By IAN McKAY
This Saturday, 6 April 2019 sees the opening to the public of Monique Sliedrecht’s exhibition ‘Where Tideways Run’ at the Northlight Gallery, Stromness, Orkney. Sliedrecht’s exhibition is the first of the season for Northlight, and the show’s title is taken from a poem by the Orcadian poet Robert Rendall. “This is very exciting for me,” says the artist, “because Orkney has been a special place to me for so many years. This is my first solo exhibition there and I look forward to staying in Stromness throughout and meeting friends.”
Monique Sliedrecht was born in Canada to Dutch parents and moved to Scotland in 2001. She has lived and worked in Freswick, Caithness, and Edinburgh, and still has studios in both locations. Having earned her Bachelor of Arts in the US, and having later studied painting in Toronto and at Leith School of Art, Sliedrecht works predominantly in oils and mixed media, the “wild spaces of the far north of Scotland” being what she describes as her “constant inspiration.” As she explains, “It’s as if various elements in my life are floating together, driven by mysterious forces, in this work. I like the idea of drifting from Canada to a tiny seaside village in the far north of Scotland, working on the shores of the remote and lovely Freswick Castle, developing ideas in my studio in Edinburgh and then bringing everything together on Orkney!”
Sliedrecht has been a frequent visitor to Orkney; “I’m inspired by the light, the open skies, the wild seas, and above all by the hospitality and warmth of the welcome there.” Her most familiar images come from the shifting seascapes and small boats, travelling alone in the elements. Taking her work as a whole, it is clear that there is a playing with light and darkness that pervades her picturing of what she describes as fragile vessels, moored along the coastline or, conversely, riding a restless sea.
A prior recipient of a Wayfarer Fellow residency at St John’s College, University of Durham, and having worked for the Wayfarer Trust over the past decade, Sliedrecht is currently the Trust’s Creative Director and ambassador for the work of Wayfarer at Freswick Castle where she lives and works from a studio for a significant part of the year. Her method of working is worthy of mention I think, for, as she has written, “If you took an X-ray of my paintings you’d see other paintings and compositions underneath – some good, some not so good. In fact, when in the process of painting I have to watch that I don’t act too quickly and paint over everything out of frustration or impatience, or not seeing the piece with perspective and distance.”
In many ways, she observes, her method is similar to that of a writer (her process being one in which she is constantly redrafting, perhaps) and yet, “it's easy for writers to keep every draft of a work, but painters often have a different approach; they literally deal in layers of texture and paint.”
As she wrote via her blog recently: “I just covered up a painting I started some time ago and have been plugging away at, having little success. I’m not sure if it was the colours, the subject matter… Often I think it is the composition – If I don’t nail that right away, the piece is not easily redeemable, I find, and I go round and round in circles. So I painted over it, with a new composition, a new idea, a new shape. Et voila – it’s better (in my view). It’s still a work-in-progress, but I’m pleased with the new direction it’s taking.”
For Sliedrecht, it doesn’t take much to cover a painting and start over again. “I guess much of the creative process is about checking ourselves, the work, and letting go when necessary – as well as holding on when we’re onto a good thing – and discerning the difference.” It’s a challenge that many painters (and most creatives generally) face. As was featured in Creative Review magazine at the beginning of March, James Victore’s new book, offers some sage advice on when to ‘let go.’ As Victore puts it:
“Perfectionism stops you from starting projects […] because you are not ready. It stops you from finishing projects because they are never quite right. “When it’s perfect!” is our defence, but this habitual overthinking leaves us stymied, unable to get over ourselves and just move. Should you strive for excellence? Of course. Pay attention to the details? Yes. But never let ‘perfect’ stop progress. You know what’s better than perfect? Done. Done is better than perfect.”
How much Sliedrecht strives for perfection at any cost, I don’t know, but clearly she is exacting in pursuing what works. That she is now set to exhibit her current body of work at Northlight Gallery, I’m guessing that she’s gone through a process not dissimilar to that which Victore describes (probably many times over) but there’s nothing like a deadline to focus the mind, and her Northlight Gallery exhibition must represent precisely such a deadline. Her paintings are clearly hard-won, but the process of starting over is now not an option. The work will be judged on the basis of what is on the walls, not on their possibility as something slightly other, or something drastically made over. Isn’t every exhibition like that for an artist? – a point at which one can stand back, assess, and having reached that moment of ‘completion’, start looking for new destinations, new possibilities, and that ‘what next?’ thinking as the show comes to an end? In this sense her upcoming exhibition represents a moment of disembarking from ‘the process’ that has been underway for some time.
Where Tideways Run | Paintings by Monique Sliedrecht
49, Graham Place, Stromness Orkney
6 April – 17 April 2019
Open daily from 10am to 5pm