World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 114 - Liesbeth Schouten
Liesbeth Schouten paints musical portraits. She does it with firm brushstrokes. Her work was shown in a dual exhibition with Adrie van der Ven’s work in the Amsterdam MLB Gallery.
I speak Liesbeth Schouten at the end of the exhibition in the gallery. There was a large turn-out, and she has learned a lot from the different reactions, she says. “People felt attracted by my efforts to seize the soul of music.” We see a variety of singers and musicians with wind instruments or a small harmonica. The head and hands of the musicians are central.
“Apparently I’m intrigued by the combination of hand and head. What I’m looking for at the musicians is the concentration and energy. It started with Sonny Boy Williamson, a blues musician. I painted him with a harmonica, his favorite instrument. He became one with his music and his instrument.” Then she made a series of square canvases, 30 x 30 cm, of other musicians. “It fascinates me that someone surrenders completely, transforms into ‘duende’, but at the same time doesn’t lose him/herself.”
Often it is black musicians. After she recorded a trumpeter with hands pretty close to his face, the Miles Davis series started. And when her son in law commissioned to paint an entire brass band from New Orleans, she suddenly felt like developing a new series of more musicians simultaneously. “This playing together has a completely different musical energy, the Mardi Gras celebrations for example, is more extrovert. Moreover, the shapes of the trumpets and trombones, one or more laps and long lines, has different requirements compositionally. It does not fit on a small canvas.”
Of all art forms, music comes most straight into your heart, she observes. “But at the same time it is volatile, it’s gone in a minute. While a painting is something sustainable. It’s an interesting combination, music and painting. The painter has the challenging task to freeze the energy into images and yet to radiate panache. I’m not finished with it.”
She is also fascinated by the music because of her many travels. As chief editor of a children’s magazine about international cooperation, Samsam, she came into contact with many people in different cultures in Latin America, Africa and Asia. “I have visited some thirty countries. Music trancends cultural differences.” As she paints, she puts music on, usually jazz and world music.
Not that long ago she was at the Flamenco Biennial. “You see women with strong facial expressions and agile hands, and all rhythm. I like to use that.” Looking at my left in the gallery, I see an example of this, a portrait of the singer Billy Holiday. “I want to show someone in his/her musical concentration and display the feeling that arises in color and form. Sometimes that feeling is dramatic, then again it is cheerful, sometimes subdued, sometimes explosive.”
Painting is different from writing, how does she experience it? “As a journalist I was always busy with words. I’ve always been in my head, cerebral, intellect was central. Painting is something else. I have to be careful not to paint too thoughtful. Then it will be too ‘decent’. Working very fast is the way for me to keep the brain in the background.” Does she finish a painting in a few hours? “That varies. Sometimes the work needs a rest. I have laid Billy Holiday more than a month. Some works have to settle down.” She tries different techniques.
Initially, she used acrylic paint, later also aerosol and acrylic pens, as seen in the portraits of Billy Holiday. “it gave me a lot of freedom. I could work quickly and loosely with it. Because the colors of oil are more intense, I’m now mainly concerned with oil.” Asked about her key work, work that meant a turnaround, she mentions the portraits of Billy Holiday and the painting with Sonny Boy Williamson. The last work marked the beginning of the music series.
Solutions to dilemmas
What about her art-training? “Actually, I’m self-taught. In my student days - I studied Spanish language and literature – I have always painted a little. In those years I have done regular courses: etching, lithography, screen printing, for example in ‘de Werkschuit’, an artspace. Then I painted a decade long with a group, the last two years I practised sometimes in varying courses model drawing and landscape painting. With that old ‘masterclass group’ we still go every year to France, painting and fine dining. When I was in Bolivia, I was a student for a while at the Academy of Oruro.
Finally, what is her philosophy? “Art is of value, it offers a special view of life which can not be grasped in words. In art you sometimes come to suprising solutions to dilemmas or issues. I hope that my work is a pleasant experience, which possibly leads people to think for example about the particular value of musicianship.”