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What you paint will last: painting a changing environment

Welcome to this first blog post, where I will share my thoughts as a realistic painter in watercolors. One of the various reasons why I paint, is to leave something that will last, something tangible. My focus is largely on watercolors of places in the Netherlands. Vibrant cityscapes or countryside landscapes in all its moods are among my favorites. But now I’d like to share a thought about the changing nature of the subjects that we paint.

How mutable our surroundings really are, becomes especially clear when you record it in a painting. Not long after I painted the interior of a café in Utrecht on an iPad once, the old furniture was done away with and the interior was modernised. And the burnt-out ruin of a local farm building would one day rise anew out of the ashes, but for that I was already prepared when I drew it.

The branches of a beautiful pollard tree along the river were cut short only days after I painted how beautifully the orange light of the setting sun shone through its leaves, as if through a translucent veil. In the winter, I always get a little bit anxious about the amount of trees they will cut down on my favorite paths, as piles of branches are heaped on top of each other.

Not long after painting old ships by the Parkhaven in Rotterdam, the news came that these ships would be towed away because of safety concerns. This would make the quays of Rotterdam a little more sterile. Café the Ballentent was not happy either, as they saw their nice view on the ships disappear. Luckily, the ships will still be there in my painting.

Of all the subjects I paint, surely a lot more will change, whether it is a temporary or a permanent one. This reveals another function of making beautiful paintings: the recording of the time that we find ourselves in at this moment, so that people in the future can see how things were in the past. This makes the artist also an archivist of sorts.

You don’t have to be a painter to see the changes in the landscape, especially when you take the time and effort to explore your surroundings and to observe all the details. Country roads receive former city dwellers with their minimalist villas and gravel gardens, old sheds will be demolished, and new types of vehicles roam the ever expanding cities.

Another driver of change is environmental sustainability, which doesn’t always lead to more aesthetic surroundings. A news article warned how environmental regulations could threaten thousands of monumental buildings. It would hurt to see these beautiful old buildings go, and wish they could be made more future-proof without replacing them with a soulless substitute. But apparently, demolition is often more cost effective. It’s these old buildings that give me so much joy to paint.

Some of the examples that I mentioned are of a more temporary nature. Trees can grow anew (it can take some time though), and sometimes the proposed change is retracted, as seems to be the case now with the old ships in Rotterdam. But what you paint will remain, as long as there are artists out there painting what they love, and a public that continues to appreciate these works of art.

~ Arthur Koopmans

For the Dutch version of this blog post: click here.


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