In the studio

Kim van Norren

Kampen, NL

Interview with
Kim van Norren

Kim van Norren paints with shapes and letters. With her beautiful textworks, she occupies an exceptional position in painting.

For Kim van Norren (1980, the Netherlands), painting starts with the search for a text in which she can distinguish a personal experience. Form, color and text are her three main ingredients while the latter gains a potency which emerges from its confluence with the image. She finds her words in song lyrics, among others, granting them a whole new meaning once lifted from their context.

We asked Kim van Norren about her work and the special edition she made for the AkzoNobel Art Foundation.

Where did you grow up and where were you trained?

I grew up in Amersfoort and Lelystad. Lelystad is rather ugly and flat, but what I enjoyed was cycling endlessly in the surrounding nature. I studied in Kampen and Amsterdam, the Constantijn Huygens (now ArtEZ) and later at the Ateliers in Amsterdam.

How do you start a new work?

First, I put on some good music. Then I need to clean up the mess, because I can only work if the studio is clean so I can organize my materials properly. After that, I choose my canvas or paper, mix the paint and choose the brushes. I cut the texts out of cardboard - then I start painting.

Is there such a thing as an average working day for you in terms of layout and activities?

I always arrive at the studio around 11 a.m. I look at what I worked on the day before and determine what I feel like working on that day. Then I think about what needs to be done and prepare my worksheet.

Sometimes I stay fully focused and I get a lot of work done, but I also have days in between when it’s all a fight. At the end of my day, I photograph everything, and I post it on Instagram and Facebook, I answer my e-mails in between and leave things for what they are to go home and eat with my family around 6 p.m.

In the evenings I often continue working from 8 to 11 p.m. When the music is loud it feels like I’m making the most brilliant paintings. The next morning it becomes clear whether that was true or not.

Why do you work with text by using your own special typography?

I've always scribbled down on little pieces of paper, in the corners of notebooks, on receipts or on the wall. When I was a teenager, I had a desk that was mostly filled with a huge music system. I spent my high school days at that desk listening to radio and tapes. Once I started studying painting at the academy and later during my time at the Ateliers, the lyrics slowly fused with my paintings.

I noticed that people had difficulty with text when it appeared on the canvas in handwriting. For many, it referred too much to a diary entry. I started searching for a form in which I could use text on canvas and objectify it at the same time.

The letters are more shapes to me than they are letters. This means you can look at my work as "form" and "image" and not so much as a story that’s being told. You’re free to read or see the shape as shape.

When is a work finished for you?

When I take a step back and have the feeling that I’m looking at the work as a whole - when it’s no longer possible to trace how it came about - when it makes me happy looking at it.

Can you tell us how "May you stay forever young" came about?

The original work from 2013 that is in the AkzoNobel Art Collection came about when my father passed away. I listened to Bob Dylan's song and thought that was exactly what I wanted for my father. Memories do have that special quality to fixate people in a certain phase. My painting captures the memory of him as a monument.

In the spring of 2020, I made a new version: a work on paper. I had immersed myself again in Bob Dylan's music. "May you stay forever young" was created alongside "The times They are a-changin", this combination did justice to the passage of time for me. Time that is precious, time in which you have experienced beautiful, lively moments.

Can you tell us something about the creative process of the edition?

It’s always a detour, making a second version of a work. You have to go back in time to when and why you ever made the original. I think it's important to find the real emotion, which is then reflected in the work itself.

Sometimes things go wrong along the way. There is a lot of struggle and love during the process. Letting go of something that is not satisfying is also loving. Often, after the failure, the work I was looking for arises. Close to the original, but more importantly, it is close to the "now".

Is it special to make an edition for AkzoNobel employees?

Yes certainly, I don't have to think twice about that. The collection is beautiful and has been built up with great care and attention over the years. I am delighted that my work is part of it. The fact that there is now an opportunity for AkzoNobel employees to acquire a piece of this beautiful collection responds to my feelings about this collection.

By making it possible to bring a part of the collection into your home, the reach of the collection is even greater, and that is a 'Nobel' goal.

Kim van Norren was educated at the famous Ateliers in Amsterdam. She has had exhibitions at Cokkie Snoei gallery (Rotterdam), Schunck*, Heerlen, Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht, Marres, Maastricht, Museum Schiedam, Schiedam. She won several Art Awards like the Royal Prize for Painting, The Scheffer Award and the Sieger White Award. Her work is included in many private and public collections.

Fun fact: The special edition is based on a larger painting in the Akzo Nobel art collection, which happens to be on the wall in the office of our CEO Thierry Vanlancker. 😉

Edition information:

Kim van Norren, 'May You Stay Foverer Young' (2020),
60 x 45 cm, vibrant pigment print, edition of 50,
special AkzoNobel price: € 350 without frame, € 520 with a white frame and artglass.
You can order the edition in the webshop

Works for sale of Kim van Norren