The idea of Syrian gardens
Looking back on creating this artwork, I realize that I have approached it from so many angles and saw so many connections that it took me no less than three articles to describe it, this being the last one. It is how my brain works: I see all kinds of similarities and patterns that are meaningful to me and often go beyond to what I’ll discuss here to prevent myself becoming incoherent. All these ideas may be overwhelming to some, but they actually help me to create. Of course, the end result must have focus, but I do think that my way of working results in a richness that is felt if not seen.
I worked approximately three weeks on “The idea of Syrian gardens. I made many digital drawings that I deleted along the way and figures and objects constantly changed form and position. For a long time I struggled to make the work progress. All elements contained some kind of beauty or had meaning, but it didn't lead to art: if you apply paint to a canvas using brushes you might get a painting, but not automatically a work of art. The work was stuck in a way, I think it lacked focus and referred to too many things.
Middle Ages and comics
Initially I wanted to make something that resembles digital comic art. I admire comic book artists/cartoonists very much, not that I know anything about the genre, but I do recognize the enormous craftsmanship of a good cartoonist. There are comic books where entire pages are intertwined, for example; a bullet from the first frame shoots right through the spread ending up in another. Or by playing with perspective, styles and camera angles. Like film directors they use all kinds of techniques to tell a story. I think that's really cool, but my talent is different from that of a cartoonist, it is less technical, less crafty. I think my greatest strength lies in dealing with my limitations to create my own style and therefore my own beauty.
The Middle Ages as I know them are quite theatrical and have a clear visual language. I was curious to see what would happen if I combined the visual language of comic books with that of the Middle Ages. But I didn't want to do that in a clichéd way: no collage of Mickey Mouse, a porn star, a pyramid and an astronaut placed in a Syrian garden, but by intelligently combining different figures and objects in a way as if they’d belong to the same universe, but also contain contradictions that could lead to something interesting.
Eventually I added more objects and figures that refer to different locations or time periods to open up this place I was creating, with each element being a visitor. It didn’t take long for the work to lose the comic book component, it did not even remain a drawing, it became something of its own.
Making collages is not new to me. I started my career making flower still lifes that were often a collage. The collage technique offers great freedom: you can easily slide a clipping over the image to see how it looks. But at a given time I felt I was close to cheating art. I was getting good at making collages and it became too easy to create something appealing. I once overheard a teacher say to a student who used wallpaper for her paintings: 'Why don't you paint the wallpaper yourself and use it like you do now? The work will become so much more.' I asked myself: can I imagine on forehand what I need to paint or draw, without losing spontaneity? But with a computer it is even easier to try out things. However, I could not have made this work if I had not trained my mind to think associatively. My imagination became more powerful and I can think further ahead to see in what direction I need to steer the image.
Advertising Syrian gardens
The idea of Syrian Gardens does not really show a garden, but rather seems to be advertising Syrian gardens. But why and for whom it is intended? The idea of something provokes imagination and sometimes even action. From a religious perspective one could even say that the idea of a garden is the idea of heaven.
My art looks religious, but is not, however I too want to incite something and spark imagination. By raising questions without answering them or by playing with ideas, artists point towards something without telling what it is they see. After all that’s the job of the spectator.
The final result of this artwork exceeds my expectations. I feel I have found a nice balance among the figures and objects. There is palpable tension in the picture; it has a dark side yet it’s seductive. Furthermore the work is unusual in a subtle way, it comes close to, but never becomes a collage, digital drawing, painting or photograph and it doesn’t look like any NFT I’ve ever seen. This is something that is easily overlooked, because art is vulnerable to the short attention span of the viewer, especially on the internet.
The idea of Syrian gardens doesn’t need me let alone all these articles I have written. On the contrary: I need to share my thoughts because this artwork is so dear to me and fits so wonderfully in the voids of this world. If it needs me it is for just one reason: to make sure people see it.
About the elements
All elements in this work have a story, but I am not interested in any symbolic meaning if they have one. I find the explanation of symbols less interesting than their mystique: "if it means something to someone" it’s enough for me. However the elements combined don’t represent just one culture, they show a variety of human behavior and expression and thus: openness.
I began this article by saying that I struggled to make this work progress. It wasn't until I added “Das Paradiesgärtlein” to the image that something finally happened. Paradiesgärtlein to me is the pinnacle of medieval gardens.
I didn’t need the whole painting, just a piece of the wall to create a setting. By erasing the majority of the painting, the weird perspective of such a wall section became noticeable and was emphasized by the form of the cut out. Later I mirrored the rectangular part as a water reflection to see what that would look like. It worked wonderfully well and I placed it at the center of the image. The two parts of Paradiesgärtlein are equally wide and their shapes are geometrical. They remain visually connected, even though there is a lot of space between them and in that space the narrative takes place. It invites us into the image. It all made so much sense.
At the bottom of the image I placed the Fountain from the al-Azm Palace in Damascus (18th century). By removing the sides from the fountain, it lay flat on the sand. Only the well suggested depth. Then I experimented with some geometrical shapes that yet again lifted the fountain up and created space underneath. It messes with our sense of perspective but also contributes to the overall composition.
During the Christmas season I watched the Netflix series The Witcher. Fantasy as a genre almost always takes place in a medieval-esque world and strongly influences our image of the Middle Ages. I found a picture of Freya Allan playing Princess Cirilla and traced it quite dramatically. She looks at the viewer with haggard eyes. It’s hard to see what her intentions are. I didn’t color the drawing so she is translucent, but the background color of the sand looks quite nice.
The two women on the left are models out of a Prada campaign. Islamic gardens celebrate earthly delights like cool shades, fragrant flowers and corners where you can hide away with your lover. Prada campaigns often are sensual and erotic which I found suitable for this work; having these women interact sensually with one another creates a welcoming aspect to the openness. To make the composition stronger, I had to remove the head from the woman on the right.
The yellow public bath
To create space in the vast emptiness of the desert I looked for an appealing building. I found Hammam Yalbugha which is a public bath in Aleppo from the Mamluk-era. I fell for its yellow color and the typical Ablaq masonry. The bathhouse was built in 1491 by the Emir of Aleppo and was damaged during the war. Initially I had made a corner in the building to create depth, but in the end it was better compositionally to leave that out.
Temple of Bel
In 2015 ISIS largely destroyed the Temple of Bel (32 ad) near Palmyra. Some pillars survived. This astonishing building was originally a temple, but later also a Byzantine church and mosque. I traced the pillars and placed them in the middle of the work. Initially I wanted to create multiple plateaus to set the stage in which the narrative would take place, but the power of the void won.
Street Called Straight
During the tour I had with Rania Kataf through Damascus (see blog 2) I made a screenshot of a pillar at the Street Called Straight. I enhanced the image, flipped it horizontally to then later trace it so it would fit nicely in the picture. Then I hung a medieval wall relief from Utrecht the Netherlands on that pillar that I had made some time before. By the way, these two elements are the only objects within this artwork I have experienced live.