Liesbeth Piena at Studio Bosk

Liesbeth Piena is Mini Galerie’s latest artist doing a week-long residency at Studio Bosk up in Friesland, the Netherlands.

“On my way here it really felt like I was travelling. I had a big backpack with me, except instead of a tent or hiking shoes, I had my art supplies.” Liesbeth laughs over the phone. At 28 years old, the Arnhem-based painter has been part of Mini Galerie’s represented artists for two years now.

“There’s so much light here, and it’s very “foresty”. I  can see the forest from the house, and beyond that are some cliffs. Let’s switch to video so I can show you what I’ve been working on.”

The camera switches on, and I can see a large bush of some-kind stretched across the screen.

“I don’t know what the plant is called, but I’ve been sketching it. It’s actually been pretty tricky, there are so many shapes to find within the leaves.” Piena holds up a piece of paper where the botanic details are made abstract, a process she uses for multiple of her previous works.

“Yes, it’s a step up from the house plants you usually paint,” I say, remembering the array of spider plants growing in her old studio.

“Yes, that’s true haha.”

I ask her what she’s been creating, and she brings “me” to the adjacent stone studio. She tells me that I’m calling her in the middle of a crisis.

“Well, not exactly a crisis. But I’m turning my bush sketch into a painting, and I’m not happy with how it turned out. I just have to continue, it will become something new. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.”

It’s been a busy year since I last spoke to Piena after her 2020 win of the Sieger White Award, through which she received a 25,000 publishing deal and had a solo exhibition, hosted by Mini Galerie. Since that time she also explored creating textile paintings in connection with Tilburg’s Textiel Museum, culminating in a series titled Tropical Scenery.

“It shifted the way I work, my process was different. I had to think before I started, whereas with painting I usually don’t really have a plan, I just start. For this project I had to work in Illustrator first, so it was much more design-oriented. The finished design then got sent to a machine that would weave it out.”

She holds up a piece of white fabric, upon which blue botanically-inspired prints are stencilled on. “I actually made this four years ago when I was on exchange in Vancouver. I want to make more things like this, incorporating designs on usable objects.”

I ask Piena whether she has any specific goals for her time at the residency.

“Honestly it’s just good to get away and spend some dedicated time creating art. There are so many other things that need to be done when you are a full-time artist, it’s not just all about painting. There are emails to respond to, people to contact, social media…I actually blocked all of the social media apps to stop distracting myself, but somehow I always find a way around it. I guess I’m just addicted.”

“I think we all are,” I say.

“But I would like to go back home with a series of paintings, or some new ideas. It’s good to be alone, it’s my first residency where I’m all by myself. This place really is isolated. It’s also nice to just rest. I don’t think rest is stressed enough. I want to rest, also from the stress and pressure I put on myself. I’m not a machine, I can’t create if I put too much pressure on myself. If I’m stressed I can really see it reflected in my paintings. Perhaps I’m the only one who sees it, but if my mind is busy then so is the painting.”

I agree with her, and we laugh about a painting that could definitely be the result of a muddled mind.

Excited about some recent good news, Liesbeth tells me about her upcoming plans, beyond the residency.

“I just found out that me and my boyfriend got our Canadian working holiday visas approved, so we’re going to move to Canada for a year. We don’t know when we’re moving, but it’s exciting.”

Now back in the house, she looks around Studio Bosk’s interior. “I was thinking, actually, with the trees and the rain that’s been falling here, that this place feels a little like British Columbia…This place let’s in a lot of light during the day, I love how big the windows are for that. At night though, I get a little paranoid about people looking in.”

I propose that that could make a good horror film story: a young artist alone in a haunted residency. Piena laughs, and before I have to hang up she reassures me that she actually isn’t afraid.

The artworks created during Liesbeth Piena’s residency at Studio Bosk will release in May 2022.

Text by Alicia Hansen
Photography by Chloë Alyshea