Renowned In Europe
in an interview with
Dorset Life January 1987, pp 33
(W pronounced as an V: Veelee)
Meeting Willie Schrikker for the first time one pleasant rainless day I found myself as intrigued by the artist herself as by her pictures.
A renowned artist in Europe there have been several one-woman exhibitions of her work in Holland, Belgium and Denmark - since moving to England in 1977 she has begun to make her mark here, too. Only two years later her first London exhibition was held at the Woodstock Gallery. But it has not been easy to break through the barriers of traditional English taste, as she explained when I called at the tiny cottage in the midst of Caundle Marsh, Sherborne, where she lives with her husband, Jeff Sedgwick, a stained glass artist, and their sixteen-year-old son, Mirco.
"Mirco?" I had queried "It comes from the Greek and means 'Man of Peace', she explained patiently. Slim and petite, with large, expressive eyes, it was her radiant smile which most impressed me.
Born near Paris in "La Vallee Chevreuse" of French/Dutch parents, her personality and outlook on life owes more to France than to Holland. But it was at the Academy of Fine Arts at Laren near Amsterdam that she received her professional training. She was just twenty.
When you left the Academy, what ideas did you want to use in your paintings?
"I loved to draw trees and great landscapes," she told me, "but I also work in a way that some might call 'abstract'. But it is difficult for the English on the whole to accept something that they have never seen before, as their taste is so traditional. I am not an abstract artist because I am so tuned in with Nature, but some look upon it as abstract and put a wall between themselves and my paintings." She showed me one of her charcoal drawings crowded with forms and half-suggested figures. My knowledge of art having been confined to the school art-room, coupled with the occasional visit to a gallery I trod carefully. "I certainly get the feeling of a flowing, continuous movement and there are a lot of shapes which aren't particularly identifiable but seem to be part of that movement."
"This is a very full world," she admitted, "but my main principle is that everything hangs together and unity is more important than a detail which suddenly glares out at you; it has to be embedded and part of the whole'."
"'Yet it's not always easy for another person to grasp what the artist has in mind," I pointed out.
Willie agreed. She went on to explain her own highly individual approach to art, bound up with her philosophy of life and state of being.
'I didn't discover my vocation just like that'
"Life is a flow of energy," she asserts, "and I consider myself be a channel for that energy before it has crystallized into form. I think form is the last stage in crystallization as we see it but there is a lot of energy around it which looks different from what our eyes are used to seeing. But then it becomes static and I am not interested in what is static." Willie, I decided, would have little time for the conventional introduction to 'Still Life' so often used as the starting point in art classes for adults.
Whilst Willie Schrikker asserts that she never pre-conceives images in her mind before putting pen or brush to paper, she takes great pleasure in capturing such large canvas landscapes as larch and pine trees growing on the snowy slopes of the Pyrenees, and almond trees in full flower in Southern Spain.
"My ideal," she says, "is to work as I did in Spain; in the morning work outside in tune with nature but then comes midday when the sun is high in the sky and everything is flat on the earth so it's not interesting any more."
Her memories of Southern Spain where she lived for a year-and-a-half were particularly happy ones. She had travelled there with a girl-friend after leaving the Art Academy at Laren.
"It was a pretty little house about four miles from the sea," she recalled. "It was in January at noon that we first saw it; the almond trees were in flower and the bees were humming. The water was outside and we had to take it out of the well." Despite her degree in English obtained at the Sorbonne Willie has, at times, a delightfully un-English way of putting things.
At what point then did she decide she wanted to be a professional artist?
I didn't t discover my vocation just like that, in my teens I didn't know at all that I could draw," she explained. "I chose to do language papers at the Sorbonne because I was interested in literature at the time."
She had studied very hard for a few years but became ill with tuberculosis. And it was whilst she was recovering that Willie realised what she really wanted to do was to draw. It was her crisis of becoming an artist, as she puts it but at first her father, Kees Schrikker, the skulptor had given his daughter little encouragement.
My father knew how difficult it was to be an artist so he tried to dissuade me from it. He wanted me to be a good secretary and have a stable life.
But then realising Willie's un-doubted talents and her determination to succeed he had begun to back her efforts. Willie s earliest drawings had been in pen and ink but soon she bad begun experimenting with water-colour and oils. There had been an enormous sense of release in knowing at last which outlet to use to express her art she told me.
A new phase in her life began when she went to study at the Academy of Fine Arts at Laren, which she describes as an "artist village near Amsterdam". Here she began working in charcoal, a medium which she has continued to enjoy over the years.
It was while she was living in Holland that Willie met and married her first husband, a Dutch violinist, "but that marriage did not work out," she told me with an air of closing the matter. Willie Schrikker is much more occupied with the present than the past and she had other, happier memories of Amsterdam. She had been commissioned by the Van Gogh Museum to translate a number of that great artist's letters and papers. This Willie had been only too happy to do, being a great admirer of the man and his work. We share the same love of the sun she smiled and reminded me that he had been a pioneer of his own art and had been frustrated by not being able to get through to the public.
Willie Schrikker is a pioneer, too, in her own way. She is unwilling for titles to be appended to her pictures as she feels this limits a person's perception of what they see, not just in a visual sense but with that inner eye that can change according to mood or even the time of day. To put it in her own words, she hopes to take the viewer of her pictures on a "journey of discovery". Earlier this year she took part in a group exhibition at the High Lea School near Wimborne when at least some of the visitors must have gone on this journey; next time I intend to travel with them.
NOTE: Willie Schrikker continued in the art and colour therapy work, under the artist name A-Una.