reflection on Rolina's paintings
by Lida Bonnema, art historian/visual arts reviewer (December 2009). Transelation by Mike Ritchie.
at second glance
There is more to Rolina Nell’s painting than first meets the eye.
Her visually delightful painting technique does not entirely disguise
an intriguing undercurrent in which emotions float freely and vital questions
lie dormant. Women of all cultures take centre stage, or are represented
by motifs that traditionally belong to women, such as laundry and playgrounds.
She denies consciously choosing a feminist line of approach. The theme
derives from her womanhood, from her sisterly engagement.
method and painting technique
The method, palette and painting technique are entirely in the service
of expressiveness and profundity. The carefully considered choices are
in contrast to the ease with which the beautiful images seem to be created.
Rolina Nell begins by selecting and printing a suitable photograph, for
which she draws on the archive she has built up through observation. She
makes a drawing of this, the same size as the future mural or painting.
Initially, she used to incorporate decorative material in the paintings,
such as fabrics, wallpaper or flowers and her palette ranged from saturated
colours to almost white. The atmosphere changes after 2004. Contrast,
depth effect and transparency temporarily allow the works to breath and
give them openness, both literally and figuratively. Since 2007 she first
applies a thin, transparent layer of acrylic paint. On top of that comes
the painting. For this, she always uses a stencil for the female figures,
which are often life-sized, sometimes in a smaller format. Thus, sharply
defined fields are created within which structures and carefully applied
brushstrokes are visible. Then comes the work with smaller brushes. For
this, she applies details such as jewellery, handbags, or stitching and
patterns in the clothing. Finally she adds subtle shadows. This attentive
painting technique is crucial, because of its consistency with the content-related
aspects of the work. The painting technique is constantly developing. Nell
strives for a loose, apparently effortless style of painting, without
hesitation in the brushstroke. This requires extreme concentration, as
it has to succeed in one go. The discrepancy between physical, almost
abstract brushstrokes and the
detailing increases, but the effect of transparency is also examined more
closely. Her contrary handling of space and depth are an even more fascinating
aspect of her painting technique. The illusion of depth is accentuated
in parts of the painting, while in other areas it is in fact subtly counteracted.
Nell paints with thin acrylic paint but wishes, in the near future, to
explore older materials and techniques. She is particularly interested
in painting with tempera on canvas or applying frescos to walls. This
is in keeping with her search for painterly interventions that allow flat,
two-dimensional murals to be experienced as three-dimensional.
sources of inspiration
Rolina Nell finds her inspiration in everyday life in the Netherlands
and other countries. During her travels she incorporates other customs
and social atmospheres like a cultural nomad. She is fascinated by the
hidden tensions that she suspects or experiences all around her. This
raises questions about the veracity of visual reality. In the past she
used apparently idyllic tableaux from newspapers and magazines. These
days she makes her own photos on the streets, which she selects according
to atmosphere, composition or pose. Ideas will frequently germinate during
the photography, which come to the surface later through the meaningful
method of painting.
theme and motifs
Rolina Nell isolates women from their everyday environment. The contours
of the figures serve as a recognizable visual form. For this, she can
devote herself entirely to painterly research, while the subsequent detailing
provides the painting pleasure. Both the figurative details and the painting
technique offer indications as to the content. The first mysterious, life-sized
views of women’s backs originated during her travels through Georgia
The absence of the faces, the clothing and the pose all raise
questions. Though very subtly and culturally specific, something of the
personality still remains visible. Thus, even the black chador of an Iranian
woman in the painting ‘Cocoon’ reveals something of her identity,
through the graceful style of painting. Another important universal motif in her work is the laundry. Nell has
photographed washing lines in various cultural areas but the locations
are not immediately recognizable in the paintings. The washed textiles
are so beautifully transparent and physically painted that they lead one
to fantasise about the absent person. This beauty of emptiness unleashes
a stream of thoughts that give the work an inner life.
The deserted playgrounds were spotted in Mongolia. The paintings evoke
the desolation of a ghost town. The transparent method of painting accentuates
the dreamlike stillness of the images and uncovers memories of childhood
joys and sorrows.
The highly accessible, beautiful paintings form vast associative fields
that appeal to the observer. During the act of painting, Rolina Nell herself
allows her imagination free rein about the woman emerging from the paint.
By adding subtle details, accessories and (later) a title or name, she
is able to manipulate the identity. At first glance the observer is so charmed by the beautiful appearance
and the skill with which the tableaux are painted that it takes some time
before the uneasy questions arise. The mind resists the urge to doubt
the veracity of the serene images. The transparency of the ground layer
and the brushstrokes, however, has such a spatial effect that feelings
of emptiness and solitude prove unavoidable. One penetrating work is entitled
´Days to come´. Two women viewed from behind stare straight
into the unfathomable void. Rarely have feelings of unease about the point
of our existence been so beautifully and poignantly depicted. Another
painting entitled ‘Kitty’ touches on feelings of freedom versus oppression. The charming cartoon character Hello Kitty on the woman’s parasol seems in contradiction to the wall of vertical brushstrokes, which rises up directly in front of her. Nell gives the painted women invented first names. They could be anyone. This causes an itch in the observer's ability to identify the figures, particularly when one of the back paintings is called Rolina.
fulfilment and satisfaction
A longing for self-realization and inner peace with life filters through
the tranquil, melancholic paintings. Rolina Nell paints women who appear
to silently adapt to their living conditions. The watery paint and the
gesture of painting are discordant with the beautiful images and lead
one to suspect subdued tensions. So the depiction, material and painting
technique are in the service of her attention to the quality of life at
an emotional level. This touches on collective, subconscious emotions.
Every person has numerous expectations to fulfil and must join their culture
and social environment. With herself also navigating between fulfilment
and satisfaction, Rolina Nell accepts her responsibility as a visual artist.
Her honest paintings are important because they make people think about
their own position. The intimate images reflect the thinking, feeling
and desiring individual. They tell of the possibilities for self-realization
that apparently exist, albeit subtly, even in Iran.
position in art history
Rolina Nell’s painting is in keeping with traditions of realism
and formal painting. In content it appears to have much in common with
the feminist body of thought, though on closer inspection the core focus
is on more universal, existential questions. A distinguishing feature
is that both the depiction and the gesture of painting generate meaning.
Her increasingly headstrong game regarding space and depth, which either
emphasize or indeed undermine each other, heightens the intensity of the
viewing experience.The painted reality appears more penetrating than
reality itself. Her use of accessories, clothing and other details follows
on from an art-historical convention. In Christian iconography, for instance,
the saints are identifiable by their attributes, among other things. Rolina
Nell also subtly incorporates typifying accessories. As contemporary attributes,
in a general sense, these reveal something about the presumed personality
of the women. On a deeper level, the serenity of the life-sized paintings
conveys something of the mystical power reminiscent of old frescos and
images of saints.
By placing the female identity so centrally in her work, one mightsuspect a faint
echo of feminism. Prescriptive laws from the Islamic world, in which women
are barely visible, are indeed indicated briefly, but so too are the unwritten
laws of fashion that exist here, within which girls must find their way.
It would, however, do Rolina Nell an injustice to simply to leave it at
that. Her work is more universal. She paints women because she herself
is a woman. Her work encourages all people to think about their own life.
With her painting she seeks to investigate how brush and paint can contribute
towards the quality of existence. The simple brushstrokes, sensitive imagery
and attractive colours carry the observer from an aesthetic, to a human,
emotional level. With the idea that every person is what they make of
themselves, her women express the effort it costs all people to be themselves.
Download Dutch version.