This is part two of a two-part interview with Monique van den Hout (right) and Andrea Cook, two talented ladies who share a passion for the sea.
Monique van den Hout: illustrator, draughts person, image-maker, designer.
Could you tell us a little bit about your work?
Monique: Each new piece, in commission or otherwise, is a new beginning for me every time in terms of style, technique and visual appearance. Even after 20 years I still return to a blank sheet to start. Then bit-by-bit images evolve. It doesn’t happen directly in my studio in Bergen op Zoom, but overall: on the road, on my bike, in and on the water. Giving shape to what is not immediately tangible.
Illustrations and images are not decoration; they are broader and more expansive, opening a new perspective. In editorial work (for newspapers and magazines) it is an invitation to read the story in the text. In picture books, by really tasting the story, there are more layers to be discovered. My portraits portray the inside, the inner world. My own work communicates deeper emotions, non-verbally. In pictograms, logos, prints for intercultural communication, the image has to have the power of transcending language to communicate the message.
Here’s an obvious question: how did you and Andrea meet?
Monique (in response to Andrea’s answer): I was indeed there that evening, but my work wasn’t… I remember I always saw you heading for the open water, the Oesterdam on the Oosterschelde, on your bike if I had the urge to go for an evening swim after a day in my studio. Then I felt a kind of affinity and comradeship, that I wasn’t the only one on the island who was drawn to the water. I was curious to get to know you.
You even go swimming in winter. Really?
Monique: That’s right, in October I wondered to myself what would happen if I just carried on swimming throughout the winter. What would happen in my head, with my body. I did it and it was great and refreshing. A metaphor for the rest of life. You can do so much, everything, if you don’t believe the voices in your head that want to hold you back. The excuses to not do something, all the ‘yes, buts’. After every dip I felt so powerful, so full of energy. And also that you don’t know beforehand how it will be. Sometimes the water felt almost warm even though there was snow on the ground, and yet another time with the winter sun, bitterly cold. Feeling how it is and what it does to you, without thinking about it beforehand! It’s brought me a lot! The sea dips bring me back to this every time. I forget it sometimes then I remember it again.
What’s the secret to keeping warm?
Monique: Andrea’s tea is fantastic, I look forward to it every time when we’re swimming together. First we have her chai tea and then a brew made from herbs in my roof garden. :) And also our conversations, as if through the swimming all the pressure is gone, you jump straight in with depth and openness. The one occasion an outlet with a lot of laughter, and another time the doubts, uncertainties and dreams.
What makes the sea so inspiring? It also features in some of your work.
Monique: If I look back there are so many elements in my work that are related to swimming, water, the horizon, the sea with all her faces / temptations / secrets, currents under water, reflections, with the desire for freedom, the wish to be free from gravity. Embracing, unifying, to be included… Not at all conscious, just intuitively returning to it. A while ago during my study time (1992 Royal Academy for Visual Art specialising in fashion design in Antwerp, Belgium) I made a collection of clothes for women as a kind of sand sculpture. There’s nothing that remains of it, the sea took it all away. I didn’t keep it… I made mermaids tails (I could breath new life into them again, I have the moulds in my studio still) and in later work, drawings and paintings, return to this theme regularly. The women often have fish like qualities: they appear to float in a timeless underwater world and can breath underwater.
Mermaids tail mold.
In the street where I live, the Visstraat (Fish Street) in Tholen, I organised a street art aquarium last year. Everyone could join in to draw fish on the pavement with special chalks. The Fish Street turned into a colourful sea of fishes!
Illustration by Monique van den Hout.
Visit Monique’s website: www.moniquevandenhout.nl
All images: © Monique van den Hout.
Thanks Monique! Also a thank you to Andrea Cook for translating the text! Read Andrea Cook’s side of the story: here.