Interview Carmen Van den Eynde

You are a painter before you are a photographer, how did you evolve from the canvas to the computer screen?

More than an evolution, what has been is an extension of resources, what I do now with the computer is very similar to painting, I was interested in the possibilities of the new tools and I began to study them and work with them. For me, what I am doing now is nothing more than a continuation of my career, I do not consider my work to have a digital aesthetic.

You teach Digital Image at UCM’s School of Fine Arts. How did you get into digital art?

The subject I teach in the Faculty, although it is called Digital Image, is limited to the management of 3d programs focused on artists. What it is approached are the advanced uses of the 3D image in plastic creation projects. Using algorithms, generative programming systems and virtual modelling and animation tools we can generate shapes and images with total independence from the real visible world. These new tools open the way for the creation of images without reference to the visible reality, facilitating the search for new creative paths and parallel visual realities that enrich our palette as graphic creators.

What is the most artistically appealing thing about digital composition?

The fact that there is no limit to the creation of any scenario or object, and the ease when it comes to put it toghether. The difficult thing in my case is the same as when I paint: what I leave and what I take out of the picture to suggest and hide, because what I want to represent is clear to me.

In the creation of your digital images you do not use a camera, but a technique based on the dark box of your creation, even if you do not want to reveal it, can you give us some details of the method?

I don’t mind explaining it: I work from captures made by parts of the element with the scanner, an Epson 3590PHOTO. This is a phase, then comes the assembly of those parts in the computer where I also integrate digital photography made with a camera. Finally, I compose the scenes with all the elements that are part of them. I do this with Photoshop programs, to focus and illuminate and 3ds max to model certain parts and build solid elements in some scenes.

The colour, and the texture of the plants I do not alter it at all, neither I remove the imperfections that they can have. What I actually do is to shade to compose the different terms and work on chiaroscuro.

This technique, called scanning (scannigraphy??), is used for the creation of herbaria and is also used by some artists.

How is the composition process of your garlands and still lifes? You say it starts in your garden.

Indeed, I live in the mountains of Madrid, which has a very suitable climate for growing certain species, such as winter bulbs (tulips, hyacinths, irises, anemones, etc.). I can tell you that absolutely all the flowers, plants and fruits that appear in my photos are of my own production. I found that in my garden the tulips reproduced magnificently, since they are bulbs that need to be cold, and currently I have many varieties. Of all of them, my favourite is the Rembrandt tulip, with its red streaked sepals that look like flames, a variety that was the result of a virus and that spread to the others.

A few years ago I did an exhibition on tulipomania.  (also called «Tulip Fever», and that could be defined as a huge collective fury that was unleashed around this flower in Holland and part of Europe in the middle of the 17th century and that led to the first financial crisis in history).

How do you choose the species of flowers you use in your images? Do you use aesthetic criteria, or do you play with their meaning?

Now, in addition to tulips, I grow the flowers that appear in the 17th and 18th century paintings and then work with them. I also have wild ones like poppies, flax, myosotis, vinca, etc. and horticultural species. Together with my husband, who is also a painter, we cultivate the garden and vegetable garden and make compost from organic waste.

To choose the species I have taken as a reference the paintings of Juan de Arellano, (1614-1676) a painter from Madrid who represented the Flemish taste for nature that prevailed in Europe. These plants are very easy to reproduce here.

The species that appear in Arellano’s work do not flower at the same time. To compose his vases and garlands he added specimens according to the time or repeated flowers from previous paintings. It also represents the same plant in different stages of development and some species have a very short life. Nor does he respect the size of each flower, which depends on the composition and the ornamental effect. It is very likely that he used sketches and notes made from nature. In short, my way of working is very similar in the process, although when composing I maintain the proportional relationship between all the plants. The colour that most attracts me is dark red, and also white.

Now I am making several versions of the famous black-background window painted by Sánchez Cotán with flowers and fruits framed inside. In my case the window is the parable of the painting, and not the other way around.

In your images we can read the influence of the Flemish masters of the 17th century, but what elements have you wanted to gather from them specifically?

Besides plastic references I am interested in the intention due to the following:

In the first art schools, which emerged in the 17th century, a hierarchy was established between the genres of painting, in which still life had the lowest rank, since the painting of objects was understood not to express the ideas of dignity and hierarchy which, according to absolutism, are a manifestation of the sublime, which should be the distinctive character of art.

The highest rank corresponded to religious and history painting, biblical or mythological scenes, followed by portraits, and in the lowest rank was painting of animals, landscapes and still lifes.

This hierarchical concept of the themes of art, which is now discarded, was already discussed by the artists at that time. Caravaggio once declared that «it is as difficult to paint a good picture with fruits as one with human figures».

Moreover, this genre was considered suitable for women, very few painters at that time painted openly human figures. Clara Peeters, Maria van Oosterich or Rachel Ruiysch among many, left fantastic pictures of flowers and demonstrated their knowledge of botany and biology. Rachel Ruysch was a disciple of the extravagant painter of forest scenes, Marseus van Schrierck, and has left us an extraordinary collection of paintings with flowers and animals charged with symbolic intention.

And, of course, I find the symbolism that religion attributed to certain plants and animals very attractive, although in many of my compositions I dispense with any meaning other than the one I attribute to them, which is personal and intimate.

Have you adopted references from artists other than painters?

More than references, I can tell you about photographers that interest me, in some cases for identification, such as Steichen, Margriet Smulders, who works with fresh flowers, Jennifer Steinkamp and the Roussinian Ruud Van Empel, all four are very pictorial. I’m also very attracted to photoreportage, of course without manipulation, and without looking for an aesthetic aspect of the tragedy.

From a literary point of view, I find Bataille’s text «The Language of Flowers» very interesting, although I do not share some of his statements, and a book that influences me a lot and inspires me is «Late Summer» by the Austrian Adalbert Stifter (1805-1868

How do you best express yourself through the physical or digital brush?

I’m working more with the computer now, but I’ve never stopped painting and drawing. In any case, I don’t classify my work by the technique I use at a given moment, in any case I do it by thematic blocks. Baroque painting has been inspiring me since the 80’s and I’ve been painting still life since 94.

And the photography? Do you think it has evolved as an artistic expression?

Yes, of course photography has evolved, it couldn’t be any other way since the artist of today can’t define himself only as a painter or sculptor, generally he works with several techniques at the same time, from which you have to make use to reach the result you are looking for. For a long time now, photography has been exhibited in art galleries.

Because of your work in the faculty, you have direct contact with new generations of artists. Have you perceived great changes during your years of teaching? How do you think the irruption of new technologies has affected you?

Of course, the digital tools, which are becoming more sophisticated but also easier to use, encourage creators to explore form without limitations. Some of these tools, such as 3d programs for example, give the possibility of creating scenarios and backgrounds that are interspersed with photographic images or that serve as models for painting and sculpture. In the artistic field, not to mention in creative advertising, assembly is often everything. Moreover, today’s artists have access to information as never before.

Three exhibitions in 2008 and two in 2009, what are your next projects?

I am now working on a new series that is yet to be fully defined, and for next season I have 2 exhibitions in the pipeline, where I will show some of the large format pieces (180 x 140 cm.)

(Translated by E. Lozano)



El mundo multicolor de las flores es el protagonista de las espléndidas fotografías de Carmen Van den Eynde.

Marcos-Ricardo Barnatán

En esta exposición se presentan unas originales fotografías de la artista española Carmen Van den Eynde (Torrelavega, Cantabria, 1947). Sus comienzos fueron como pintora de retratos y paisajes, discípula del pintor realista Antonio López que fue su maestro en la Escuela de Bellas Artes de San Fernando.

Mas tarde practicará una serie informalista de la que volverá a una figuración narrativa de inspiración mitológica con citas clásicas y barrocas.

Un pasado que sin duda influirá de forma notoria en la concepción de estas magníficas obras fotográficas en las que las flores y frutos de su propio jardín son las protagonistas principales.

El proceso de trabajo de Carmen Van den Eynde comienza con el cuidado de ese jardín, donde cultiva, con la ayuda de su marido el también pintor Alfonso Galván, las especies con las que luego compondrá las guirnaldas y naturalezas muertas de sus vivísimas fotos.

La variedad de flores es muy grande, son principalmente bulbosas de invierno: tulipanes, jacintos, anémonas, lirios, intercaladas con vivaces, vinca y myosotis, además de flores silvestres cultivadas de semillas recogidas del campo, como el lino o las amapolas.

De este jardín, crecido en las afueras de Madrid, surgen las composiciones ornamentales de inspiración flamenca que hacen tan particulares estas luminosas y placenteras exaltaciones de la naturaleza.

La precisa combinación de flores y frutos, colocados tan cerca de la mirada del espectador que notamos gotas de agua o restos de tierra, con el trasfondo pictórico de los maestros flamencos del siglo XVII que transpiran sus trabajos, los hacen únicos e impactantes.

El conocimiento botánico y de la práctica de la jardinería, dos condiciones indispensables para que Carmen Van den Eynde realice sus espléndidas fotos, con una técnica muy particular que no desvelaremos. Invito a todos los amantes de la fotografía y de las flores a acercarse a esta excelente exposición. No quedarán defraudados.

Marcos-Ricardo Barnatán