To exhibit at the Louvre is definitely a milestone

Posted by Kees Hoogervorst on Sunday, November 27, 2011 ·


Artist Denise Buisman Pilger feels extremely honored to be part of the Canadian delegation for the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts which will be held at the Carrousel du Louvre in December 2011. It is a prestigious annual event in which artists from around the world participate. Last years opening night alone had over two thousand visitors. Denise: "The opening offers a great opportunity to show my work and do some networking."

Earlier this year the head of the delegation contacted Denise to ask if she was interested in participating in the selection process. This was just after her first solo show in April and because she hadn’t sold a whole lot of paintings yet, and participation in the show required quite an investment, she tuned the invitation down. Early September however, the head of the delegation contacted Denise again, informing her that an opening had occurred and asked again if she was interested. Since her show in August was very successful, she accepted the invitation and submitted six pictures of her work to the jury. After two nervous weeks, Denise received the phone call that the jury really liked her work and wanted to add her artwork 'Toronto' to the exhibition.

An education in Illustration

Denise Buisman Pilger has a Bachelors degree of Arts from the ‘Willem de Kooning Academy’ in Rotterdam, with Illustration as major. A large part of the illustration program focuses on idea development. It also teaches a very broad knowledge of materials and techniques. The photo collage technique that Denise uses in her current body of work is something she discovered during her years in art school. The way she creates the compositions for her collages is derived from the idea development techniques learned there as well. There are also a lot of technical things that she still uses on a daily basis; things like the knowledge of colors, materials and various techniques. This is knowledge that continues to grow each and every day. New materials enter the market regularly and bring new techniques and opportunities to learn with them. Denise often participates in courses and workshops to keep her artistic development going.

More self-confidence

Denise has always liked school and learning, her experiences as a student have overall been very positive. Denise: "I think I have become much more self-confident as a person but also when it comes to my artwork. I've grown tremendously and would probably approach many things in my studies differently if I were to do it again. I have a better understanding of what I want now, but I think that's part of getting older. "

Her current body of work finds it’s roots in many different element’s. The fact that her education gave her a very broad knowledge of materials and the fact that she liked to do many different things, made it difficult for her to make a choice about the direction she wanted to take with her art. Because of her difficulty choosing, her work was inconsistent and there was no obvious development. Her husband Sonny was the one who reminded her of the collage work she had been doing in art school. This technique offers Denise the possibility to combine her love for photography, collage and painting and her travels are ideal source of inspiration. An ‘Award of Merit,’ and a contract with a gallery in Texas were a confirmation that she was on the right track.


Denise’s grandparents used to live on Ameland, one of the Dutch islands in the north of the country. As children Denise and her sister used to spend almost every holiday with them. Her grandmother was always doing arts and crafts so when Denise was over there, there was always something creative to do, which had a great influence on her creativity. 

Moving to Fort Worth in 2006 was a big step and has had an enormous impact. Denise moved to Texas because of her husband, who works as an aeronautical engineer, first in Forth Worth (Texas, United States) and now in Montreal, Canada. Denise: "I have become more my own person since I live abroad. You basically have to start over and because there are no people who have any expectations of you, you can reinvent yourself. The fact you're much more left to your own devices makes your self-confidence grow enormously. "Where Fort Worth had a major impact on her personal growth, Montreal has influenced her career as an artist. Denise: "I've started actively pursuing a career as an artist after moving to Montreal. Montreal has many organizations that help artists build their careers and I’ve benefitted from that tremendously. In addition, Montreal is a large city with an active art scene and is relatively close to cities like Toronto and New York, making it an ideal base for a starting artist. "

Creative background

You majored in Illustration when you did your studies at the ‘Willem de Kooning Academy’. What does this major teach you in addition to the knowledge of materials?
Denise: “A study in illustration is focused on idea development, both your own ideas as well as ideas based on a text or topic, idea development is a very important part of the profession. On top of that, they give you a basic knowledge of a variety of techniques such as photography and graphics. All this with an emphasis on drawing and painting with various materials. They teach you things like the use of color and light and there is an extensive education in art-and cultural history. "

When you think of art, there are many directions and movements, one of which is Illustration. But when it comes to art, isn’t everything beautiful and creative? When is an illustration finished and beautiful?
"Hahaha. There are a lot of different questions there. First, I would not really consider illustration an art movement, I would call it a creative profession. It has much in common with art, but it's a lot more commercial than what I'm doing as an artist. You’re certainly right when you say that in art anything can be creative and beautiful, although many people would disagree with that statement. Art is very subjective. Of course you can make a distinction when it comes to technical knowledge and implementation, but ultimately it comes down to whether you like it or not; that’s very personal. I’m convinced that there’s a market for anything, you just have to find it.

When is a piece finished? That’s a question I hear often. I think there is some difference between determining whether an illustration is finished or when finishing a work of art. The customer always criticizes an illustration afterwards and I believe there are often changes to be made, I say ‘believe’ because I have never been active as an illustrator. I entered the world of Graphic Design after graduating and now I’m working as a visual artist full-time. When making a illustration you have to deal with deadlines, a point in time that just says, "and now it's finished!" As an artist you usually have all the time in the world and whether or not a piece is finished is entirely up to you. This may sound strange, but in practice it's the painting that tells me when it is finished. I know that sounds weird but I don’t have any other explanation. When I am working on a piece there’s always a point when I instinctively know it's finished and the painting is as it should be. It’s as if the painting has always existed and I’m the one who made it visible for the rest of the world. "

What’s involved in the creation of an illustration? Is it the overall image or the details of the message behind it?
"An illustration should always fit within the style of the publication, the choice of illustrator is often based on that. A good illustrator can create an image that raises the interest of the reader, invites the reader to start reading and give an overall idea of the content of the story. In some cases a picture can also add a critical note. "

I imagine an illustration can be used in many ways? I am thinking about articles or in a more commercial way an advertisement?
"Yes, the use of illustrations is endless, especially in our current society where images play an increasingly important role."

Do you often have to deal with taste as an illustrator? Doesn’t the picture get noticed before the article? It determines whether or not a message is received. As an illustrator, do you have experience with relaying a message through illustrations that accompany an article?
"Not really, no, Of course I did exercises in art school that followed these requirements but since I’ve never actually worked as an illustrator, I can’t really comment on this. In a way I do this in my artwork though. In my work I try to create a representation of a place I have visited. The impression that place left on me could be considered to be the message which is often received in two different ways, depending on whether or not the viewer has visited that place. Of course I also want my work to stand out in a gallery alongside the work of other artists. So in that sense you always try to draw the viewer in. "

Current art movements

How would you describe the style of your existing artwork?
"The work I do is a combination of photo collage and acrylic paint, you could call it mixed media but because I transfer my photographs to the panels with an acrylic gel, and the result is a fully acrylic painting, I tend to call it an acrylic collage. "

You also have a website, a web store and multiple social media outlets to draw attention to your artwork. Why?
"I believe that in today's society no entrepreneur should be without an online presence and you want to maximize the ways in which people can find you. Having a website is a minimum requirement to be successful in this day and age. I always find myself online when I’m looking for something, so if a company doesn’t have an online presence, I won’t be able to find them and therefore won’t be able to do business with them.

Social media is a good way to get in touch with people and to distribute news, but it rarely leads to sales. Social media has become such an important part of society, there are many companies that rely on the amount on “likes" someone has on Facebook when it comes to sponsorship and advertising. Facebook is easy, it take little effort for people to get in touch with you and 'liking' a page is a click of the mouse. Most people don’t actively search for art but if they stumble across it on Facebook, they are more likely to click a link and take a look. Besides, it's free advertising for your work, I would be crazy if I didn’t use it.

My online shop is relatively new, I wanted to give people the opportunity to buy artwork directly from my website, for me as an artist that is the most profitable way to sell because I don’t have to pay any commission on the sales. Truth is that online sales of artwork are very difficult, often people want to see the work in person before they buy it, but during exhibitions I’ve spoken to several people who had first viewed my website at home to determine which pieces they liked and who made their final choice after seeing the piece at the exhibit. "

To what extent has the digital era influenced your art, isn’t everyone creative with YouTube, social media and digital photography nowadays?
"In my work I use digital media directly. All my photographs are digital and I edit my photographs on the computer before they end up in my paintings. I recently started doing part of my design process on a computer as well. I used to print all my photographs and created my compositions mainly with printed material. Nowadays I do a lot of it on the computer, where it is easier and quicker to resize and replace images. My paintings are a real mix between traditional painting and digital media. "

It’s a fact that everyone can actively participate in making art. Counting all the online activity, in the Netherlands alone there are about 16 million newsmakers who distribute content through their profiles on social media sites. As an artist, how do you distinguish yourself from the crowd?
"That's very difficult. It is hard to break into the art world and the art world is still relatively small when compared to the virtual world we call the Internet. It is very important to be active on Facebook and Twitter and to update your website regularly. Also, I’ve noticed there’s a close relationship between offline networking and the traffic on my website and Facebook page. Huge spikes of activity occur during or after an exhibition or after I've participated in a charity event. Attention from more traditional media, like newspapers and TV, also increases traffic on my site. In short, you just have to work really hard and try to be seen as much as possible in person, in the media and online. "

On your website, you give advise to other artists on how to be successful? Do you think it’s important to share experiences?
"I keep a Blog on my website. Sometimes I’ll write about specific experiences, but at other times it can be just about the things I’m working on that week. I don’t know if you can really call that advise. I do think it's very important to share experiences; I always try to answer the questions I get from fellow artists. Why should I let someone else do hours of research on something when I can provide them with an answer in two seconds? I’m always very appreciative when someone else saves me time like that. Artists tend to keep everything to themselves because they’re afraid of the competition or fear that a fellow artist will steal their ideas. I believe artists have a tough enough time as it is. We should share as much information as possible and be inspired by each other's work instead of trying to work against one another. In February I’ll be teaching a technical workshop to other artists, I’ll give an insight in my work process and I’m looking forward to see where they will take it. "

Aren’t you afraid that someone will run off with your ideas? "Off course, I think every artist has that fear to an extent. On the other hand, it is sort of a compliment if someone thinks your work is that good, that they take the time to copy it.
I see it like this: the techniques I use are well known, you can follow workshops for them in various places, there are dozens of books on the subject and the Internet is an endless source of information. The photographs that I use are mine. I take my photographs my way, I choose to photograph things that someone else might never even notice. Then I use my unique photographic material to create a composition from my own unique perspective that reflects my experiences and ideas. I use the elements of a city that are important to me, elements I have noticed. Then I use paints to blend it all into one image. Sure, someone else can do something similar, but I think there are enough personal elements in there for my work to be unique. One of the first lessons we learned in art school was; "everything has already been done." So with this thought in mind I just enjoy doing my own thing and I don’t worry about other people. "

About art

How would you describe the piece that will be exhibited at the Louvre?
"The piece selected for the Salon de la Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts in the Carrousel du Louvre is titled "Toronto". It's a large, black and white piece, 92x122cm (36x48”), with some accents of color. Like all the work in the series it’s an acrylic photo collage, a surreal view of the city wherein the different elements form one image. It’s not a true to life representation of the city but rather a representation of the cities atmosphere. "

The piece seems to be part of a series. What can you say about that?
"Toronto is part of my ongoing series ‘Traveling the World'. I’m always taking photographs when I travel and I always do this with the idea in mind that the material will be used for an artwork in the future. ‘Traveling the World’ is a series that will continue to grow as long as I keep traveling, I consider the world to be an endless source of inspiration. "

Are there any art movements that have influenced this work? Or it is mainly influenced by your travels?
"There’s not really a specific art movement that has influenced my work. I’m usually more drawn to smaller details within the works when I visit a museum or exhibition. Things like the use of a particular technique or texture, the use of light and shadow or the use of everyday objects and the details thereof that an artist chooses to emphasize. But most of my inspiration comes from my travels, especially the cities I visit. I love the atmosphere of big cities like New York and Toronto and things like the steam that comes from the grates and weathered street signs and walls in particular. Right now I am fascinated by reflections in glass and water, so I’m constantly looking for puddles and shop windows. "

The exhibition at the Louvre has been preceded by several exhibitions in Montreal. Which was the most important exhibition for you and why?
"The two most important exhibitions that preceded this, are the two solo exhibitions I organized this past year. In April I rented an exhibition space in downtown Montreal and organized my first solo show. This was a challenge because I'd never done something like that before and I had to arrange everything myself. From finding the exhibition space to writing and sending out a press release. Luckily I had some great help from my coach and mentor here in Montreal and a local marketing expert. In a way this was the most important exhibition of the two because it was my first solo show and I got a lot of media attention from it; both an extensive interview in a local art paper as well as an interview on CTV Montreal.

In August of this year, Viva Vida Art Gallery, the gallery I have a contract with, organized a solo show for me. This was a somewhat different experience because they took care of a large part of the organization. Although the first show was more successful when it comes to media attention, the second show was more successful in terms of sales and the number of visitors. Both exhibitions have given me a better insight in what the organizing of an exhibition and sale of artwork entails and more importantly they have given me experience in dealing with clients and networking during an opening night. "

What inspires you in making art?
"Ever since I was a child I’ve always been drawing and doing crafts with both my grandparents on Ameland as well as at home after school. I am happiest when I'm creating something. "

When you create an artwork is the direction of the piece predetermined, or is it the result of experimentation?
"The subject of a piece is predetermined. I know the size of the panel that I want to work on and which city will be the subject when I start work on a piece. Then it's a matter of waiting and seeing where the painting will take itself. I often start out with a lot of pictures and search for the image that will be the start of my composition. From there I will build the composition by fitting elements that connect or have a similar perspectives together. This process is a form of experimentation. When the composition is finished it's a matter of the transferring the photographs to the panel and painting on top of them to create the image.

At times I do more experimental work, I actually have a separate series, which is called Experimental. These are the pieces I create to relax and wind down in between the other pieces or when I get stuck with a composition. In these cases, I take a stack of magazines from which I get material for more straightforward collage work. In these collages I am freer to experiment with form, technique and color and in some cases even a certain degree of abstraction. "

What is your ultimate goal as an artist? What is your portfolio going look like? Or is it impossible to make a statement about that?
"My ultimate goal is to be able to sustain myself through my artwork. I hope that my ‘Traveling the World’ Series will still be part of my portfolio because that would mean I’m still able to travel. I would also like to do other projects; currently I'm working on a project that involves the boroughs on the island of Montreal, which should result in about 34 pieces. I’ve also recently teamed up with a portrait photographer from Montreal; the plan is to work together to create a series of works wherein we combine her portrait photography with my cityscapes. I hope to have the opportunity to continue to develop myself as an artist and to keep discovering new things so my work can continue to grow. "

On the art that came before

When you worked for Hotspot Retail I often called you Picasso, because of your passion for the arts. What is your opinion on Picasso as an artist and on his work?
"I've always been a fan of Picasso’s work. I am fascinated by the way he chose to visualize the world. His work ‘Guernica’ is one of my favorite paintings. "

At the moment 13 of the 20 paintings by the superb artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, are exhibited in London. What is your point of view; "just 20 artworks 'or' wow 20 artworks?
"Wow 20 artworks! Da Vinci invented so many ingenious things so far ahead of its time in so many different areas. During our recent vacation in Italy we visited the town where he was born. They had a museum where replicas of Da Vinci’s inventions were shown. There were cranes, looms, a diving suit and his famous flying machine. If you consider the amount of research this guy must have done to gain sufficient knowledge on all those different things so that he would be able to make those kinds of designs. It’s a miracle that he had time to paint at all. "

Amongst other famous (Dutch) artists are of course Vincent van Gogh and Rembrandt van Rijn. What is it that makes their art ‘Art’ in your eyes?
"What makes art ‘Art’? That's a very tricky question that I don’t have a straightforward answer for. When it comes to artists such as Rembrandt and van Gogh, you learn from a very young age that you are dealing with ‘Art’ so I don’t think you can answer this question in an objective manner. I greatly admire the work of Rembrandt and especially his use of light, and the lines in his etchings are unique! Van Gogh had a gift for conveying atmosphere and emotion in his paintings and his use of color is remarkably vivid. Personally I like Van Gogh’s work better than Rembrandt’s, but that doesn’t mean that I regard Rembrandt's work less as ‘Art’. The works of both artists have an important place in art history, something you can’t ignore when looking at the work. I think that's reason enough to consider it ‘Art’. "

Are there elements in you work that can be traced back to the works of artists like Pablo Ruiz Picasso, Vincent van Gogh or Rembrandt van Rijn?
"Not directly, no. I think that the fact that I've studied illustration instead of fine arts gives me a slightly different angle. The illustration program offers a broader education and is more focused on delivering a product. In a sense my artworks are illustrations of my travels though, they give an impression of the things I’ve seen and experienced, and tell the story of my visit. "

The obviously long list of outstanding Dutch artists includes Jan Vermeer and Willem de Kooning, the latter being partly American. What’s your opinion of these artists?
"The works of Jan Vermeer have never been able to captivate me, maybe the abundance of 17th century art that I encountered during my time in art school has caused everything to become a bit blurred. I’ve always greatly admired the work of Willem de Kooning though. I love it when a painting shows the texture of the paint, something that is very often the case in the work of Action Painters like de Kooning and Pollock for whom the act of applying paint was the most important part of creating art. "

These days the Internet makes it extremely easy for anyone to gather information about art. Which three artists from art history are important to you and what is their impact on your work?
"Many of my influences come from contemporary artists and it varies quite strongly, it really depends on what I am working on at the time. Currently I am very inspired by Canadian photographer Serge Clément, especially his use of reflection is an element that comes back in my work. The work of Lorne Wisebrot, one of the artists also represented by Viva Vida Art Gallery, is an inspiration to me as well. Especially the way he integrates his photographs and his use of materials. I also often come across things in local galleries and art centers. Earlier this year I was in New Jersey to deliver a painting for a show. At the time they had a small exhibit for one of the members of the art center, I have no idea who it was but I do remember that the pieces were made with a technique called encaustic, this is a technique where you use hot wax as a medium. The look and feel of these paintings is something that really stayed with me and has really raised an interest in this technique. I have not yet found the time to follow a workshop on encaustics, but it is definitely something I have planned for next year. "

I visit museums from time to time. What stands out to me is that many artists from history were experimenting with new styles? Therefore my last question is; how important is the role of experimentation in art?
"Experimentation is a very important part of being an artist, it's a way to continue to grow and to discover new things. Without experimentation you’ll keep repeating yourself and you will stagnate in your development as an artist. "





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