Marleen Pauwels’s paintings are hauntingly beautiful. Her semi-transparent figures embody the fragility of human life, their ghostly bodies set in isolation and silence against stark backdrops and empty spaces.
The Belgian artist plays with scale to explore the human condition. By stretching and squashing her figures, Marleen pushes the essence of the human body to absurd limits. “I know my work is finished,” says the artist, “when it moves me in every way”.
When did you know you wanted to become an artist?
I think I’ve always been an artist. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. My parents were art collectors, so I’ve been surrounded by art since childhood.Losing myself in any kind of creative expression has been a driving force throughout my life.
What is the significance behind your figures?
My figures express my perceptions of the world. They reflect the solitude and loneliness of human beings. Stripping them back from any realm of beauty, I want to show their power to go back to the essence of what we are. I deliberately place them in empty, abandoned spaces away from any unnecessary adornments.
Your canvases themselves are interesting too. Can you tell us what materials you use to build them up?
Over the years my style has evolved across various mediums, including etching, drawing, collage and oil paint. My canvases are wooden panels layered with materials like newsprint, sand, acrylics and oil paints. I always leave carefully chosen text layers visible.
Can you take us through your methods and process?
Much of my work starts with a sentence that I’ve read in a book or newspaper, an image that’s caught my eye, or an event that has struck me. I begin sketching around an idea before I start painting. I find I need to do plenty of studies and sketches to arrive at one that hits the point.
Walls often form the background of my images - but always with a door or window open, inviting the viewer to look beyond the first impression of the background. In my current work, my figures appear very small and chubby or extremely elongated. By playing with scale, I want to provoke a sense of confusion for the viewer.
What do you love about your studio space?
My current studio in the South of Spain is surrounded by wilderness, which lets me work in absolute silence with an abundance of light and space. It’s also easy to convert my studio into a gallery space, which comes in handy when clients want to come and see my work.
What's your favourite inspirational quote?
“The artist is nothing without the gift but the gift is nothing without the work.” -- Emile Zola