Sensing Art Between Paintings and Photography

Tessa Verder creates new places with her work by fusing paintings by old masters with her own photographs, but her art is also always an engagement with something primary. Wenke Röschmann, intern at the Museum Kunst der Westküste, spoke to the Dutch artist about her work - which is characterized by far-away journeys and a return to oneself.


You have already been a guest in our artist-in-residence program in 2019.


Exactly, during spring and fall. The division into two seasons made a huge difference. The motifs and colors that could be found in spring were completely different in autumn.


How do you choose the locations for your photographs? Do you always have a certain destination in mind?


Yes, I am already thinking of specific things. I came to Föhr, for example, because I had just started a series about seascapes. I also often look for places where you can't recognize the influence of human activity.


There was a time when I just wanted to see rocks and mountains. Then it was trees. That's the beauty of this work, that you can go with your own feeling. Only when you feel the need to stand by the sea are you ready to experience what it is made of.


You live in Berlin. Is that a deliberately chosen counterpart to the stillness that can be found in your works?


Yes, but I need nature. Because I feel that strong connection there. In nature, you simply sink a little deeper into yourself and come closer to the origin of things. In the city you are always more in your own head - in nature you slow down.


Tessa Verder, breeze of light 6, 2020, © courtesy of the artist / VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2024


You have also shot portraits. Is there a big difference to landscape photography?


Yes and no. Portrait photography is what I started with. When I moved to Berlin, I had the feeling that I couldn not do it anymore. Then I did a series and a trip where I photographed people in a landscape. And the people kept getting smaller and smaller.


Then I entered a phase where I just completely let go and tried to send everything away. I had just moved to Berlin and was looking for something new. How do you do that? Visit a new place, a new country...


Eventually I realized that nature is so much stronger than me, it is already trying to move everything in one direction. Then I just thought: let go. That's why I climbed into a tree for a photograph, for example, with the feeling, okay, now I am letting go. And then I came home and the lens and the picture were damaged by sand. Six months later, I actually went back there and made a whole series out of it to capture the power of nature and humans everywhere.


Another picture initially also depicted a human figure and then it was hanging in the studio and I thought: But that's already a body. There's so much in it, that's all I need.


At that moment, I thought: a photography of a tree is also a portrait. They also have a lot to say, they are bodies and tell a story. That was the natural transition to nature photography for me. After that I had not been able to take a portrait for 15 years.


In addition to photography, your work also involves paintings. How close do you feel to the artists of them?


It is not that I become an art historian. But it is still an honor to be able to use and work with the paintings. It makes me feel very close to the paintings and the artists. Not necessarily personally...


But you have the same thoughts. About composition, for example.




So could you say that through the classical paintings and the contemporary photographs, the past and the present work together?


That is essentially what I am always trying to achieve. Especially to better understand everything around us. I look for the feeling that in bringing these elements together, there is a solution somewhere, or an answer or a unity.


Would you like to show us how one of your works is created? What the process to the final project is?


It does not necessarily start with the paintings, but rather with a feeling. I just need a rock or a tree or space. So whether it starts with a painting or a photograph, I cannot really say, it is more about the feeling.


I am standing somewhere in the middle of nature and am thinking: Yes, that is it, this comes very close to this one painting. But that does not mean that I then use said painting, it should not be a copy.


I have often had that experience here on Föhr, that I thought: Wow, that is similar to the painting. Because one is so close [to the places where the artists worked - author's note]. I do not find that interesting, after all it is supposed to be an independent work.


© Museum Kunst der Westküste


The fusion of the photograph with the painting creates a completely new place. Can you still find the location where the photo was taken within the final work?


I can actually still remember all of the places. But sometimes, when I see the end result, it feels more fitting to me than the original photo. After a while, I have internalized the work so much that when I see the original again, I think: this blue sky does not fit at all. It becomes the landscape that is not right.


After this insight into your diverse work, can you give us a preview of your next project, if you already have something in mind?


That is difficult to say because I do not really know yet myself. I do feel that it is going to be smaller. Not narrower, but from the big, even from the bad, wide world, it will be more intimate, more secure.


But, as I said, I already have a lot of the ingredients. Now they just have to work together, be cooked. I have to find the recipe.


That is a nice conclusion. Thank you very much.