My goal is to reproduce what I find beautiful in what I see around me without any message or symbolism.
My passion is to find a composition of form and movement of lines, to create depth and space, to establish balance in contrasts between light and dark, to render effects through color and convey the palpability of matter.
I seek to create a subject that ‘lives’ to the point where I can experience the warmth of the sun, the cool of a shadow or the very humidity of a rainy day: tranquility, serenity, beauty.
My works are extremely labor intensive. They are watercolors painted layer upon layer with the smallest brushes. No white paint is used, all the white is the virgin paper.
No matter how small the painting, my goal is to render the subject large and strong so as to be experienced up close as well as from a distance.
Generally, a watercolor is printed as a series of ‘piezographs’ by Bernard Ruijgrok / Amsterdam: <www.piezografie.com>.
On this site, the stated price of a piezograph includes Sales Tax; it does not include a frame nor the shipping costs.
By Roelie de Weerd for ‘Bomennieuws’ magazine, periodical of The Tree Foundation / Autumn 2011 / Translation by Linda Grace
WANDA WERNER, A PAINTER IN REALISM
It was on a sunny day at the end of May that I set out for Uithuizen, a small town in the very northern tip of Groningen where, together with Marte Röling, Alissa and Adrienne Morriën and their mother Guurtje Oldenburg, Wanda Werner has made her home.
I know the way. A year ago, during the 40th anniversary of the Tree Foundation, I was given the opportunity to interview Marte Röling for a column titled: “First hour sponsors.” It was then that I met Wanda Werner and was immediately struck by her gorgeous landscapes, rendered as extremely detailed watercolors. I wanted very much to interview her on the subject and we agreed to meet again.
What I did not know on that sunny day in May, was that this interview with Wanda was to be the last for the Tree Foundation magazine, Bomennieuws. So, unaware of the dark days looming ahead for the Foundation, we settled down together in her garden for our conversation; an unhurried atmosphere permeated the farm, birds chirped and tree leaves rustled gently in the breeze as we sat under a cloudless sky.
Wanda was born on the river Vecht near Muiden in 1951. Her father, a Graphic Designer in Amsterdam, had married a Française, a young French woman. After their divorce when Wanda was 7 years old, her mother took her, along with her younger sister, back to her native France, near Paris.
As a child, Wanda was always drawing: ”I drew and sketched people mostly, often just faces”. Since she couldn’t stop drawing as she grew older, her mother enrolled her in a class at the ‘Ecole Superieure d’Art Grafique’ (Higher Education Graphic Art School). She went there on Thursdays, which were non-school days for French children then.
On the last day of School, she was 15 by then, she saw, to her own amazement, her work hanging all over the halls of the school! On the scale of 0 to 20 used by the French school system, 20 being the highest possible score, Wanda had earned a 19 and a half! ”They thought it was beautiful. I never expected that. I had drawn my whole life without knowing that it was valued. Yes, at home of course, but in those days that didn’t mean anything to me.”
When she turned 20 she returned to the Netherlands and spent some time working for her father in his Design Firm, ‘Werner Studio’. That is where she learned the art of Graphic Design.
From Portraits to Landscapes
In 1974 Wanda met Henk Jurriaans (who passed away in 2005) and his partner Marte Röling: ”I was deeply impressed by Henk and Marte so much so that it turned my life upside down. After Alissa and then Adrienne moved in with them, I also joined them in 1983. I found Marte’s work was so fantastic, so beautiful, that I thought to myself, why bother at all? But secretly I continued to draw and sketch, I just didn’t dare show anyone. That lasted a long time, until we moved to the farm in Uithuizen in 1996. The moment of change came for me at my father’s house: he had a small set of watercolors from Winsor&Newton: the Winsor&Newton Fieldbox. It’s a small box that you unfold and it even carries its own water, it’s just tiny. When I saw it I cried out, oh, what a great little box! My father immediately went out and bought me one. Alright, I thought, that did it, now I have to go through with it. But what should I paint? I had already created my own drawing space so I began digging through all my photographs and finally settled on a winter scape. I started to paint it, just for practice, to see if I could.”
That has actually become the way Wanda works: she goes out in search of a landscape or finds trees and takes lots of pictures which will later serve her as reference. At some point the scene takes on a life of its own. She uses the watercolors to paint those landscapes she find the most beautiful but she might leave trees out or add some in.
“In a photograph, shadows can be downright black, for instance, and that’s not what I want, I want there to be nuance and shading… I prune the trees, clean up the mess, plant one here or there, or perhaps leave something out. I love to see a road or water but a road can also be in the way, so then I’ll leave the road entirely white because I do like its form in the landscape; then I just paint the shadows of the trees on the road for instance. It’s totally recognizable because I’m a super-realist. I make a portrait of beauty, that’s what totally blows me away and captivates me.
My work is very labor intensive. By the time I finish a tree for instance, the real one has either lost all its leaves or its color has changed or the leaves have gotten bigger.”
Her own watercolor technique
Watercolor is her medium but unlike typical watercolors where large washes and broad strokes are used to create an impression, Wanda works with very small brushes where each and every mark and stroke of the brush is laid down with determined intent. ”It’s my way of using watercolors. If you were to use a magnifying lens, you would recognize it as a watercolor. Watercolor has certain properties, as in when it dries, the edges of the stroke become darker. When you paint with oils or acrylics, you can come back at the end and add the white highlights. For me it’s the opposite. I have to leave open those areas that need to be white or light. That’s how I keep my work bright and clear. White plays an unusually important role in my work. I also know at what point you have to stop otherwise you’d make a mess of it. You have to do it right the first time because you can’t clean it up. With a tree, it’s not such a big deal if a leaf is this way or that. But when you’re working on someone’s portrait, you have to get the eyes right the first time. To me the eyes are the hardest. A fraction of a millimeter off and it no longer looks like them.”
Is it possible to recognize what type of a tree it is?
“Absolutely I want to render the subject matter as realistically as I can in its form and structure. The touch of something, its dampness, the moss on the bark… That has to be real moss for me, there can’t be any doubt about it at all. I have to be able to feel it, reach out and touch it as it were. That’s what it’s all about for me. It has to be true to nature. I want true realism, that’s my thing”
The Landscape of Groningen
We’re sitting outside on the patio of her end of the farm. A peaceful calm permeates the atmosphere. When Wanda speaks, she uses her whole body, making sweeping arm gestures. Now and then we lapse into silence as she looks about with satisfaction and calm.
Was it a challenge coming to live here, after all you are a city person?
“No!” she starts again with great enthusiasm “I immediately loved it here. The expanse is just gorgeous. Right away, I was mesmerized by the winds, they have room to blow! You have those high winds here, you hear them high above, practically howling over the tops of the trees, I just love that, it’s fantastic. Actually I find it beautiful here no matter what the weather conditions.
Are we going to find these clouds in your paintings?
“I have always avoided clouds. That’s because I let the white of the paper go throughout my work. I leave the skies white so that I can concentrate on the color and texture of the landscape: all the green, the trees, the flowers, the grass and the land. That was what it was about for me more than the sky, even though I was always looking at the skies… but that enormity, fascinating and challenging I find also very difficult.”
Back in her studio, we slowly make our way past some of her paintings. A field of grain is filled with even the smallest detail. You could almost count each kernel. The flowers of the cow parsley and the hogweed are photographically precise. Coming to a painting of freshly ploughed earth she tells me: “we had some farmers here and one of the old farmers said: “I’ve lived my whole life in this clay but I had never seen how beautiful it was!”
One painting of the Schildmeer does have clouds and I notice it: ”That was a commission. So I thought, I have to venture out and try clouds, the lake is basically water and clouds. You really have to be observant, I see the beginning of a movement in the water, the wave and the breaker, but then I have to also be able to render it… Here you see the gust of wind over the water, there you see the ripples already…”
It is so true to nature. Through the reeds by the shore you see entire patches of rippling water rendered with tiny lines. You can almost feel the soft breath of the wind that has come to stir the waters…
I now marvel over a painting of the Aa in Drente. She had made it as a commission for the Watermaatschappij Drenthe (a Dutch Water Utilities Commission) who would use them as courtesy gifts for their clients.
Wanda works a great deal on commission. Her watercolors are usually turned into Piezographs. Piezography is the latest printing method. The watercolor is scanned and processed on a computer. That gives her a run of prints of any particular painting which she can then sell and/or exhibit. She keeps these runs small: ”For my first exhibit, it was Henk and Marte who decided on the price. What should I ask when I have spent months on one painting? They put a steep price on them because I actually didn’t want to part with them. Nevertheless, about 6 of them sold!” Of course I thought it was fantastic but at the same time it bothered me enormously that I didn’t have them anymore. That’s when Marte suggested having prints made of each painting. That way you could keep one for yourself and you can earn some more on the same painting too. And that’s how Piezography began. When I work on commission, I have so far and very fortunately, been able to print a modest run for myself, that makes me very happy.
A Love for Trees
A love for trees is something her father instilled in her from the very beginning: ”My father is a tree and woods man. We often went to the Bantam Bos near Hilversum or else to another beautiful old woods just to go see the trees. Then you had these trees with small tub-like shapes that held water. We were little tykes back then and my father would say: ‘Look, that’s where the Gnomes come to bathe.’ I think that’s probably why I have this sort of fairy tale sense around trees. And a kind of awe also. Awe because they’re so old and they keep growing and growing. That does stir the imagination. It’s almost as if they could think. Maybe they can think. Those trees have seen people and carriages, knights on their horses all pass by, going to and fro through centuries. So when I walk there, I imagine that those people have seen the very same tree. I like to think that way. Trees unshackle my love for history. The older the tree, the more impressive it is. A tree is a beautiful, powerful and fascinating phenomenon.”