Two works by Amsterdam-based artist Hinke Schreuders appear in our fall issue, both using appropriated images affixed to linen and enhanced by embroidery. We asked the artist a few questions about her work.
Please describe how you choose an image. What do you look for?
I think I choose images intuitively, but since I have a degree in art, of course, this intuition is based on things I learned at art school and during my practice as an artist. The images of landscapes need to have a certain iconic quality, as well as stillness and some mystery. The use of landscapes is relatively new in my work, but as for the images on which women are depicted, yes, they do have certain characteristics I return to again and again.
The women, for example, almost never look in the camera, but seem to be distracted by something happening that is not in our view. This makes for a kind of suspense or suggestion that adds something new to the existing picture. After I altered them, the women seem to be distracted or seduced by something outside the image; they may look confused or worried where before they were plain, careless mannequins.
You must spend a great deal of time looking through old magazines, journals, calendars, and other ephemera. How does the concept of repurposing or recycling enter in to your work? Can you say a little about your experience interacting with mass-produced, printed materials?
The concept of repurposing does not, for me, have a meaning in itself. What is important, however, is that the prints I choose provide a starting point, as opposed to working on a blank canvas. I like it that there is something present that I can react to and make my own by adding or obscuring elements.
The fact that the photos are printed pages from old magazines does make for a vulnerable working surface, since the paper usually is old, yellowed, and somewhat brittle. I like it that this quality emphasizes the human and personal vulnerability that exists as a subject in my work.
Whether in fashion images or nudes, your art frequently features the female body. What draws you to this theme?
I have been using the body in my work for as long as I remember. Ever since I was a child, I have been drawing or depicting human figures. They act as a canvas on which to project ideas. Primarily, the fact that it is a female body derives from the fact that I am a woman myself, whereas my own image or that of other women is what is closest at hand and best known to me.
When I started to use embroidery as my technique, however, womanhood and femininity became the subject of my works. I am interested in the duality of femininity, and what it means to be a woman. To me, the mannequins from fifties’ magazines embody certain feminine archetypes and from this “research framework,” I expand outward through my art.
Can you speak about how your work draws on themes of innocence and childhood?
Raised as I was by a mother who grew up in the fifties, I too have been influenced by the standards of that era—especially when it comes to the “golden age” concept of childhood. Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I have absorbed aspects of the past and the present and this has tended to lead to inner conflicts and confusion such as how to behave and what to be as a woman. These conflicts form the core of my work.
Some of your works are similar to the needlework samplers done by young girls in the nineteenth century. These samplers had educational aspects as well as offering an example of a girl’s skill with the needle and perhaps indicating her suitability as a wife and mother. Is there a connection here for you as an artist?
Just as the ladies' magazines and mannequins from the fifties provide archetypes of womanhood in my work, so too do needlework samplers. For instance, I especially enjoy the seeming contradiction between the constrained nature of needlework—its small scale, the need for precision, and the emphasis on refined technique—and the overt force of female sexuality. This is a frequent theme for me.
In addition, if something goes wrong in a piece, I will often cut out pieces of my embroidery. This is traditionally forbidden in needlework and now seems quite subversive, flying in the face of the authorities who would teach young girls about more conventional (and desirable) techniques.
What materials do you most like to work with? Some of your works include mixed media in addition to embroidery. Do you use different kinds of stitches to achieve different effects?
With needle and thread, I seem to have found the perfect medium to express myself. Apart from embroidery's historical context and the feminine connotations, I like its slowness and laboriousness. I am forced to think through every step, as any project will take a lot of time, and this makes for a balanced and controlled working process, one I wasn't able to find in painting or drawing.
As for the stitches I use, when I am in need of straight lines, I use a sewing machine, which makes lines that pierce the background surface. Hand embroidery tends to lie on top of the background surface, resulting in texture and casting shadows that can interact and even change the image. These are my ways of playing with image and composition.
In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in textile art, from crafts such as quilting and sewing to fine art fiber and fabric work. Why do you think this is?
A common explanation for that is that handicraft acts as a counterbalance to the modern use of computers and the digital age. In a way that is true for me as well, since I started using fabric art as my main technique after I burned out from my job as a web designer. Embroidery serves as a palpable bearer of my ideas and has a slowness that I like, whereas the digital world and Internet seem more volatile and restless.
Can you say more about how embroidery slows down the creative process and why you think you work differently with a needle and thread than you would with brushes and paints?
When painting or drawing, I found the creative process proceeded too quickly. Before I knew it, a part of the work was predominantly red, for example, or a delicate sketch was past its freshness. Embroidery seems to force me to take some time to think over what happens when doing this or that.
Apart from that, I like the repetitive movements that go with needlework. This combined with the slower pace make it a contemplative medium. All this could be found in painting or especially drawing too, I suppose, but the technique of needle and thread naturally contains it. There is no choice: It just takes more time to fill a part of a work with embroidery stitches.
How do you approach color, structure, and composition in your work?
Those are elements I do not address consciously, but just like the selection of images mentioned earlier, these aspects are an intuitive part of my practice as an artist.
I see myself as having issues with color. It is not one of my strengths. So the result is a lot of black and white work. Several years ago, I used to live with a painter, and that helped me, but since we broke up color seems to have disappeared more than ever.
Structure is something I add with the use of certain stitches. The feel for composition, finally, seems to have become second nature, but of course, this was part of my education as well. I remember a class in my first year at art school where a teacher had us placing a single black dot on a blank sheet of paper and asking “What is the perfect position for this dot?”
For our fall issue on re-enchantment, we chose two of your landscapes (cover image at top). How might the theme of re-enchantment or magic work in your art?
Re-enchantment, magic, or fantasy is not something I add to my work consciously. I do, however, try to let the work go in the direction it somehow wants to go, and in that respect, sometimes magic does seems to happen. If an image evokes or suggests things that I could not have thought of myself, then it must be magical in its own right.
See more of Hinke Schreuders work at www.hinkeschreuders.nl