'In this Age Everyone Has to be Her Own Businesswoman, I Find this Somewhat Ridiculous'
Willemijn graduated from art academy ArtEZ in Enschede in 2011. At her final exhibition she was one of ten talented upcoming artists across the graduates of the three ArtEZ art academies selected to show their work at Oostenwind 11 in the Delta Lloyd building in Amsterdam. She moved to Antwerp to work in solitude and to find her creative environment. Besides making her own art, Willemijn also works as a painter on commission, as a production manager at Picoux Productions, and has been a vocalist and cellist with Verlin. She is looking for both audiences and collaborators.
Our initiative, Listen Local, is trying to connect local audiences with locally relevant musicians. Where do you feel at home as a musician?
Feeling at home for me is not linked to a place, feeling at home for me has to do with connecting with people. That’s also what art is about, right? Touching people with what you do or make.
It’s true, though, that I feel at home in Antwerp; I did from the moment I stepped out of the train the first time I came here. There’s something about the atmosphere here, it’s sort of laissez-faire — or at least it felt that way nine years ago. It’s the reason why I wanted to live here, even though I didn’t know anyone here. The second time ever that I came to Antwerp was to move my belongings from the Netherlands to my Antwerp apartment. It was freedom, it was following my heart: on my own in a city and country I didn’t really know, choosing art above everything.
This is the morning of my sixteenth birthday. The first time I slept on the campsite of a music festival. Lowlands with my best friend. I hate camping, but I love music! Still glad someone found it worth it to capture this moment: “It’s your birthday!” #flash We’re eating bread with ‘schuddebuikjes’ here. In other words, “bread with minuscule cookies.” She’s wearing her skeleton hoodie and I’m wearing my Nirvana hoodie. The day before, when I was still 15, I saw PJ Harvey perform. Bless her. And bless how beautiful my friend and I were then.
…But yeah, where do I feel at home as a musician? It’s got to do with the connection on stage and bringing it out there. It’s got to do with sincerity.
If people from other places would visit Antwerp, what would you recommend them to see, hear or try out? Can you recommend some local music or places?
In Antwerp I like Openluchttheater Rivierenhof very much. I saw Patti Smith perform there, which was kind of magical. It’s this stage in the middle of a huge park. People can sit in a semi-circle on benches or stand in front of the stage. It creates a really nice ambience.
Recently I discovered Matt Watts’s music. At the moment he’s working on a new album with Stef Kamil Carlens as producer. The first single got released in February. And he also has another project with Nicolas Rombauts. So there are two albums of his coming out this year that I do believe are worthy of people’s attention.
Music performers and DJs usually start out at small local clubs and stages, and they are often constrained by the logistics of live performance. Is there any difference in building your audience as a painter? Is it important to be part of a local scene in art?
I think pretty much everything starts from where you are located, so yes, local is the logical first step. Last July I had an exhibition in a place here in Antwerp called Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. The owner gives courses in art, people can drink and eat something there and she has a space where every month other artists can show their work.
The thing is that in art you have to get introduced to galleries and such by someone who has a connection with the gallery owner. Someone has to say, Hey, I think you might be interested in seeing the work of this artist, rather than going somewhere and saying, Hey, I’m an artist, want to look at my work? It also doesn’t feel right to present yourself like that, or at least for me it doesn’t.
In this day and age it seems that everyone has to be their own businessman/woman, but in my opinion that’s somewhat ridiculous.
I think people who have a lot of connections have a huge advantage in getting somewhere. Networking is important, but again, not everyone is good at that.
You are not a businesswoman, as you say, but how do you get commissions for your paintings?
People approach me. Oftentimes they want to see a certain photo painted by me. It also happened that I got a commission from a friend of someone who had bought ink drawings from me. This person gave me a phrase, “men of words,” and from there I created this ink drawing in complete freedom. It was a very nice thing to do.
You painted the cover art for your own band. Have you worked with other bands as a painter, creative designer, makeup artist or in another, non-musician role?
I did several artworks for Verlin. I haven’t done anything for other bands yet, but I would love to. Ever since I was young I’ve had a fascination for album covers. I could sit for hours in front of my parents’ record collection and look at them.
Is there any location in particular where you would like to make music or find an audience for your music and your paintings?
Of course there are many places where I would like to make music and exhibit my paintings and drawings. It’s always a wonderful feeling when a work you made finds a new home to live in. In my mind I know what I want. Again it has got to do with this connection with the audience.
Just being an introvert makes it sometimes difficult to step into the “outside” world. That’s why it’s great if you can find people who believe in you and are skilled in this networking thing.
In October when it was still allowed to do so, we performed on stage at CC Het Oude Badhuis. Our duet “Without You” (see below) got played on Radio 1 here in Belgium. Those are things that give positive energy. It’s great to reach people. For me, art is about feeling. I’ve had people look at my work and name the exact feelings I had while making the work. That was so scary, yet at the same time so magical. How is that even possible?
What kind of new music projects do you have in mind?
I would like to find someone who I can work with like how John Parish and PJ Harvey work together, I think they have a wonderful collaboration. Further, I’d like to do several projects, to be totally immersed in music making. I really want to work with different types of musicians ’cause I think it helps one grow as a musician and artist. It’s really about the depth of it all, that’s what I’m searching for in life.
We are doing some experiments to figure out how certain artists end up on Forgetify, an app that plays music that has absolutely no audience, and how to avoid this happening. Would you participate in an anonymous experimental music project with us to find out how algorithms learn to recommend new music?
Sure! Bring it on.
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