Marijke Braaksma, (current)

Braaksma now lives in Haverfordwest in Pembrokeshire, with her husband, the artist, David Tress. She was born in the Netherlands, in Leeuwarden, the capital of the province of Friesland.

These places have a number of important things in common. They are hubs of administration and commerce, both being the equivalent of county towns. Thus, they are centres of population, with all the cultural liveliness that ensues. Both are towns with a dense, self-contained and extensive history, which is manifest in the buildings, the patterns of the streets, the distinctive languages and in the accretions of long use and habitation. Perhaps of greatest significance is that both towns are closely associated with the sea - which has shaped the character and function of the land and has long provided routes for trading and communicating with the wider world. There are, of course, striking physical differences between these places. Leeuwarden lies near the Wadden Sea (Waddenzee), an inter-tidal zone which has been much used and modified by man, with dykes and causeways charting their way through vast expanses of low water, tidal flats and wetlands. Haverfordwest is at the junction of the main road from Milford Haven, one of Britain’s natural deep-water ports, and the western reaches of the tidal River Cleddau and is a few miles from a coast defined by broad bays, narrow inlets and steep sandstone and limestone cliffs, marked by the shifts of geological time. Thus, both of these areas are remarkably beautiful and biodiverse; both environments are places where the ingrained patterns of time and use are inescapable. Both offer an irresistible challenge to the imagination - particularly to the imagination of an artist.

Braaksma’s early career, in Holland, was as a psychotherapist. This, too, was to make a significant contribution to her artistic development. It is interesting to find that, in the Netherlands, in the post-War years, the principles governing the practice of psychotherapy were the subject of much debate; indeed, the Netherlands was leading the way in examining the distinctions between a medical and a social model for understanding the causes of psychiatric distress. The 1960s and ‘70s saw an increasing emphasis on the value of individual identity; hence, the practice of psychotherapy was shaped by a new paradigm. Facilitating the exploration of the individual - even if eccentric - psyche could often be the route to social, as well as mental, ease, rather than disease.

Thus far, we have explored the background to Braaksma’s life - and not said a word specifically about her art. In the 1980s, Braaksma embarked on a life as a painter. She studied at the Gooise Academy of Fine Art, in Laren, not far from the busy centre of Hilversum - often called ‘media city’, for the predominance of its artistic and broadcasting output. The Academy provided an ideal bridge between Braaksma’s earlier domestic and professional life – preoccupied with attachment to place and the exploration and expression of identity – and her current life as an artist. The aim of the Academy was to cultivate the individuality of each student. The students might be amateurs or aspiring professionals; they were welcomed no matter what their background. But they were taught by experienced and academically-trained tutors. Thus, Braaksma was encouraged to acquire and refine her practical skills - and use these to express something of her appreciation of the worlds of natures and histories; themes which had impressed themselves upon her imagination throughout her life.

So – at last – we arrive at the current work of Marijke Braaksma. In Laren, she had met and married David Tress, an artist whose early preoccupation with Abstract Expressionist and Conceptual art has informed his highly-regarded mature work, which is at once Romantic and tightly-composed, celebratory and cerebral, in its exploration of the landscape, weather and ancient histories - and, of course, of his own place within that landscape[1]. Tress and Braaksma now live in West Wales. There are few environments which are so replete with natural beauty, so infused with myths and legends, so marked by the passage of time. Clearly, this place is critical to the current practice of both artists.

Braaksma works from a small studio, where the leaves of trees gather close to the windows. Hence, she paints in a slightly shifting, diffuse light, ideal for working with the vibrant, resonant colours which are so characteristic of her output. She draws her imagery both from her environment and her rich inner life: people, places, relationships, histories, natures; the inter-weaving meanings and the minutiae of the living world.

'My paintings develop slowly and over a long period in the studio. They tell stories from my own past and my experiences and they contain many elements and references, including the natural world, history, symbolism, mythology, psychology and archaic forms and figures. … My paintings are continually worked and re-worked, conjuring up images from memories and emotions’.

Braaksma’s pictures are usually executed in acrylic, on heavy paper or canvas, which results in a finish which has a soft, grainy glow. Her imagery is conveyed with a painterly style which is vivid, layered and gestural. Though relatively modest in scale, her works are profound in their imaginative reach.

One can discern the inspiration of other visionary artists, such as Marc Chagall, or hints of the poetic, autobiographical symbolism of Ken Kiff. And, like the work of both of these, Braaksma’s pictures can appear to be benign, evocative, adventurous. They can also be chilling. Where the human image is described, it – or, we should say, ‘she’, for it is Braaksma herself who is the protagonist – can appear painfully vulnerable. Where birds, flowers, suns, moons, trees and stars inhabit a painting, they can take on a virile life of their own, challenging preconceptions about scale and relationships.

Braaksma has had several one-woman exhibitions in Wales and is building a considerable reputation. She is producing a body of work which is steeped in meaning - and that meaning is derived from the artist’s history and natural context and shaped by her imaginative and philosophical credo. Her pictures are of both personal and universal significance - and they tend to dwell in your mind.

© Dr. Hilary Taylor

[1] David Tress shows at Messum’s, Cork Street. Jeremy Hooker, writing, in January 2009, for Resurgence online magazine, captures something of the power of Tress’s paintings when he observes, ‘his whole person is involved in the act of painting. The viewer is .. awakened to the life in things, and experiences landscapes infused with spirit’.