Koen Vermeule attended the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam from 1990 to 1992 and has since created an oeuvre characterized by light and clarity. Vermeule is virtuoso in his use of paint and has a sharp eye for iconic images. Well-known (inter)nationally, Vermeule has already had numerous museum exhibitions.
Koen Vermeule works around two themes: landscapes and portraits. Vermeule often shows overwhelming landscapes in his work as well as condensed snapshots: moments in which he portrays painted figures, often young and inward-looking. They are lost in thought, lost in the moment.
We asked Koen Vermeule about his work and the special edition he made for AkzoNobel.
Which themes are important in your work?
I’m open to all topics, but having just returned from Japan, I always notice the lively, new person in the quiet ants’ nest. He’s always on the road, detached from one single place—nomadic and always busy with his smartphone.
Where did you grow up and train?
I was born in Zeeland. My father worked in the Philips factory in Roosendaal and decided to move to Brabant. I grew up in Roosendaal, followed a teacher training at the Mollerinstituut in Tilburg, after which I was a participant at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam.
What inspires you?
Inspiration comes while I'm on the road or traveling. It’s not something that can be forced, but I immediately recognize it when it happens to me.
Can you tell us about how you start new work?
My subject is often a fleeting moment, a second later it can be over, gone. I take a quick picture with my phone, often just passing by. In the studio I start with work on paper, I feel free while drawing.
The snapshot is the starting point, from which I start working on the shapes, the colors. It’s where I add things or remove them. Then, slowly, I start the painting, where I recreate the space that I started on paper.
What does your average working day look like?
Every day, I cycle to Amsterdam, together with my dog—the first kilometers along an unpaved path. Beautiful landscape, lots of evening primroses, birds, water, air followed by city impressions: Rijnkanaal, Science park, Amsterdam East.
I work all day, painting and works on paper, in my studio in the center of the city. In the evening we go back the same way.
Can you describe your studio for us?
My studio is 50m2, with high windows on the north, and 4.5 meters high. Through the window I look at a photo studio where there’s something different every day.
What material do you like to work with?
I work with gouache, acrylic and oil paint. Use of color is very important to me and often depends on the quality of the paint.
What do you strive for in your work? When is a work finished for you?
I can have a plan or envision the end-result, but the moment of deciding whether a work is really finished is intuitive.
Can you tell something about the work from the AkzoNobel art collection ‘Mirror’? How did you come up with this topic, is it an existing place?
I went on a walk in Neerijen, a floodplain landscape at the foot of the Martinus Nijhoff bridge. The weather was dramatic all the way there, but when we arrived at the dike the sun broke through theatrically.
The sky reflected beautifully in a rain puddle, which inspired me to make this work. The place is not important, rather it’s a free way of looking at reality, micro and macro view in one. It can be anywhere.
You have made a new version of ‘Mirror’ with different material, from gouache. Can you tell something about the making process?
I thought it would be a good idea to make an edition of the same subject. The size of the design, the details and the effect of paint on paper remain intact in the translation into print.
Why do you paint landscapes?
I almost only paint landscapes in which man has shown his hand. In many of my works I paint figures that feel somewhat displaced in the world. The landscapes are often large, because I want the viewer to become the figure in the physical landscape.
Would you like it that AkzoNobel employees will have your work on the wall at home?
Of course! It’s always special when someone wants to have my work.
Do you want to say something about the AkzoNobel as a company collection?
The AkzoNobel Art Foundation has developed in 25 years into a core value in the art world. As an artist I feel part of a larger whole, a collection, but also a community, because Hester Alberdingk Thijm keeps in touch with the artists, the galleries, the museums. And that is an unprecedented binding value.
Portretfoto’s Koen Vermeule: Cedric Verhelst