Ellen Holleman is a visual artist and urban design professional creating paintings inspired by scenes from ordinary daily life.
Rossum / The Netherlands
Ellen was trained as a spatial designer at the Utrecht School of the Arts (the Netherlands). After graduating (January 1993) she took off to work in Mérida, Mexico, as a designer at Mexico Mágico, a new entertainment park that was being developed at the time. Later on she joined the muralists team on site in Cancún. Back in the Netherlands (1995) she worked as a designer at an urban planning office in Rotterdam and as a project developer at a housing association in Amsterdam. During these years she gained extensive experience in process management and urban development. Craving for more creative and artistic growth, Ellen decided to work as an independent designer and concept developer (2000). While freelancing she started collaborating more and more with her partner, an urban designer. In 2007 they officially partnered up at Islant, their urban design studio (www.islant.nl). The projects Islant works on focus on routing and the upgrading of public spaces. They have developed methods to detect and revitalize ‘dear places’: specific places of interest in the collective memory of an urban network.
Besides her work as an urban design professional over the last twenty Ellen worked as a cultural producer, did several applied art projects and graphic design jobs, she initiated grass roots urban projects, wrote two books and became a mother of two boys. But in between all her occupations the urge to paint was always there!
Only recently she started focussing more and more on her painting practice. And since the beginning of 2021 she is working in a studio in Zaltbommel, where she participates in ‘Kunstrondje Zaltbommel’, a collective of locally based artists. September 2021 she had her first solo exhibition since the nineties, in cultural centre De Poorterij, Zaltbommel.
Painting is like magic to me! I see the world through a ‘paint filter’, always wondering how I would picture the things I see on canvas. Being able to visualize and (re)create scenes, with only shades and colours, never ceases to amaze me. To create the images I have in mind I use different techniques available to me. I prefer to work with oil paints and traditional techniques, but I also enjoy mixing media and use contemporary techniques like (digital)collages and photography as part of my creative process.
The themes I choose for my paintings are usually scenes from ordinary daily life. I am a voyeur, I like to observe people and places. I collect images from the places I visit, the journeys I make. My head is like a huge archive filled with images. I use these images to create my paintings about contemporary life. Making unsolicited portraits of people in the places where they live their lives.
Sometimes an image strikes me for a certain kind of atmosphere, a special colour or lightning effect. Or sometimes it is the contrast of human life in a desolate (urban) landscape. My paintings show how humans relate to the spaces that surround them. Or how impossible it can be to relate to those spaces at all. Thus addressing and questioning the way we build our cities and societies. And addressing the existential solitude that most of us experience at some point in our lives. I also want to show the intimacy that some of us are able to create anywhere and show compassion for those who lack that resilience.
And sometimes I simply seek the joy of creating; painting a bird, a tree or a portrait of someone dear. Offering comfort by showing the beauty that is present in all things around us.
"Becoming an artist has been a long journey: it took me almost 30 years to ‘come out of the closet’ as a painter. I was a creative child, dreaming of becoming a fashion designer. But without artistic role models, nor anyone encouraging my artistic talents, it never occurred to me that I could actually BE that. So I went to university, to have a ‘serious’ career. Soon realizing that this wasn’t for me and decided to apply for art school. But even though I got in, I never considered myself to be a ‘real’ artist, whatever that may be. So instead of becoming an autonomous artist I choose a career as a spatial designer. After art school (1993), I was offered the opportunity to join the design team of a new entertainment park in Mexico, where later on I worked on site as a muralist. Never had I been happier! We literally painted everything in the park, from the facades to the trees! It was there I totally fell in love with colours and painting. Unfortunately the park was shut down, getting us all fired. Back home in the Netherlands I had to get my life back on track so I returned to my design career and started working at an urban design studio. At night and during the weekends I painted. In the nineties I had participated with my paintings in several collective and two solo exhibitions in Mexico and the Netherlands. But after visiting a Spanish friend’s painting studio (late nineties) I was so impressed by his use of colours that I decided to abandon acrylics and dedicate myself to learn the secrets of oil painting. I started making my own paints and learned about traditional painting techniques. It caused a complete shift in my way of working. I made new pieces, but for years I wasn’t painting in a consistent way and never had any shows. During these years I also became a mother of two boys, so in my life there was always something going on that kept me from fully dedicating myself to my art. But the urge to paint never left me. So when I saw an to work as a visiting artist at the Kunstgenieloods I turned it into a private artist’s retreat. I spend a very intense week on my own and went back home feeling absolutely certain that I needed more of this. So shortly after, finally, I decided to reorganize my life and found myself a studio to do what makes me happy: paint. So here goes!"