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Sylvia Van Strijthem


Richer Resources: Hello, Sylvia. Thank you for giving us an interview.

Richer Resources: How long have you been painting? What kind of training have you had?

Sylvia Van Strijthem:  I first explored the Chinese brush at Patti Poon’s education centre in Hong Kong. About four years ago, in England, I joined a local group of Chinese brush painters with workshops by local artists including Maggie Cross and Jane Dwight. It is an ongoing learning journey.

Richer Resources: How did you get interested in Chinese brush painting?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: In Hong Kong I used to take every opportunity to visit art exhibitions and art lectures. I had a longing to express poetic feelings visually but I did not know how to go about it until I came across Patti Poon’s Chinese brush painting and calligraphy teaching.

Richer Resources: Do you do other kinds of art? If so, what?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: No, although out of curiosity last year I briefly explored some other forms of expression such as acrylics and oil pastels.

Richer Resources: The rhythm and beauty in your Chinese brush painting has a similarity to the rhythm and beauty in the haiku style of poetry, making them a good match. How did you and Sherry come to collaborate on this book of poetry?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: Sherry and I have known each other for many years. I think Sherry saw a connection between the haiku she writes and the impression beyond the image of Chinese brush painting. It became a happy collaboration.

Richer Resources: How long does it take you to create a painting of this nature?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: I prefer to paint on unsized paper (sometimes called raw rice paper). This type of painting, sometimes called "free style," requires a firm brush handling and fast movements of the brush since the paper is so absorbent. Apart from composition challenges, this level of absorbency creates specific challenges for loading the brush and laying the brush strokes. The final image can sometimes be very swift but is often the result of many previous images. I have found it best to paint when I have a happy and focused mind.

Richer Resources: Do you usually paint from real life settings or do you envision an image and then paint it?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: Observations from my surroundings and images that come to mind when reading are constant sources of inspiration. There is something attractive about emphasizing the idea beyond the image and there can be a lot of “hidden” meaning behind images.

Richer Resources: How much do the poems themselves influence your painting, if at all ?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: The poems have touched me in many different ways. Sometimes it is form, sometimes it is colour that will create the connection.

The poems in Layers, The Grand Canyon at first prompted me to paint specific pines with horizontal layers of rock and even colours of orange and purple. Quite specific and a challenge. In Chinese brush painting sometimes a single branch can be as powerful as the image of an entire tree and empty space can say a lot. By letting myself free on the flow of the haiku, it was a relief to take away as much of the scenery as possible but still have the recognizable wooden rose like pinecones.

It was a different experience, for instance, with the poems in Spiraling Nautilus, where images of curving, curling and swirling in my mind connected with images of the vine-like wisteria plant.

Richer Resources: What artists do you most admire?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: It is a fantastic experience to now and then feel a strong connection with a particular work of art. I remember such deep emotion after viewing a work of art by the Chinese artist Wu Guanzhong who exhibited at the British Museum. This was before I started painting with the Chinese brush. More recently I attended an exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in memory of the same artist. Again I felt a strong connection with his work and a great respect for his thinking.

Richer Resources: What’s your next art project?

Sylvia Van Strijthem: In the next couple of months I will take part in some local exhibitions of Chinese brush painting to bring this art form more into the local public eye.

Richer Resources: Sylvia, that sounds very exciting. We wish you the best and hope you will keep us updated on the progress of these exhibitions. Thank you for your interview and congratulations on the addition of your work in Land Shapes.


Interview with the Artist