World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 59 - Nathalie Mannaerts
Nature plays a big role in the work of Nathalie Mannaerts. In The Hague art and architecture centre Stroom I saw this painting of her. In the middle a white horse at night in a woodland area. The horse was brightly illuminated.
A few days after I saw the painting I am at Nathalie’s place to find out more about her and her work. She lives on the outskirts of Statenkwartier in a beautiful old house. From the garden you have a view on the building of the theatergroup De Appel, which will be converted into a loft-like space.
Three things are central in the work of Nathalie Mannaerts. Besides nature, there is adventure and Scandinavia. As for adventure we can note down that Nathalie has an adventurous disposition. Nathalie: ‘I am different from most people. It started in elementary school. I grew up in a house on the edge of a forest-and-dunes area in the south of the country. We – my brother and sisters – were able to play, romp and climb trees all day long. And sometimes we also took mischief.’
‘In fact, I had a great tendency not to conform me, to do naughty things. I stayed like that. I just want to open that door that shouldn’t be opened. When I was young, it was no big problem, although occasionaly I drifted into tricky situations. But it remained so, even many years later I turned out to be different than most people. Only when I was at the Academy, The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, I noticed that there were more people like me.’
Nature then. Nathalie feels very comfortable when she is in nature. She feels good and very free. She often goes for a walk with the dog, for example in a more or less natural park nearby. When she hears the drops of the leaves and sees them falling down, she is very happy. The dog is always looking for wooden branches , which he takes back home. In the front room a wicker basket is filled with branches. ‘We use it to make a campfire in the garden. We do that every night if the weather is nice.’
And Scandinavia finally. Regularly she visits Norway, Sweden and Finland. People have a certain calmness there, she says. That’s because of nature. ‘At night we go there looking for elk, we rowe to uninhabited islands, we climb tall trees and we make campfires.’ Scandinavia she discovered when she was young, with Pippi Longstocking and the work of Carl Larsson, the Swedish watercolorist. Her parents once brought her a book with idyllic drawings of Larsson from their holiday. She was thrilled by it.
‘Nature is everywhere in Scandinavia, even in the cities.’
What are Mannaerts’s key works? There are quite some, it appears. Starting with Snow at dusk, in 2011, in which we see a boy rolling a big snowball. ‘For the first time I painted children’s happiness in nature, with a certain magic. Only a year or two later I discovered that it was a key work. For my thesis on the Academy I had collected things that are important for me: photographs, paintings, pieces from books like ‘Grown ups, you better make soup of them’ by Guus Kuijer, the film Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson. It all had to do with adventure and a quest for what makes life pleasant.’
‘My favorite philosopher Epicures said quite right things about it. It is also in my thesis.’ She lended me her thesis – beautifully designed – and I read there about the importance of friendship. Friendship is on Epicures’ number one place of the pleasant things in life.
Next Cross Country, 2012. We see three skilaufers in succession in the forest in a snowstorm. ‘In this painting I started to paint more freely. Before, I often held me tight to underlying images. That I let loose. I made snow with the spray can. All around the main characters is totally imaginary. It was also because I discovered Peter Doig. See: http://peterdoig.mbam.qc.ca/en/
Then Stuff regarding the white horse, 2013. ‘For the first time I saw that it was good to dare to ruin a painting. Originally there was at left a boy standing on his hands and on the right a fence. The only thing that was really succesful, was the horse. I took the grinder to erase – not the horse – and started filling in anew. It turned out to result in a better painting. There is much to discover in it.’
On four ex aequo two works. Sold Lodge, Bought Caravan, 2013 and The Lodge, 2014. ‘Here I started to experiment with paint. By diluting oil it resembles water color, by suggesting trees with sandpaper instead of painting them. I started to paint on raw linen. This provides a challenge, because you can never wipe it. In this way I was working on the edge of failure. In the painting The Lodge the ferns initially were no good. I then worked with turpentine. It then became suddenly very beautiful, fossil-like and almost a kind of velvet.’
And finally, the last key work, Sky Blue, 2014. ‘Playing with paint is continued and there was more abstraction. Both the snow and the trees top left are almost abstract painting.’
Nathalie Mannaerts came relatively late in the Academy. First she was a lawyer and worked at a law firm. She did some mischief there too. There is a nice story about it in her thesis. Besides her lawyers work she did crafts and painted sporadically: wooden headboards of beds, lampshades, pillows, dinnerware. During her law studies she had for two years painting classes, and made three/four paintings. On the advice of a friend, she went to the Academy in 2009 and graduated in 2014. That step completely changed her life. ‘Before, I was a little unsure, not quite happy. It’s fine to be an artist. You can do whatever you want. You do not have to stick to rules that other people have to adhere to. As an artist you can be a little crazy. You can hide behind that. I’ve never been so happy. I’ve never felt so free as I do now.’
‘In the last century an artist was rebellious if he painted unacademically, if he painted against the conventions. The norm was that a work of art shoudn’t please and hard to understand, had to “scour”. That was probably the result of protestantism, that things may not happen by themselves. But that actually is a convential, old-fashioned view of art. Young artists can appreciate a good piece of painting that continues to fascinate in a positive way. In that regard a well painted work is innovative. My challenge is to add something completely unique and entirely new to the art of painting.’
Never out of town
Nathalie Mannaerts has lived in Amsterdam for a while, but now she has been living already for seventeen years in The Hague. She will never leave. There is a lot of beautiful scenery, there is the openness of the sea and there is a lot of culture. ‘Amsterdam is also nice, but I was getting uneasy. There is far too much to do over there.’
Some months ago, she had an exhibition at Sanquin, the blood institution, in Amsterdam. There was a positive response by the employees of Sanquin, she heard.
‘I want to make the world more beautiful. Prettier and more interesting, also in the company of people. In all freedom.’