Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Portrait of a Sculptor - Ynskje Penning

It is two o’clock on a Friday afternoon, as I make my way along the narrow stone alley of the Uurwerkersgang. I pass the Harmonie buildings of the Rijksuniversiteit on my right, complete with its boundary of metal bicycle racks, filled to capacity as usual.

A little further down on the other side is Ynskje Penning’s gallery, and as I approach I can see she is less than amused by the fact that an enormous silver-coloured car has been parked right in front of the gallery, blocking the entrance completely. Fortunately, there is just enough room for us to squeeze alongside the car and into the gallery.

The interior is surprisingly more spacious than the outside had led me to believe, and its wooden beamed ceiling and white painted floor give it an airy feel. Atmospheric, scenic and portrait paintings cover the walls from a guest exhibitor, Jacqueline Kasemier. Ynskje’s sculptures sit at intervals on long low black plinths around the room or in the two glass cases either side of the door. There is a small reception desk on which a neat pile of one of her historical novels Emo’s Labyrint is stacked; she is a published author too.

We head upstairs to her studio, but before we can start our talk, there is a customer. He buys a signed copy of the aforementioned book and talks at length with Ynskje about her work. Pen and pad in hand, I stand and listen, jotting down facts as he covers areas I had planned to ask about myself. Curiosity satisfied he leaves, and Ynskje and I sit down with cups of Camille tea, surrounded by her work and posters of past exhibitions on all sides.

Always interested in art, Ynskje wanted to study at art school, but was advised by her parents to follow a study that would offer her a way to make a living. In their eyes it was hard to earn a crust in the arts. Taking their advice, Ynskje studied to become a teacher and taught for a number of years. It was only after her marriage and the birth of her daughter that she decided now was the time to follow her passion. So, she gave up teaching and started writing and sculpting.

She learnt the sculpting tricks of the trade as well as clay and wax basics at the Kunstencentrum. After that, it has been a long continual search spanning thirty-five years, coupled with sheer determination and an invaluable study of anatomy. The results of this can be seen in her bronze busts, where not only the physical but the essence of the person is present. In her words, sculpting is more complicated than painting, as it has to make sense for the whole 360 degrees of the head. Also, whilst a portrait may be emotive it must be timeless.

A commissioned work isn’t realized from a selection of photos, (and where relevant) sittings alone, it often involves the whole family as well as friends. Ynskje uses their reactions to gauge her work’s authenticity, and no sculpture is finished until both parties are absolutely satisfied; a portrait must be tangible, and if she has done her work well, often it can be confrontational too. She gives the example of the man who commissioned a portrait of his then deceased wife; he wanted a younger, timeless version, not his wife aged sixty-two. By studying photos of the woman taken over the years, it was possible for her to create a bust which brought back the striking youthful face of the woman in her younger days, for a cast in bronze. Constructive comments from the family helped along the way with necessary alterations, and, she knew she had succeeded when the woman’s brother-in-law exclaimed “This is her!”

Her personal sculptures differ greatly in style; her inspiration comes from both people and animals, with a particular love of human characteristics in the latter. To illustrate this point she motions to the coffee table and her piece of a mother elephant and child; a study full of movement, with the baby pulling on the mother in much the same way as a human child would do. In contrast to her commissioned work her human figures are simple, with unnecessary detail removed and stylized so that the essence and glance remain. Male models are harder to come by, so her subjects are generally female, voluptuous and curvaceous, often carved out in a white stone.

Her other passion is writing, and she has over sixty books to her name, including historical novels and children’s books. Oftentimes, she will have to research an historical era before embarking on a new project; this can mean delving into hundreds of years of history. Her most popular to date are Emo’s Labrint and Storm Vloed, in their second and fifth editions respectively.

I ask Ynskje if she has any advice for anyone interested in starting a career as a sculptor. From her position seated calmly in the middle of the sofa, with her hands folded in her lap, she tells me that sculpting is a dying art; few sculpting courses remain in The Netherlands, so interested parties often have to travel abroad. Also, you have to ask yourself some serious questions; do you think you could earn a living from it, and if not or it doesn’t turn out to be as you expected, what do you do then? It takes a long time to become a sculptor; you have to be driven, learn to look and be prepared to give it all you’ve got. The world of three dimensions is a long road to travel upon and as her father said: “You can want it, but you have to have the opportunity.”

Should you want to see more of Ynskje’s work, from April 2012, her work can be viewed in her new studio: Emmalaan 7, 9752 KR, Haren.

© Alison Day
First published in the 
Connections magazine #35 Spring 2012
Read & download issue here

Thursday, 5 April 2012

What's Hot What's Not - Beam me up Scotty

The next step in the evolution of sky travel seems to have resulted in the partial dispensing with the check-in staff.

Booking online, checking in online and printing out your boarding pass at home, to avoid the queues at the airport, has become standard procedure for most people, but at Schipol Airport they've taken it one step further at the baggage drop.

I am ushered by KLM ladies, impeccable in their bright blue uniforms and practiced smiles, to an area with a series of short queues of fellow travelers. It is here we wait for our turns at a row of waist-height white and silver cabins, each with automated, latticed metal mesh fronts that open and shut at intervals, like hungry mouths.

My first reaction is that I’m about to be enjoy a new kind of treatment at a wellness spa, but the surroundings quickly put that idea to rest. The cabins look reminiscent of the decor from a set of the popular sci-fi series, Star Trek of the 70’s, and, as I suppress the urge to shout “Beam me up Scotty” at the top of my voice, I can’t help wondering if they have finally mastered the art of moving objects from one place to another, through space and time.

I realize I’m not the only one who’s new to this procedure, as I listen to the whispered anxieties of the Australians behind me, who then proceed to watch what I do, eagle-eyed. Blind leading the blind, I’m afraid, but, when the illuminated screen to my left requests that I heave my suitcase into the cabin, handle upwards, I oblige. A quick scan of the boarding pass and all your details appear along with the suitcase’s weight, and your allowance of 23kg. You are then asked, if this is you - ‘Press yes’. Momentarily, I wonder what kind of devilish chaos I could create if I chose ‘No’, but decide not to piss-off my fellow travelers by holding them up for my own amusement. ‘Did you pack your bag yourself’, is smile-worthy, but the potential ensuing sarcasm would be lost on a machine, at least in this century. And yes, I did omit: sharp objects, bombs, and nerve gas…this time!

All correct so far, the baggage label is printed out with the idea of being attached to your bag’s handle. Seen it done a million times, it should be easy you’d think. It’s not - the sticky part is very sticky indeed, and if you don’t get the ends attached to each other in one go, you run the risk of adding long tresses of hair, the machine wall and any rogue small children into the equation.

Final ‘Yes’ pressed and the metal mesh descends, partially obscuring the visibility of the luggage.  When it opens again, abracadabra! The suitcase has vanished. Good to go, I turn on my heel and throw a parting comment to the queue behind me: ‘And, your luggage is never seen again!’

Ok, now to spoil the magic. It does not de-materialize, the floor does not open up and swallow it, nor is there a vertical wind tunnel to dramatically suck it out of sight. If you peer through the mesh, you will see the floor rise to an incline, knock over the case onto a conveyor belt, which then carries it off (hopefully) to the loading bay.

With time to spare I trot through passport control, and decide to opt for a drink at a bar and a spot of people watching. A different one to last time’s rip-off experience, where to my surprise a glass of white wine cost me € 9,25; gob-smacked, I gave the woman behind the bar ten euros, and said ‘Keep the change’. This time, however, a glass of cold Heineken and bag of Doritos came in at a saner cost of € 5,60.

So, with this new development in sky travel, and avoiding scary scenarios like the one out of the 1986 film, ‘The Fly’ (David Cronenberg), in which Jeff Goldblum accidently merges with a housefly during a teleportation experiment; I wonder how long it will take before I will be able to step into the cabin too and be ‘beamed’ to my destination. 

Hear an excerpt of the story read my Alison Day: HERE

First published in the Connections magazine, Spring issue #35, 2012