In the studio
Sebastiaan Bremer alters photographs, to explore deep ideas about time and memory. He covers these photographs with splashes of color and subtle patterning, tracing across the photograph’s surface like some wondrous filament.
We are very proud to present a delicate special edition of Sebastiaan Bremer. An everyday daffodil lifted by a poetic colorful dot pattern. A subtle gem of this internationally operating artist. This edition is really a great opportunity for art lovers.
We asked Sebastiaan about his work, studio practice and about the wonderful AkzoNobel Narcissus edition.
Where did you grow up and where were you trained?
I mostly grew up in Amsterdam. I went to the open studio program at the Vrije Academie in The Hague from 1989-1991, but I never attended a formal art education institution. Instead in 1998 I attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture, a post graduate residency. Since then I have been to many art residencies, among which McDowell and Art OMI.
How do you start a new work?
I choose a photograph or dark surface to start working on and set out with a plan that might completely change whilst working on the piece. Then I draw with small pens, paint with acrylic and add larger dots, and make the smallest marks with the tip of a razor, cutting into the emulsion of the photograph. It takes a long time from start to finish.
Is there such a thing as an average working day for you in terms of layout and activities?
I work most days of the week from 9-6, and sometimes into the evenings. I like working with daylight, therefore the office hours.
Can you describe your studio for us?
My studio consists of two office rooms on top of a 1930’s factory in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It has nice views over Manhattan and Brooklyn and is filled with books and tables. The windows wrap around the studio space and I also have access to the roofs around me which give 360 degrees views of my surroundings.
I have three large tables on wheels so I can adjust the surface sizes by combining the tables into larger areas to work on. One large piece of furniture holds all my pens and inks.
You work meticulously with acrylic and ink on photographs in your work. How did this come about?
At first I tried to convey what was in my head by painting self-portraits in oil paint, using pictures I took at the train station photo booth, on the way to my studio in The Hague’s Free Academy. I painted and poured and threw all my internal energies at the canvas. But there were always a few images that I would never do better than the original photograph already was.
In 1999 I printed a few of these impossibly to paint pictures on a larger format, but I didn’t know what to do with them, really. They were intimidating. It finally clicked when my then-girlfriend (now wife) Andrea called up from Brazil before she got on the plane to New York: she was afraid the plane would crash. We spoke, I told her not to worry and that all would be fine. After hanging up I started to second-guess myself.
I couldn’t sleep, and I figured since I was awake I would pass the time by trying to work on this one deep blue image of my goddaughter Veerle swimming underneath the surface of a pool, holding her breath. I started hesitantly in one corner with small white dots, tracing the waves in the water. I wasn’t looking for meaning, just passing and recording time, dot by dot, keeping the waves going from left to right. My pen on the C-print was mimicking he needle in my brain registering the waves of memory.
This picture of her swimming under water and holding her breath, shot by my mom Veronica on a waterproof disposable camera in the pool in 1996 or so, slowly transformed into a magical object, holding my anxiety in check, keeping my mind afloat, keeping my fear at bay, keeping Andrea’s plane magically aloft, safely bringing her home to New York. My dots seemed to guard Veerle in place, with her breath inside.
The illusion pictured held, the drawing did not overpower the photograph, they let it squeeze through, and the dots were able to squeeze in between the colored flecks making up the print.
Are there certain themes that recur more often in your work? You once mentioned that you are sometimes 'stuck in time'?
I make works that are either allegories of our time, usually based on personal photographs or memories. I like trees, for their long lifespan, and the way their branches meander into the sky like synapses and patterns in our brains.
My work takes a long time, and the period of the work I made can stretch out over months and years, bridging many moments and experiences within and without myself. Often I work without the image of a photograph underneath but seemingly it looks like it, and I love playing with this ambiguous relationship of truth and time.
Sometimes I feel like I can wield a camera in the past, sometimes in times before there were cameras existent.
When is a work finished for you?
When the story is told the work is done. Often I put a work to the side and start another work to give the piece some space, in order to get some distance between the work and me. Then I can decide better what to do, if it is finished, or not.
Can you tell us something about the special edition you made for the Collect the Collection project?
Just before I moved to New York in 1992 I purchased a book, Bloemen (flowers). The book was made during the occupation of the Netherlands as an undercover patriotic gesture - and finished in the years immediately following the war. It was presented to Queen Wilhelmina in 1948, a showcase of some of the best the Netherlands had to offer: printing, flower cultivation and graphic design.
In the book each flower pictured is perfectly composed, retouched and colored. Ironically, the ‘typically Dutch’ flowers in the book are not really that; they originated in places like Afghanistan, the Middle East, North Africa- places where waves of immigration to Northern Europe come from. These flowers and their origin story are mirroring how cultures and identities come to be. Each countries' population is a mutt - nothing grows in isolation.
There is something still and melancholic about the images of these flowers, perhaps a result of the time in which they were created. I wanted to work on them and shake them loose, like you do to dormant seeds; you water them and slowly breathe life into them.
The painted additions enhance the vibrancy of the flowers, taking them from the realm of the past and the printed page to the present outside world. This Narcissus print I made for the AkzoNobel collection is one of the ongoing series of paintings, prints and drawings of flowers, inspired by the Bloemen book with all its layers of meaning.
Does it feel special to you that AkzoNobel employees will soon have a work of yours on their wall at home?
I love that the story I tell in this work gets told again when hanging on the wall of another home.
Title: Narcissus Incomparabilis Fortune (2021)
Vibrant pigment print with manually additions in acrylic paint, mylar and varnish
Edition of 40
Special AkzoNobel price: € 500 without frame, € 650 with frame and artglass
Framesize: 35 x 30 cm
Sebastiaan Bremer (1970, the Netherlands) studied at the Vrije Academie, The Hague and Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture, Maine. The artist currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. His work has been the subject of three major catalogs: Monkey Brain (2003), Avila (2006), and To Joy (2015), and has been exhibited in such venues as the Tate Gallery, London; the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York; The Gemeentemuseum, The Hague; and the Aldrich Museum, Connecticut. Bremer’s work is in the permanent collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Sebastiaan Bremer is represented bij Ron Mandos Gallery, Amsterdam, Hales London and Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York.