Speech Natasja Kensmil
November 1, 2021
I would like to thank the Minister of Culture and the jury for awarding me the Johannes Vermeer Prize 2021. The state award came as a complete surprise to me. I was pretty much in shock when I received the news. It did take a while to sink in what this meant. It is a wonderful recognition and crowning glory of the body of work I have built up over the past few years. I am grateful for the trust the jury has placed in my work, and it confirms that my work is seen and recognised. This award is a huge incentive for me. It comes at a time when the art sector is struggling, partly because many governments to date have not exactly considered art as something essential. And that is precisely why this state award is so important for creative artists, and I sincerely hope that it will continue for a long time to come.
I would like to thank my gallery owners, former teachers, friends and colleagues from the art sector and especially my mother, sister, father-in-law and my husband and children, for their enormous support. It gives me an incredibly warm feeling that I get to celebrate this here with all of you, on this special night.
Well, what drives me as an artist?
All kids draw, but while most of them stop when they reach puberty, I kept going. The joy and drive to draw people and objects, to visualise my thoughts, or just to be surprised by what I had created, made me realise at an early age that I wanted to be an artist.
The art schools I attended, offered me different mediums to explore the world in different ways. That is, to explore the relationship between me and the world. I realised quite early on that I wanted to paint. Working with oils was a revelation. Oil paint can be reworked over and over again. It is a dense and opaque medium that allows you to make endless corrections and changes, to paint over it and start over again. I discovered palimpsests. In paintings, I could also scrape off and rewrite. I could bury paintings under and then have them resurrected in other paintings. With a web of lines, layers of paint, stacks of colour and gritty textures, I was able to let the saturated matter crumble and simmer, until it would erupt into liquid, dripping light and dark paint. This initial phase was crucial, but often involved young, immature ideas that wanted to develop all too hastily. I was constantly searching, with a driving, reckless ambition. At the Ateliers, I found myself in a quagmire of keener observations, criticisms, discussions and doubts, but exactly that helped me discover my own path. I learned to better identify and articulate what I was doing and where I wanted to go.
The love for and urgency of painting has never faded, but has only grown stronger over the years. It is a deeply felt, almost instinctive compulsion to create art. It is the joy of using paints, palettes, brushes, turpentine and canvas. I don’t want to do anything else, I can’t do anything else, I don’t do anything else. I go to the studio every day, and plod away as if forced by my instincts and my ideas, but also by history and the history of painting.
When creating the painting, I want to constantly illuminate the world from a different perspective, the world of the past and the present. Past and present too often tell stories of power, the pursuit of profit, oppression and violence. I am obsessed by the human condition, fascinated by what is at the core of human nature. That core is what I want to get through to. I occupy myself with the human urge to create and destroy and how it manifests itself in culture and history. I am particularly interested in the ruins of time, the traces that are left behind, and what they mean.
Human behaviour and the culture that it created, are often beyond my comprehension. We create, make discoveries, measure, test, and map, which gives us a better view of reality; we develop techniques, try to fight diseases. But all of that has a downside as well. The urge to engineer the world to our liking easily leads to a thirst for power, inequality, division, manipulation, exploitation, disastrous ecological warfare and murder. Those scenes repel and attract me. It is the aesthetics of horror which makes the suffering and misfortune of mankind pleasing to me. When I paint, I can intensely enjoy depicting romance, tragedy and evil. At the same time, I can hardly understand any of that tragedy and evil. But that uncertainty also drives me on.
From that uncertainty, I paint about the complexity of being. By painting over the dark and aestheticising it, it becomes lustrous. Beauty helps me reconcile with the world. Beauty has the ability to unite. While painting, the thoughts, observations, experiences and stories I collected all come together. They intertwine and weave together to form a complex network and generate new ideas. While painting, I knead, distort, embellish, mangle and destroy them. Iconic images transform.
The layering sets the painting in motion, until the point of inspiration is reached.