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Getting Closer


Capture d’écran 2023-01-31 195814.jpg
Poppi 4 2020, Watercolor on paper. 57 x 38 cm
©DEGANN - 2020

Tell us more about your work... What led you to drawing with ink and watercolours in the first place ?


In my work I’m looking to stimulate the senses and invite the audience into a real experience of the images. I play with tension between beauty, aesthetics and raw emotion. Our perception has many subjective filters; spirit, body, memory. Because of paintings’ array of possibilities, from depiction to total abstraction, it has the ability to surpass these filters and reach someone on an emotional level. I mostly work in ink and watercolour. 

My paintings aim to expose multi layered emotions. The literal layers in the paintings, that always stay visible, reflect that very well. There is no hiding in this technique, just as I try to capture an expression or identity in its full honest truth, with no place to hide. I think the transparency in the medium is very symbolic for the transparency and honesty that I try to put into my paintings.  

I look for attractive perspectives, vivid and approachable images but give them a dark edge. At first glance my works invite you in, but by taking a longer and closer look, a certain discomfort becomes apparent. This abrasiveness triggers a reaction with the spectator.

My origin story with the medium watercolour is a funny one, I feel like I almost found it by accident. When I was studying at the Manchester School of Art I ran out of paint and due to a lack of financial means, being a student, I decided to work in watercolour. The response to those paintings was fantastic and I kept exploring and have never looked back since. It is a fast but unpredictable medium, it is unforgiving, every stroke/step/layer traceable. It requires a certain carefulness, I have to save/keep the light, by not painting it. It is almost a dialogue with the painting, constantly having to work with and respond to the previous layers. It is in this transparency, in the layers that I get to create the depth of the work, just like an emotion is always layered. I feel that it is a medium that forces honesty which is very important for me.

You’re trying to capture what you call “a spirit”, an emotion that is intrinsic to your art and to the subjects you choose to paint. Why is drawing the best method for you ?


I am very specific in my material choice and have used different mediums for different series of work. Creating a painting or a series of paintings comes with a lot of preparation and decision making. These processes can be very different depending on the work and therefore also might require other mindsets. My choices for material use in a series is very goal oriented.


Working in layers is very essential for me in capturing the right essence in my work. I already have touched on this a bit in the previous question, but what I’m trying to accomplish is for the viewer to stand still for a moment and see beyond the first superficial image into the more complex multi-layered experience. You could say that you have to look through and beyond the layers to see the deeper layers underneath. Through my technique I get to create these experiences. I create these layers with a lot of intention, attention, patience and observation. Recently I have been experimenting with the size of my work, by creating monumental, larger works, I almost force my audience in. More on this in one of your later questions.Contrast is another important element that I use, especially in my more recent black and white works in ink. In the layers I build up contrast, in which the light is the untouched paper. With this I create textures, tactile structures, that invite the viewer into a sensory experience. More on this in one of the questions further on too.

How do you choose the images you're working on ?

Memory is one of the main sources that I tap into. In order to create something that reflects depth, real emotion and identity I need to work from a place of experience. I don’t believe that I can express something that I don’t know. Sometimes memory is the subject in my work, like in LIC-HAMO, STORY OF I and I DO NOT KNOW. Where for other work memory is more of an emotional source of inspiration.

Some of my recent works that will be shown in the exhibition ‘Getting closer’ at Espace Art Absolument are inspired by the Greek legend of Sisyphus, and more specifically French philosopher Albert Camus’ essay on this legend, in which he introduces his philosophy of the absurd. Sisyphus is condemned by the gods for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll down again once he reaches the top. Camus uses this as a metaphor for the individual’s persistent struggle against the essential absurdity of life. Our lives are also often a daily repetition, an absurd vicious circle that we live in, but aren’t aware of. I came across this topic many years ago, and have always been interested in using it in my work. When I felt stuck in my preparation for this solo exhibition, I decided to pick up this book off my shelf and it ended up being the ignition for a lot of my new works. In these works the ‘dark’ of the repetitive, the grind of life is broken by the light that is very evident in the paintings.

In deciding on images, my intuition plays a big role and inspiration is often a combination of many things that I somehow combine into one image. But when I create a new work that I feel very strongly about, this often becomes the start off point for more work using similar elements. This way I dive deeper into subjects and perspectives and this leads to threads in my work and sometimes even to series. An example of this is ‘The Bedroom Series’ a series of works depicting empty beds, yet you see and feel that they have been lived in through creases in the sheets. The sheets become a landscape reflecting their inhibitor. This entire series was inspired by a single painting that got a great response and inspired me to jump into this subject much deeper.

Can you tell us more about the size of your drawings ? Sometimes it seems you’re trying to strive us into the darkness of the ink…


I think you are wording that very well. The monumental size of some of my recent work almost embraces the viewer, af if you are submerged in the work. It pulls you in and you can’t deny what is in front of you. It gives the work a certain urgency. I want to enhance (enlarge) the experience by literally enlarging the size of the works. When you stand in front of it, there is no avoiding it, it fills your entire perspective/field of view.


Nomad (250 cm x 200 cm) 

A life of wander, always on the move

Be it physical roads or roads of the mind

Embarking on this path of large scaled paintings has been a big challenge. Technically it is complicated to create a ‘canvas’ of this size. My first monumental work was Nomad, and this is still the largest to date. Nomad is a painting in ink of 2 by 2,5 metres. To realise this scale, I had to work in 4 parts, that have been integrated by an expert onto one big canvas.

Your work varies between black and white and coloured paintings. Recently, it seems you tend to work more in black and white, but some of your projects like LIC-HAMO mix multiple techniques and color charts… What are the differences between working in color and working in black and white for you ? What do you find in each poles that helps your work deliver its message ?

Recently I have been working a lot in black and white, using Indian ink. For the upcoming exhibition ‘Getting Close’ my focus has been on light, a search for light. With the ink, in layers of dark I create structures, tactility and shadows, where the paper hasn’t been touched, the light is found. For this, working in black and white is very suitable since it puts the whole focus on the presence/absence of light, the contrast and the tactility without any distraction from colour. 

Lic-hamo as an example has a very different focus. These works are about life and death, and the line between these two. To capture this using colour was essential to me. In the images often the line between life and death is expressed in colours that are not too bright, here the use of colour is a way of showing the decay. If these works were to be in b&w, the abstraction of the colours would be lacking and therefore the images would lack a certain abstraction giving them their emotional impact. 

I find it challenging to work with Indian ink and watercolour parallel. Indian ink is much more powerful in its pigment (contrast) and therefore technically very different from watercolour. The dryness of watercolour causes colours to change, this means that you really have to get to know the colours and allow for the drying process. Since I have been mainly working in Indian ink in the last years, I feel that I have really developed my technical skills with this medium and my work has kept getting more powerful, but this also makes the switch to watercolour extra hard. I recently have been wanting to experiment with colour again, but feel like I need real time to readjust to watercolour and get back into that technique.


Erasure, absence, disappearance… all seems to be implicit thematics of your work… at the same time, when using ink, you leave part of the canva free of any material, like holes in the ink.. how do the material and the theme interact in your work ?

The emotions, identity and expression that I look for in my work translates well in ink and watercolour. Both are fast but unpredictable mediums, unforgiving, every stroke/step/layer traceable. It requires a certain carefulness, I have to save/keep the light, by not painting it, by leaving the canvas/paper free of any material bare. It is almost a dialogue with the painting, constantly having to work with and respond to the previous layers. It is in this transparency, in the visible layers that I get to create the depth of the work, as if you can touch it, just like an emotion is always layered. I think the transparency in the medium is very symbolic for the transparency and honesty that I try to put into my paintings. My paintings aim to expose multi layered emotions. The literal layers in the paintings, that always stay visible, reflect that very well. There is no hiding in this technique, just as I try to capture an expression or identity in its full honest truth, with no place to hide.


The bedrooms series

An unmade bed with the wrinkles and folds still in the sheets,

like a miniature landscape, left by the body's twists and turns, awaiting its return.

Absence/presence is a recurring theme in my work, I like to search for a feeling of a presence without needing to actually depict this presence. So in a sense I am searching for presence through absence. A good example for this is ‘The Bedroom Series’ in which the undone beds have a certain anonymity because of the absence of a person, yet you see and feel that they have been lived in. In a certain way the person is still present in the bed without needing to be present in the image, as if they just got up and can return at any given moment. The creases in the sheets are like an imprint of all facets of the identity and personality of this person. The sheets become a landscape reflecting their inhibitor. 

Is montage important in your work, and how did you work with the curator for this exhibition ?


Conversations about this solo exhibition started in response to the work Nomad and that has set the line for this exhibition. I had complete freedom to choose and create works myself, but Nomad definitely did influence the direction. 

It is already the third year that I work with Teddy Tibi of Art Absolument, in that time we got to know each other very well on an artistic level, and this is a growing and very enriching relationship. He doesn’t only support me as an artist but also on a personal level. His many years of experience and vision are helping me grow. Because he sees a lot of potential, where I haven’t felt myself for many years, I have been able to gain a newfound self-confidence and real freedom to create the work I want to make. I can really trust that his feedback is always real and honest, which makes it easier for me to take risks. I also think we have a similar work ethic. 

Some theorists like Brian O’Doherty open reflexion path around the concept of space being almost like a medium for the artist, and it can lead to think that the gallery can even be a part of the final artwork itself. Does exhibition constitute an important step in your work ? 


This will be my first solo show, so having the opportunity to utilise the entire space and really create a full experience is new to me. 

Within the space at Espace Art Absolument, the options of placing the artworks is limited due to the size of my works versus the size and design of the space. So this already dictates the placing of the works for a significant amount. But I definitely think about the surrounding space, the colours and materials and the works in relation to each other for telling a story/creating an experience.

For framing I have chosen to use a technique called marouflage , where the paper is adhered to canvas, which means there is no need for a frame. It looks as if the work is floating on the wall, which lifts some of the heaviness of the paintings and makes it more airy. Other works have been framed behind glass. This both gives them a visual framework, which anchors the work and adds a reflection, which in a way places the reflection of the spectator into the work. Painter Francis Bacon also framed his oil paintings behind glass to add this additional layer of reflection.


Why is the hand a recurring pattern in recent works ?


After working on my series of unmade beds I got interested in textures and I think that the hands bridge the textile expression in the beds with landscapes and portraits. An image can easily become anonymous when there is no human presence. As a presence and for a personalisation in the works, hands have felt like a logical choice. Also the type of hands is of essence, I have chosen hands that feel lived, with texture, a story and experience. Even though hands feel very personal and tell a lot, it also leaves a certain space for their own definition and interpretation.

By combining the hands with other elements in the paintings, it creates a tension between these different elements. The perspective used is one in which the hands could be the hands of the spectator, this leads you into the painting and helps you to really experience the touch as if it is your own.


Do you like to communicate with the public? How do you feel at openings?


An opening is honestly always an exciting but also scary moment, since it is the moment where everything comes together. You work towards it with hard and soul, pouring everything into your work and then at once you open it all to the public, to outside eyes and that tension is definitely present. When after looking at the work questions arise, questions that go beyond the surface, then I know that people have really seen and understood what I have put into the work, this to me is the biggest possible compliment. 

I like working towards an exhibition because it gives an opportunity to test whether the work has the intended impact on an audience. Working in my studio is an isolated for of working, at an exhibition suddenly everything becomes public which is a very big contrast, but it also gives a lot of new insight. It helps me to more and more learn to understand my own work, I learn to look and see alongside my audience and to ask myself the necessary honest and real questions, to keep developing. This is what makes these moments very valuable to me, it makes my work more and more honest and real. 


What do you hope viewers feel when seeing your artworks ?


I hope that viewerst will look into and through the layers, that they won’t treat the work as a simple picture but allow themselves to take the time and go deeper. I want them to look beyond the first impression. It is not about painting a pretty picture, but about creating experiences. I want someone to be touched, maybe it is an emotional experience, or something touching on memory, but I want something to happen in that moment. This can be different for everyone because it is very personal. My work is open to different interpretations. I hope to halt people for a moment, create a moment of silence, to really see and then they get to feel what they feel. For me it is enough that they have their own experience, I don’t want to dictate what that should be.

Degann, Getting Closer - Se rapprocher, 

2/02/23 - 4/03/23

Teddy Tibi

Art Absolument Director

Are encounters fundamentals to you ?

Encounters are indeed fundamentals, and it doesn’t matter if they’re human, literary, cinematographic… and of course, artistic ones. It is very important not to miss the mark on them.


How did you work with Anne de Groot while setting up this exhibition ?

Before we set everything in place, we share long conversations with the artist so we can determine which artworks are the more significant. Depending on the theme of the exhibition, we create a matching scenography. 

Our gallery can be modified at will, each rail can be changed depending on the layout we want to create and the artworks we work with, which allows us to propose another point of view at each exhibition.

Can you tell us more about Degann’s work ? How did you first meet her art ?

Degann is an encounter, a visual one moreover, since I discovered her work on Instagram. I directly saw that beyond the graphic and technical qualities of her drawings, there was a form of softness within her thematics, a nostalgic feeling which I find surprising for a woman her age. This sensitivity moved me.


What do you wish the viewer to experience while visiting the exhibition Getting Closer ?


Degann explores 3 main thematics, the empty beds, floral patterns and hands. Faces invisibilité and absence of human presence creates a feeling I'd call an “in between '', which I think we all experience daily. This is what Getting Closer means, after. Getting closer to Human.

Entretiens conduits par Luci Garcia

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