Conversations with an Artist: Nico van Dongen

8 Questions

Nico earned his master’s of fine art in photography at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague. He has been a educator for over 20 years as well as a practicing designer and photographer. His “Tulipa Erotica” series, currently exhibited at Poet and/the Bench, is a selection from more than 10,000 photographs, shot over three months, examining the sensual side of tulips–one of the most cultivated flowers in the world. Photo Credit: Audrey Daniel

Describe the moment you realized art fed your soul.
I’ve always been attracted to the act of creation–whether I am designing, cooking, making music or teaching a class. I see art in everything that surrounds me. Art doesn’t just feed one’s soul. Art is a relationship that is temperamental and demands a response that is pure. Art is always one step ahead, the process is always critical and challenging.
When I am making art and in the flow of creation, I am reminded every time, that I am merely the humble custodian of my craft. Art rewards me–only when I surrender to the moment–by filling my soul with joy.
What themes do you pursue in your art?
Themes come and go over time. The main theme has always been to work in an environment where I have a sense of control over my subject. Working in a studio environment is as close to how a painter builds an image. You can step back, reflect and work towards the desired outcome. You can take time to see what your subject is telling you. Currently, I focus on botanicals.
Tell us about what influenced your direction for Tulipa Erotica.
After reading in Sir Isaac Newton’s biography that he had an epiphany when the apple fell, I began pondering, “Why is an apple an apple?” Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle taught me that asking “Why?” first provides a sense of purpose. I wanted to explore the question, “Why are things that grow and reproduce the way they are?” That led naturally to the question, “Why is a flower a flower?” Suddenly, I felt that I had a whole new world to explore.

How has your work developed over time?
I remain humbled by how much there is to learn about art. To work with living plant matter is infinite. As I explore my subject, I want to try different photographic approaches and techniques. I started researching photographers who have done similar work so that I could learn from their experience, such as Karl Blossfeldt, Edward Weston andRobert Mapplethorpe.
What’s the most indispensable item in your studio?
During the winter months, the low southern sun creates magical light. I work with this unique natural light to illuminate my subjects.

Do you collect anything?
Guitars and gray hairs…
What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen, read, watched or listened to recently?
The work of Karl Blossfeldt (1865–1932): “The plant never lapses into mere arid functionalism; it fashions and shapes according to logic and suitability, and with its primeval force compels everything to attain the highest artistic form.”
Blossfeldt was an instructor of sculpture, who for 35 years devoted himself to photographing only flowers, buds and seeds. Through this focus, he educated his students about design elements in nature.

What advice would you give to your younger self about your artistic journey?
Create art every day.

Nico Van Dongen Curves
Nico van Dongen Embrace
Nico van Dongen Misty
Nico van Dongen Red Hot

Nico’s “Tulipa Erotica” photography is exhibited at Poet and/the Bench in Mill Valley, CA, and available to order unframed, printed on hahnemuhle fine art paper. If you haven’t seen these provocative images in person, do stop by and take a look. If you live out of the area, we’re happy to ship… Get in touch or 415–569–4383.

Until next time,
Bonnie & Jeffrey

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