OPEN DOOR CONVERSATIONS WITH HELÈNE KLEIN
“I always start from a drawing, just by hand. If it’s a print or a design or, just anything, I start by drawing it and this was a way for me to easily translate my drawings into jewelry and prints without needing to be a goldsmith or something because that’s not what I studied, and that’s how I got to do this.”
I’m from Limburg, but up North, in Venlo. In a very tiny place called Boekend. Everybody always thinks I’m from Amsterdam or something, or from way, way up North in the Netherlands because in Dutch I have an accent. But when I’m in Amsterdam, they are like, “Well, you’re obviously from Limburg.”
I’ve been living in Maastricht for 10 years now. I studied in the art academy here and graduated about five years ago from the art academy in the teacher’s department. And from there on, I went to work in high schools as a teacher. It was very nice, but at one point, I was like ok, it’s hard to get a permanent contract there. They say there is a teacher shortage, but it’s not here in Limburg, no. And especially not in the arts department, there is, like, an overflow of teachers. At one point, I thought, I really like this, but it’s going to be very much the same every year and I want something more…a little bit more exhilarating, a little more to push myself even further.
So I got a job opportunity at Kumulus and that’s where I work right now, at the Kumulus and Natural History Museum. They are part of the same, how do you say? ‘Workplace’ I guess; it’s for the government. At Kumulus I develop the art education program, and at the Museum, I develop it and also teach the kids so that’s where my perfect little place happens. Where I can make stuff, develop it by myself, and also get to teach in a, not regular way, everyday is different.
I work and besides work, I try to make time for my jewelry and print design. And I’m taking a sewing class right now to actually be able to make my own clothes instead of just designing the prints and everything.
On Getting Started in Jewelry
When I graduated I was looking for something more. So I started to experiment with materials and stuff and at one point I came across Plexi. You know Perspex the material? I thought, “Oh god, this looks great, it looks very nice,” and you can just make jewelry out of it, by cutting or by heating it up, and it starts to fold…and you can do many different things. A friend of mine, a colleague who I was teaching with at the time, her husband has a huge machine with which you can cut it…he just cuts everything from wood to Perspex but also works for cars, leather and stuff so it’s very nice. And she said to me, “Oh yeah, you can bring something over and when you design it online, he can cut it for you in every shape you want.” So I just started designing stuff and then at one point, I was like, “Yeah, I think this is my thing.”
I always start from a drawing, just by hand. If it’s a print or a design or, just anything, I start by drawing it and this was a way for me to easily translate my drawings into jewelry and prints without needing to be a goldsmith or something because that’s not what I studied, and that’s how I got to do this. It was a material that really allowed me to explore every horizon of what I could be doing with a drawing and translating it into fast material so people can wear it.
On Screen Printing
I really like the fact that when you open that thing (points to machine), and when you take off the… you can also work with foils… not just in the design or in the weaving or in the print, but also in the foils on top that shine or are feeling soft, and when you take it off, it’s always a surprise. You never really know how it’s going to look on the fabric before you lift it off.
You can draw it, you can make it, but you never really know what it’s going to look like. And I really love that moment, “Did it work? Didn’t it work? Yes! Oh, it’s so pretty!” Yeah, I really love that moment. I was just discussing, yesterday, with someone else who also does it as well and she is always like, “Yeah, that moment, that’s what you live for. Did it work, did I do it right.” Every time it’s a gift, you don’t know what you’re gonna get.
On Finding Inspiration
Mainly just things that come from within myself, things that I like, when I see it I have an emotional connection to it. It differs, from nature, to people, to a color, but mainly colors and material. They really speak to me. So I visit the Textiel Museum in Tilburg a lot and there are amazing colors and prints and weaving machines and it’s gorgeous so I go there all the time for inspiration. And just other artists, I also really like typography and graphic design. I’m really a big fan of this studio called Studio Boot. I have that poster (points to posters by her desk) and the poster in the hallway and another poster in the hallway, we got many, many posters from them. I really just like the way they use color and the lettering. I get it (inspiration) from very, very many different things, but mostly when I see something and feel a certain way about it.
I recently did a project about the changing standards of beauty because it’s ever fluid and never really stops or ceases to be something and in every era there is something new you gotta try and something new you have to be, there is something new you can enhance about yourself. I’m not against it at all, I’m like if you want plastic surgery, go for it. I also was thinking about getting my lips done and I have tattoos, so I also enhance myself in some type of way but with the changing standard of beauty, sometimes I really feel like you can never keep up and it really makes me sad. Because there are people like me, that didn’t grow up in an era where everybody needed to be “picture perfect” and right now we live in an era where kids are growing up and everybody needs to be picture perfect. It’s ok if you want to be like that, but you shouldn’t feel less if you aren’t and picture perfect doesn’t mean that’s the right way to go. So I’m not against it, but it’s like a question mark. So when I feel something and feel strongly about it, I sometimes want to do a project about it.
I’m also making something new right now. I went to the doctor a while ago and it was just a regular exam of my lady parts and she used this…a speculum, and it’s made of iron or just metal or something, but it was so, it was cold and so female un-friendly and I felt so strongly about it. And I was in the car with my boyfriend and I said, “I hate that thing so much,” and I was having a whole talk about it and he was like, “You should make an art work about it.” And I though yeah, I’m going to. Cause you can also buy them just from Kunststof, some kind of plastic material that works well. I think, yeah, RVS, it’s very clean and for the health industry it’s good, but it was so…female un-friendly so I’m going to do something about that.
Her Favorite “Tool”
I think it’s my book. I don’t really use it as much as I used to when I was in the Academy, but I still have them all, they are in the cabinet over there. I still have all my books. And yeah, I just cant live without one. I mainly…I write, and I draw sometimes. But it’s very…sporadic, and I can’t throw them away.
I love this little wall that I’ve created and I also love this box that I put my work in. But I just love to collect stuff from other people as well. I really love showing my work, but not in the space where I work. It’s weird. For some reason I get inspired by other artists in the place where I work. And my boyfriend was telling me: “ You should put your work up somewhere here, it’s so nice,” and I was like: “yeah, yeah, yeah. (in a dismissive tone) But not here.”
On Wanting to be an Artist
Yeah, it’s so weird; my parents always knew as well I think. There was one point I think I wanted to be maybe a veterinarian or a biology teacher or something with biology and the fun thing is that my sister now studies biology and I work at the Natural History Museum right now. So it all comes together at one point. But, yeah, I always wanted to be an artist and my parents were always like yeah this is what you are going to do and we know that, and we support you fully, and my parents took me to every Open Day there was throughout the whole country. I got accepted to a few (schools), but in the end, Maastricht felt more like a home to me so that’s how I ended up here.
I like the fact that it’s a city and that it’s big enough to be a city to not run into everybody every single day. It has the feel of a city- it’s international, it has museums, it has art fairs and stuff, but I like that it’s not too crowded like Amsterdam. We have a lot of friends in Amsterdam and when we go there, I love it, the vibe is great and it’s artsy and hip and modern, but, it’s so crowded. And when I get back home here I’m like yeah, it’s a city but it’s small enough to be like not a real city.
Her Latest Exhibition
It was a drawing I once made, when I was still in school and my mother, she loved it. So I made one print for her, white on white and she has it in her hallway right now and I was like, “Hmm, maybe I can use it for something else.”
It’s from a project I did when I graduated. It’s called Love Mom and Dad, about kids that didn’t have a great childhood growing up. Because I had a great childhood when I was growing up and I met so many people at school who didn’t and it’s really something that affects kids in such…(pauses)…you can’t even begin to fathom how much it does to a kid and in Dutch we say, it literally, ‘tekent een persoon’, it means it literally draws a person. It draws lines on their face, it leaves marks, even though you can’t see them, that’s why I made all these line drawings of portraits of my dad. He doesn’t talk about it a lot, so I don’t really know, but it hasn’t been the perfect childhood it should have been. So there are some hardships there, so I used some pictures of my dad in the project and some pictures of me. So that’s me.
On Her Goals
I really want to be able to make my own clothes, cause right now I just buy patterns and make the print on the fabric and just make a standard piece of clothing with my fabric. But I want to be able make my own design so I can really bring it together. They are like the support for the jewelry for me.