Sanne Koelemij

Canberra-based artist Sanne Koelemij creates collaged compositions that recalibrate the dialogue between colour, shape and material. Her shapes warp in kaleidoscopic patterns while depth and surface merge in tactile constellations camouflaged by plays of light and colour, creating a visual tension that is both disarming and alluring.

In what ways have you been expanding your practice since graduating from the ANU in Canberra?
During art school I had so many thoughts and ideas; I was constantly distracting myself with the wealth of making. I was given the advice to focus on one idea and save the others for later, to get myself into a clearer rhythm of making. Since graduating I’ve expanded on different ideas towards the material decisions in my work. These have mainly involved working with perspex and transparent surfaces, as well as painting on smaller scales.

Although your colour fields are non-objective, do they have any representational foundation?
I don’t directly work from representation. I approach abstraction with the idea of ‘constructing space’. Doing my honours thesis, I was captivated by sunrises and sunsets. It was the feeling of being engulfed by colour and the rapidness of change in the sky. This sparked an interest in working with colour as a subject and exploring the ‘push/pull’ tension colour can create on the picture plane. This is just inspirational, though, I don’t work from photographs or documentations. I was also looking at the works of Mark Rothko, Bridget Riley, James Turrell and Colour Fielding as a journey into abstraction. I also have an obsession with grids and mathematical space. This has crept into my work too; the idea of mapping colour. I’m exploring this as a subject, though the use of matter as material is also important to my practice as it adds another dimension to the involvement of colour.

You often work with found and recycled materials. By recontextualising urban detritus as art, you’re not only revising the value of everyday objects but also symbolically partaking in the war on waste. Is this a deliberate decision?
Initially, the decision to use everyday matter was for formal reasons. The materials I collected created a system for the construction of my surfaces. When I started this collecting process I became drawn to materials with interesting ‘deformities’ such as a shoe print pressed onto surfaces; like a material fingerprint. This became addictive and I started collecting any type of texture I could find – I was ‘dumpster diving’ at this time! Even the stretcher bars I used were either left behind in someone’s studio or being sent to a skip bin. What interested me was how materials and objects had something interesting in the wide realm of matter and, secondarily, how these materials had completely lost their value to the primary owner or user.

I’m passionate about the war on waste and this has undoubtedly influenced my work in the same way mathematics and sunset source material have crept into my practice. Waste and recycling have become something that’s impacting all of us even if we don’t directly see the consequences of it. I’m currently working on paintings that directly connect to these ideas, so in answering the question, it wasn’t a conscious decision at first but it most definitely is now.

In 2016 you were the Regional Winner in The Undergraduate Awards, Ireland, for your body of work Painting Beyond the Stretcher. What has inspired you to move beyond the canvas?
I was curious whether colour could be deconstructed by minimal use of materials, in the same way colour is operating in the Painting Beyond the Stretcher series, which developed to a series of works on Perspex. These artworks experiment with colour where light is physically a part of the painting, instead of being produced by the white surface of the canvas. The transparent qualities of Perspex allow for a gestural mark to cast a shadow on the painted forms in the back, adding another tension – between the two- and three-dimensional.

This tension seems so central to your practice. Recent series like Floating Studies (2017) and Pushing Boarders (2016) create a tussle between two- and three-dimensional space whereby strokes of colour and bold patterning forge a perceived flattening of the textured surface. Do you always seek to create tension, or harmony?
Always tension. I’ve never searched for harmony but I am conscious of making my compositions show a form of dynamic symmetry. I purposely throw abstract compositions in tension with matter, but the point of where I stop painting is when the integrity of the material form is just diving between recognisable and camouflaged. I want to create tension in my work because it creates a space to question or be challenged by the space – the same way I was in making these works!

What do you hope to achieve through this interplay of illusion (painting) and object (collage)?
I would love for my paintings to be touched and have that sense satisfied. I’m unsure how to achieve this just yet though! For now they just remain as temptations. In doing so, I think you bring perceived experiences of these materials to the viewing of the work: how they might feel, where you usually see them or how you might use them, and how this is contrasted with the setting of a gallery space.

As an emerging artist, what are some of the main challenges?
The biggest challenge for me has been accepting to say ‘no’. There’s only so much you can do in the studio and during busy times it’s not worth wearing yourself out. In the studio, making work transportable has been a good challenge too. Because I enjoy making large paintings, I’ve really had to focus on balancing that with practicality! It’s made me consider other ways I can construct the stretchers.

Recently you’ve been exploring ways in which your visual language can be developed into large installations and mural paintings. Is this the direction you’re heading?
I would love that; it excites me! But I’m never 100 per cent sure where my practice heads next, I just let it happen. At the moment I’ve been working on models for large wall paintings which incorporate rubbish and other materials. They are in their early stages so it will be a little while for me to work them out but hopefully when I do I will have a chance to show them. Lots of tangents to explore!

EXHIBITION
Straight Outta Canberra
21 March – 14 April 2018
May Space, Canberra