Stijn Peeters | Studio Encounter


Stijn Peeters | Studio Encounter

Stijn Peeters artwork features a rovolution, pleople painting, running and a house setting on fire
Stijn Peeters, Our Times, Moralized, 2019
200 x 250 cm, Acrylic and Oil on Linen


Socially Engaged Art Netherlands
Dutch painter Stijn Peeters Studio Encounter
by Annika Medin

Buy a copy of 10.000

Stijn Peeters, 10.000, artist's book on the occasion of the exhibition at SEA Foundation Tilburg, the Netherlands

Still available at the SEA Foundation Shop
Stijn Peeters
artist’s book, 2016

Produced on the occasion of
Stijn Peeters’ solo exhibition
Europaeische Werte
at Das Esszimmer, Bonn (DE).

24 pages, 13,5 x 20 cm.
Riso print

Published with support of
SEA Foundation Tilburg, the Netherlands

Studio Encounter

Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary Context

I am observing an image of a large painting, strikingly pink though a highbrow composition, reminiscing me of the classics from the 18th century. Yet the red baseball cap, the woman captured by nothing but her mobile phone suggests that I am looking at a depiction of today. Before long the faces painted on the large canvas seem more and more familiar, the characters interacting in the same theatrical manner as I see politicians on the news. As I grab my notebook and write down the name of the artist, Stijn Peeters, a strong feeling of curiosity compels me to know more. I continue to scroll through the page, and indulge in the 30 accompanying drawings. An old book with beautiful black letters reading ‘Southwark Fair’, a depiction of modern day authorities with the words ‘Manifest Destiny in the 21st Century’, an old peep box and “an isolated consumer of a mass produced commodity”…

Having made my way to Helmond, a small Dutch city about 10 minutes away from Eindhoven by train, I rush to the address of Peeters studio, hoping to stumble upon a bakery to get some biscuits for the studio visit. I successfully arrive at the brown brick building, with a bag of fresh pastries in my hand, and attempt to call Stijn’s number. To my surprise, I hear a voice not coming from my phone but from behind me, ‘are you Annika by any chance? We were on the same train’.

Some Books Have Pictures, Some Pictures Have Books

10 minutes into our conversation, I am already holding three books in my hands, Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter; The Historical Novel by Jerome de Groot and Consuming History, also by the latter. Stijn is explaining to me the influence that painter Ronald Brooks Kitaj has had on his work, mentioning Kitaj’s quote “some books have pictures and some pictures have books”. Perfect quote to define Stijn’s work, I think to myself. He explains further, “the picture is the first layer, accompanying it are a lot of stories which are used in the process of creating that picture. These stories are then part of how the picture shows itself to the audience. It’s an invitation to be tempted to follow the lines I played out.”

Democratizing Education through the Arts

What are the conditions needed for individuals to be able to reflect and find words for those intimate thoughts present in each of our minds? And how can these minds be connected through art and through education? Stijn Peeters raises these questions as he speaks of his socially engaged art practice. Reflecting on our ongoing conversation, I suggest to the artist: “well your work has done exactly that for me. From the Jonathan Crary article suggested in your writing accompanying the work Our Times Moralized, to the drawings of political figures and logos of greedy corporations deteriorating the course of modern history, to a caricature of Le Naine Jaune (a satirical political journal of liberal tendencies, in opposition to the Imperial policies of Napoleon, that was published in Paris, starting in 1814). The complexity of ideas and events present within each artwork, the openness to share resources used in arriving at those ideas. All together persuading me to conduct research of my own, while guiding me with texts, artists and thinkers I wouldn’t have found on my own.” This approach exemplifies how socially engaged art can democratize education, by emphasizing multidisciplinarity and fostering more reflective and critical worldviews, rather than simply reproducing existing ideas.

Feeling Engaged with the Suffering of Others

“I feel the urge to be part of a big movement of artists like Isaac Julien, Jeremy Deller, and the greats from history like Goya and Otto Dix. All those people who felt engaged with the suffering of others or giving a realistic image from the times they lived,” Stijn explains as he takes a sip of his coffee. He continues to highlight the importance of  analyzing parallels of the past and present, “all those registrations of feelings and ideas is for us to look at and reflect on, to make connections to our own lives and ideas.” I look to my right where a large colourful painting is leaning against a gray wall, noticing how certain characters are painted as almost ghost-like figures. Curious to know Stijn’s approach to translating his vision into work, I ask him about his creative methods. He explains, “In my practice I invite the audience to take part in the journey of becoming the image. This means that certain elements are left open for viewers to reflect upon and consider the choices I made during the painting process. Unlike a photographic reproduction that simply shows what it is—a good painting for many—my approach aims for something more. For me a state of leaving parts ‘unfinished’ or ‘undefined’ creates room for interpretation and activates the process of looking. It engages an audience instead of confirming their first associative impression. What’s more, by using elements of temptation, like the scale and the referencing to the Grande Gallery of the Louvre in Paris, I try to make an interesting painting”.

Observing the painting once again, I take note of the playful satire depicted in the combination of caricature and high art. “Because these two things don’t belong together it creates friction. It has to be integrated. I like caricatures because the autocrats are so self-centered with their carefully built-up egos. It’s a kind of activist approach to authority, to ridicule it,” Stijn explains.

Making Slow Art

As we approach the end of our conversation, I ask Stijn to lay out a verbal portrayal of the chronology of his practice. Having experienced a commercial career in the past, during which he painted landscapes and abstraction, the artist has confidently arrived at the path he has reached today. “In my third reflective period, it’s very nice to say that I make one important painting each year. I do a lot of research, a lot of preparation, travel, and make sketches. This allows me to focus entirely on the dynamics of researching and making the painting as weighted as possible,” Stijn describes. Reflecting on the said, I became aware of Stijn’s slow approach to making art, both in terms of the creation process and the way it can be experienced and perceived. In the age of speed, where production and consumption are projected onto every aspect of life, slow art calls for the “necessity of devoted attentiveness and favourable conditions for that dynamic, intimate experience,” (Watts, 2019).

The Art of Social Change

Although Stijn Peeters questions whether he considers his work as activism, I certainly view it as such. In times where information overload has made it increasingly difficult to arrive at meaningful and evidence-based sources of knowledge outside academia, it is considerably worthwhile to engage in creative works rooted in research and compassion. By sharing his personal web of sources, attributed to each individual work, Stijn takes an educational approach to making socially engaged art. While at the same time withholding from any form of gatekeeping, he sets an insightful example of the art of social change.

Stijn Peeters Bio

Stijn Peeters is a contemporary painter advocating for the need to “call out people who are a threat to democracy” and to encourage individuals to reflect on their internalized realities. Enriched with references to classical texts and compositions inspired by 19th-century French painters, his art ridicules and challenges today’s hypocrisy-fueled news headlines. Stijn envisions creating work that has a societal function and that can be part of the broader socio-political debate of today. His latest work, ‘Turmoil, a collection of 32 paintings exploring various past and present worldwide protests, will be shown as part of the exhibition ‘Liberté. Ary Scheffer en de Franse Romantiek’ at the Dordrechts Museum in October 2024.

Artist website: Stijn Peeters
Written by: Annika Medin

mondriaanfonds netherlands
Stijn Peeters artist studio in Helmond Netherlands 2024. There is painting on the back alongside pain and brushes, emulsions and an aloe vera plant
Stijn Peeters artist studio desk with coffee and book as like consuming history and the historical novel in Helmond Netherlands 2024
Stijn Peeters artist studio in Helmond Netherlands 2024