Sorry for the Damage – An Interview With Marjolijn de Wit

Marjolijn de Wit, Where the Oceans End, 2022, Oil on canvas, 19.75 in x 15.75 in, Photo Credit: Etienne Frossard

Amsterdam-based artist Marjolijn de Wit is known in Europe and beyond for her incredible oil paintings. Her newest solo exhibit, “Sorry for the Damage,” is currently on display at the Asya Geisberg Gallery — a contemporary art gallery in New York that specializes in “international artists in all media.”

Marjolijn de Wit’s previous work has included massive canvases and floor installations. However, this collection has been completed on a much smaller scale.

Marjolijn de Wit, From Where I Stand, 2022, Oil on canvas, 19.75 in x 15.75 in, Photo Credit: Etienne Frossard

A description of the exhibition published on De Wit’s website explains that the artist intends to focus on the “startling disconnecting” between advertising and editorial content in National Geographic magazines — specifically those from the 1970s and 80s.

Each painting features a romanticized landscape with various objects drawing the eye away from the natural backdrop. For example, the painting “Elegant and Exclusive” features a multicolored moth and a collection of flashy gold watches. “Strikingly, Excitingly, Destructively, or Mysteriously Different” features a pink gift-wrap scrap that looks festive at first but actually becomes a pollutant.

Marjolijn de Wit, Elegant and Exclusive, 2022, Oil on canvas, 15.75 in x 11.75 in, Photo Credit: Etienne Frossard
Marjolijn de Wit, Strikingly, Excitingly, Destructively, or Mysteriously Different, 2022, Oil on canvas, 23.75 in x 19.75 in, Photo Credit: Etienne Frossard

De Wit’s latest collection features many of the same techniques featured in past work, including mirroring, fragmentation, and hiding images within other images. She picked up these and other impressive skills at the Academy of Art and Design at St. Joost in the city of Breda. She was also a resident at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and Sundaymorning@EKWC.

Marjolijn de Wit, Variety of Life, an Exquisite Range of Food, 2022, Oil on canvas 41.25 in x 33.50 in, Photo Credit: Etienne Frossard

The artist’s work has been displayed in museums worldwide, including many in the Netherlands, Canada, and Denmark. She also earned the 2013 PULSE Prize, a jury-awarded grant for artists, the Modriaan Fund, and the Amsterdam Fonds Voor de Kunst stipend.

Those who want to see De Wit’s artwork firsthand can visit the Asya Geisberg Gallery now through December 17 (open Tuesday through Saturday from 11 am to 6 pm). They can also follow De Wit on Instagram to keep up with her latest projects.

Interview With the Artist

What first got you into art? Was there a defining moment in your life when you knew you were an artist?

I’ve been creating for as long as I can remember. By the middle of high school, I was completely convinced that I wanted to become an artist. Then I did everything I could to make it happen. It took a long time before I could call myself an artist because you always keep learning, researching, and experimenting.

What is your background? How does it inform your art?

In my family, there was always an interest in science and nature, but also creativity. For most of my childhood, I grew up just outside the city among the trees. During the winter holidays, we always went to the mountains (the Alps, the Pyrenees, and the Dolomites) for hiking and skiing. Because of this, mountains are always a recurring element in my paintings. During those holidays, I started drawing plants and flowers. The landscape background with more detailed elements is still part of my work.

How would you describe the art that you typically create?

I always start by making collages. The meditative search and cut-out images that support my thoughts work very well. My studio floor is then littered with endless images. Slowly the layers slide over each other, and they take on meaning. The resulting collages are the sketches for my paintings. I think my work is somewhere between figuration and abstraction. There are recognizable and legible elements at the same time, the paint takes over in some parts, and it is about material and form. I find it interesting to explore that boundary all the time. I think I have 70% control over the paint. The paint takes over in the other 30%, and I fight with it and let it surprise me.

What would you be doing now if it weren’t for your painting career?

I sometimes think about what else I would have found interesting if I hadn’t become an artist. Maybe biomedicine, archaeology, psychology, or restoration work. The beauty of being an artist is that it is possible to enter into a relationship with all disciplines and use or process them within the art, in my case, painting and ceramics.

What is one message you would give to people visiting your exhibition?

I am quite critical of the subject I am talking about during the working process. Still, I don’t want to be moralistic or point the finger. Personal interpretation is important to me. I want the viewer to be able to take their own experience with them when reading or interpreting the work. It is ambiguous and does not provide answers. It asks a question, sends or makes a suggestion.

Are there specific subjects or themes you return to regularly in your art? If so, what are they, and do you know why?

In my work, I explore the theme of “what people leave behind.” I often focus on specific subjects, such as artificial reefs. In 2009, I studied the issue of artificial reefs, which are being used to protect coastlines and promote coral growth. However, I discovered that these reefs, which are often made from discarded tires, can be highly polluting. I also found that old planes and buses were being sunk to create artificial reefs. This led me to wonder if future generations will be able to interpret these actions properly.

This line of inquiry led me to conduct research into the concept of future archaeology. I was inspired by Eric Cline’s book “Three Stones Make a Wall: An Introduction to Archaeology.” What interested me was the potential for misinterpretation of archaeology and how these misunderstandings are perpetuated in popular media, such as adventure films.

In my recent series of works, which can be seen at the Asya Geisberg Gallery, I used National Geographic issues from the 1970s and 1980s. I was struck by the fact that the topics discussed in these magazines, such as pollution, climate change, and mining, are still relevant today. Despite the passage of 50 years, it seems that we have made little progress in addressing these issues. I also noticed that the advertisements in the magazines, which often promote air travel, luxury goods, and expensive products, contribute to these problems. I incorporated these observations into my art.

Do the arts have a place in politics?

I think that art is political to some extent because it cannot be viewed separately from its time. This opinion is analyzed extensively in Jacques Rancière’s book “The Aesthetics of Politics.” Jacques Rancière is a French philosopher who is considered an innovative thinker about the relationship between art and politics. Rancière started his career as a political philosopher, but in recent years his interest has shifted to the study of visual culture and the relationship between politics and aesthetics, two fields that he believes are inextricably linked.

What memorable responses have you had to your work?

While painting, I am highly concentrated, a very focused state of being. All the radars in my head are running at full speed. That ensures that a lot of emotion and meaning are put into the work. The question is whether all this is legible, and usually, it is. The best reactions are when the viewer feels that energy in the work, can read it, and load it with their own experience.

How do you define success as an artist? Are you there yet? What do you hope to accomplish?

The most important thing in my work is that I can express my ideas and artistic research. That I make new discoveries and always surprise myself. That the work is seen and appreciated. And that it gets a nice place. That is an ongoing process, and I am in the middle of it.

How does art-making impact other parts of your life?

Making my work is totally intertwined with my life and vice versa. It determines how I look at things, which details catch my eye, how the light falls, and how I think and question. Perhaps the best part is that you can constantly marvel at the things around you, which is also something I try to pass on to my 9-year-old daughter.