Handiedan, 31, sits atop her bed in her Amsterdam apartment, curled up and smiling mysteriously, surrounded by intricate picture frames of all designs and colors, light and dark, some cordoba, some palazzo. Some are empty, unmounted, lying on the floor in their wrappers, tokens of her latest excursion to the local flea market. Others adorn the wall over her headboard, holding pastiches of images that come together like an unusual Rorschach experiment; two burlesque dancers with silky legs, reclining in the eyes of an immense gray skull, a foreboding tarot image or an obscure medical textbook illustration somehow suspended in time.
At first glimpse, the images seem like forgotten layers of wallpaper upon each other. Seen in their frames, these pastiches seem like the blueprints of lucid dreams, perhaps the erotic dreams of another century, perhaps the fleeting moments of some nightmare seared permanently into the brain. It’s hard to imagine how she’s able to sleep at night. What about the frames that remain empty?
“They’re too beautiful,” she says with a laugh, still musing. “When I find frames, sometimes it can take me awhile before I find the right picture to fit it. I start with the frame first and eventually, I’ll think of a picture to go with it.”
Sometimes it’s like framing any other picture, just a matter of deciding if the color of the canvas and frame is enough of a contrast; other times she will find an old frame and imagine the perfect collage to fit it and give the antique frame life again. In artwork that deals with collections of images, the frame itself plays a critical part, not only complementing but becoming part of the artwork itself.
When she’s between shows, every six to eight months, over which time she’ll produce between eight to twelve works for showcasing, she typically works out of this space – or one similar when traveling abroad.
“Every city I’ve ever been to has influenced my work somehow. London, Paris, Los Angeles, New York. Each city has its own personality, really, and its own style. I always take in the architecture. Even the street art is different. New York, during my time in the States, always seemed to me like a city built on hard work, but very intriguing.”
Art too is hard work, and often the time between shows becomes much shorter than anticipated. “It’s important to not think about the pressure for deadlines if you want to be productive.”
She usually takes her mind off it with long walks for inspiration. “I collect images every day that I fall in love with. I overload myself with images.”
After taking a few days off and finding the right images to use, the ones that best bond rhythmically in a work of art, she goes home and begins to draw. After several sketches, she knows what her next collage is going to look like.
Asked to describe her style, she describes her collages as “a playground of images. Everything comes together, the scenes are all happening as you see them. They’re dreams playing in sequence that I put to paper, all part of a thought process.”
Her collages are not only heaps of favorite images, but there’s a deeper subtext within the images she chooses. “Nostalgia is probably one of the biggest things. A lot of the nudes and burlesque dancers are older, and one person who sees my work might think they’re sexy, and someone else thinks of their beauty, their independence. When you see the image you aren’t seeing them as they are, but how someone else thought they looked.”
The layers beyond them, the stationery, the money, the maps, the old sheet music, give depth to the strange world of her subjects, exposing their hopes and dreams for the viewer. Underneath every layer, every tear is something deeper.
For Handiedan, collaging was about combining her two favorite artistic mediums: drawing and photography and making something new. “There’s also a lot of me, and a lot of learning about the different places that I’ve traveled, and even my influences are laid open. I can’t really name one, because nearly everything influences me all the time. I learned about M.C. Escher first, before I knew who he was, and of course the Dutch masters, Rembrandt, and then ornamental art, pop art, and now a lot of comics and even Bollywood. In my studio, I keep some of my collages, oldest to newest, so I can see the direction I’ve gone in the past, and the direction I’m heading towards.
“Much of the time, people find out about my work online. I had a woman from a very conservative family in the American Midwest who emailed me about how much she loved my work but told me when her family or when guests came over, she couldn’t keep my collages in her living room and had to hide them.”
However, online has its disadvantages, and Handiedan strongly prefers that someone see her work firsthand in a gallery. “The exhibition and how the gallery presents it is so much a part of it. One of the few things I dislike about being an artist is the worry you feel when you give your work over to galleries and have someone else hang it up for display, and not knowing what’s going to happen.”
A former graphic designer, she uses a computer for the latter stages of her work, particularly organizing and balancing. “Usually in my studio space, you’ll see me working on the floor. It lets me lay out everything I need to work with and I can always stand up and see the whole piece as it’s being created; it allows me to step away and look. The whole process of hands-on is very important. Layering the pieces and then setting them apart.”
As currency from various countries as well as postage and stationery play such critical parts as motifs in her work, they typically come from whichever country she happens to be visiting, but lately have become easier to obtain. “Friends who travel, and a lot of people who follow my shows, send me money or old pictures in the mail now. Photographs or cut-outs from old catalogs.”
Born Hanneke Treffers into an ordinary family in Holland, Handiedan’s life calling was obvious fairly quickly. “My grandfather was an artist by profession. He designed women’s’ shoes during World War II, so going over to visit him, I would always see his old drawings hanging up, and they’re some of the first sketches I tried to imitate.”
She approached art first at age 7, not as a childhood pastime, but a discipline, the way a cobbler or a silversmith approaches his trade. She became Handiedan in art school, a name based on an old Dutch rhyme that also lends her a bit of androgyny. “Often, people think I’m a guy when they approach my work,” she laughs. When approaching a work, many viewers are unaware that the work was created by a woman. It’s a reminder that when viewing the art, one must remove all preconceived notions and prejudices they might have regarding the work’s creator.
She never really felt the distinction between being an artist and any other profession. “If you’re going to go after this, be prepared to work hard. And love it. Always find what it is that you love and do that. The greatest reward I feel, are the emotions of the people who look at your work, and also the hope that one day you can inspire another artist.”One 75-year-old admirer was brought to tears at the sight of one of her collages.
Currently, she’s preparing a 3′ x 4.5′ / 100 x 140 cm piece of paper for her next project, going larger for her future collage that will be displayed at the Musee Les Halles in Paris. Which frame to choose she still can’t say.