. But I have always been attracted to beautiful and colourful things. As a child, I liked to be in my own world, where I surrounded myself with beautiful objects like a box of old clothes. I also had a large collection of colourful stones and minerals. Yet as a child or young adult, it never occurred to me to become an artist. That desire came much later and grew stronger over the years.
MK How did you decide to work with metals?
ST I like metals because they are hard and soft at the same time: they feel hard but bend easily. By working with metal in combination with a certain use of colour, you can give it a warm, picturesque look. I think my love of metals also has to do with my training as a goldsmith, which brought me into contact with materials like brass and copper.
MK How did you develop your knowledge of metal and make it the basis of your art?
ST I spent a lot of time in my studio trying to understand metals, but mainly through trial and error. In addition to my training as a goldsmith, I am also trained as a decorative painter. Over the last 14 years, I have gained considerable material knowledge as a decorative painter, specialising in aging techniques.
Sanne Terweij, Fire No.2, 2022, Galerie Helder
MK What exactly does that mean?
ST For film and theatre productions, wooden sets and constructions are often built that resemble something old and lived-in, such as a moss-covered concrete bunker. To start, that wood has to look like concrete (which requires various material experiments). You then have to make the construction look as if it has been in a forest for years by giving it a patina. I love working with this kind of patina aging techniques. I then naturally started paying attention to aging processes in things around me. Processes such as oxidation, fading and peeling often result in a very beautiful texture – a gift in itself!
MK How do you view your art?
ST I experience my art as a summary of my life to date. On the one hand, there is craftsmanship, which involves being able to apply different material techniques or make chemical recipes with an emphasis on focus and precision. Then there is the free and creative part of being an artist, which means choosing from all kinds of options and interventions in order to arrive at a composition and specific colour structure. That boils down to experimenting and making choices, which requires a completely different mindset, so that the craft and creative process are completely separate from each other. That's why I prepare everything one day, so that I can dedicate myself to the creative process undisturbed the next. In practice, I work on several works at the same time.
MK What inspires you?
ST I am interested in the concept of 'transition' – not only in art, but also as an essential part of life. Everything is constantly changing; in other words, in transition. I personally experienced this when I had a burnout and realised that I needed to make structural changes. A transition is a drastic change, such as the transition from day to night. I try to create transitions in a combination of light and shadow, conveying colour and texture. The texture in particular determines the perception of light and dark. After all, the effect of light reacts differently on a shiny, smooth surface that reflects it it than on a dull and rough surface that absorbs it.
MK What are you currently working on?
ST I'm working on a series inspired by momentary moments that you can observe, such as the incidence of light at a sunrise or sunset or the shimmer of a sunbeam breaking through the fog. I then try to capture that brilliance through compositions and contrasts I can create with my metals. For example, I have a work called Morning Haze, which reflects a light that you can only see on an early summer morning when the fields are still covered in dew.
MK So nature is a source of inspiration for you?
ST Yes, but not literally. I am not trying to imitate nature, but to capture the ambiance, the feeling it evokes in my work. I abstract, as it were, a landscape or a vista until only the memory and feeling it evokes remains.
Sanne Terweij, Spring, 2022, Galerie Helder
MK Do you ever use a computer for your art?
ST I sometimes make colour sketches on the computer to see how different colours and certain colour combinations interact. But, of course, I work with materials that start to interact and each has its own reflections, making the effect largely unpredictable. Sometimes I make a plan on the computer, but in real life I always have to make adjustments to achieve the intended effect. For example, I work with different metal thicknesses – especially when I work with aluminium – each of which produces its own shadow effects that I can play with. I also attach the different pieces of metal one by one, so they are always at a different angle to each other. This produces a continuously changing lighting effect.
MK Your work is characterised by transitions in colour. Can you tell us more about that?
ST The transitions take place in the colour, though also in the texture, which can be smooth and shiny or rough and dull. This creates an alternation between reflection and absorption of light, making the work partly unpredictable.
MK What are you going to be showing at Galerie Helder?
ST Frey and Frank [owners of the gallery, ed.] have made a selection of my work to date, so that you not only see what I am currently working on, but also get an impression of how my work has evolved over the years.
MK Is there something you would like to share with visitors?
ST Every work I create, big or small, has a certain energy. Regardless of whether or not you like it, I would like the viewer to experience the energy I have put into it. Sometimes the work radiates a great deal of energy, while other times it evokes a sense of calm. I want it to not only be about seeing the work, but also about experiencing it. And that experience can be different for everyone.
MK What do you find most exciting about your work as an artist?
ST The most surprising part is linked to a specific moment in the oxidation process. For example, when I'm performing a chemical reaction, it sometimes takes a long time before you see the final result. When I go home in the evening, I leave the work in a certain state and the next day, I am curious how I will find it. Since temperature and humidity have considerable influence on the end result, the same formula used with the same material can suddenly turn out very differently than the day before! I think it's important to be open to these kinds of spontaneous developments, which I experience as a kind of gift from which I continue to work to achieve the desired result. This brings me back to the theme of transition and of accepting what happens instead of clinging to an – imaginary – ideal.
MK Nicely put.
ST I also consider that process a metaphor for life, which is a constant balancing act between controlling and relinquishing, stillness and movement. Life is partly malleable, but by no means entirely. And I think we should not strive for perfection, but for quality in finding the right balance between what you can influence and what you have to accept.
MK Are you looking forward to the exhibition at Galerie Helder?
ST I never dreamed that my work would take off so quickly in only a few years’ time and that I would be exhibiting at a gallery like Galerie Helder. Until recently, I did not even think it was possible to make art my career and not only create free work. So, it’s actually a dream – that I didn't even know I had – come true.
Sanne Terweij, Morning Sky, 2022, Galerie Helder