An array of vivid ties spring to mind upon encountering the work of Dutch painter Ellen De Meijer. The first is of Margaret Keane, the American creator of that mid-century phenomenon colloquially known as Big Eyes. And while there are indeed similarities between the two, in tone as well as of features, there’s a different sort of more than meets the, er, eye with De Meijer. That is the more of Dutch painting itself, a lineage and heritage that no American can ever lay claim.
We speak of the Dutch Golden Age tronie (that is, face), a phenomenon that traces back to the 16th Century grotesques created by Leonardo. Breughel the Elder also applied his deft hand to tronies, as did Rembrandt. But whereas the masters concerned themselves with exaggerating the elements of a particular face (or faces), De Meijer strips away the heat to get to the cold hard fact of what matters. You might even say she’s taken out the melodrama, and in its place provided an entirely new perspective in portraiture.
But who are these creatures created by De Meijer? We know she calls the series Ceremony Portraits; and we know her recent Unix Gallery exhibition of said creatures was entitled “Digital Divide.” But that’s about all we know.
Or all we did know, till Arte Fuse reached out to De Meijer on the eve of Art Southampton and asked the neo-Traditionalist to provide background for the cast of characters encompassed in her Ceremony Portraits.
If you had to pin an actual place of origin to the cast of characters captured in your Ceremony Portraits, where might you say they came/come from?
Any metropolitan. My characters are really city people. They are hardcore city people who are the furthest away from nature one can be. People in New York, London, Hong Kong, cities like that.
If you had to hazard some sort of actual bloodline, what ethnic composite might course through their veins?
Definitely old European. My characters have old blood with history flowing through their veins. They are the archetype. THE human.
If you were to now add an era (or eras) to the mix, which era(s) might the characters exist?
The present. These characters have huge family trees that go back centuries, but they are modern clearly. Hence their choice of fashion and their interest in technology. They symbolize the human mind kind of our modern day. But important to note; they are not individuals, they are us. You and me. We all have centuries of history behind our names but share the same color blood.
What language(s) do they speak?
Engels or German. Not both. Leaning towards German. Some Hebrew.
What music is on their playlist?
Mostly Bach, but also Antony [Hegarty], Bowie, Amy Winehouse. There is a certain rebellion in their taste of music.
What cinema provides them the most pleasure?
Movies directed by the Coen brothers. They have perfected the art of visualizing the nakedness of people, their bizarre behavior and absurd send of humor. I love how the Coen brothers show how humans wrestle through their lives. People have no choice but to survive while coping with the burden and weirdness of life. Their opening shots of the Coen brothers typically show how grand nature is and how small and harmful people actually are.
What deities do they find to be the most divine?
Absolutely none. They are all atheist.
Do any of the cast of characters have names?
No, and that is also not possible because they are not individuals but represent THE individual. A woman, a child, a man. But strangely enough my female characters represent THE girl. For some reason she is always more defined by me than my other characters. My latest painting probably shows this best.
Are any of those faces in any way based upon anyone you actually know?
Of course; but that is not the intention. But all gestures, mimic and strong features are based on people I have met throughout my entire life. Big eyes, often eyes that are deep in their case. I try to make sure that my characters look like they to have old roots that go way back.
Finally, why does the Ceremony Portrait cast of characters come to us courtesy of a Digital Divide?
They present a universal time of mankind. The characters more or less unwillingly have to go with the flow of modern society that is characterized by digitalization of our daily lives, which itself is defined by the survival of the fittest.
Interview by John Hood