If you visit the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and go to the top floor you’ll find a room with a couple of small still lifes by Édouard Manet. Although they’re tiny – only six inches tall – these paintings of a single lemon and an asparagus hold their own in a room full of larger works of more exotic subjects by Sisley, Camille Pissarro, Renoir and Cézanne. There’s something spell-binding about finding beauty in the mundane, and it takes a skillful painter to do it.
We asked Lizet Dingemans a few questions about her painting ‘Vol-au-vent’. She talked to us about what inspires her, and why she enjoys painting works like these.
Lot5: What inspired you about this subject?
Lizet: I wanted to study the textures. I’m Dutch, and in Holland we eat vol-au-vents for breakfast at Christmas. I was writing an article for a magazine about alla prima painting, and I thought it would be fun to paint. Painting every-day subjects can be very rewarding: it forces you to really look at something properly for the first time. Who really looks at a vol-au-vent? I like that. It’s the same with my animal paintings. Normally you wouldn’t think twice about a squid, but spend a few hours staring at one and you realise how crazy they are.
Lot5: Your small paintings have been very successful, both artistically and commercially. Why do you think that is?
Lizet: I think there are a few reasons. One is practical. Small paintings are a bit more affordable so can be an impulse buy: people can own an original piece of art for a relatively small amount of money. Also, you don’t have to think about where you’ll hang a small painting like you do with a large one. I think they’re fun: I enjoy creating them and I like experimenting with them. Hopefully people will feel that, and pick up on their energy that I put into them.
Lot5: Are there any other artists – living or dead – who have inspired you to paint these sorts of subject?
Lizet: I love many of Stijn Rietman’s paintings, particularly his painting of a bee. I also really like Duane Keiser’s paintings a day and Antonio Lopez Garcia’s skinned rabbit.
Lot5: Tell me a bit about how you painted it.
Lizet: I painted it alla prima. The literal translation of ‘alla prima’ is ‘first shot’ – in other words, ‘get it right first time’. Most alla prima paintings are completed in a single session. When you paint this way each brush stroke has to count. You put one down, and either you leave it there or you scrape it off and try again. You can’t fiddle about trying to correct errors or it ruins the painting. That means you realise it’s not going to be perfect. Well, I’m not going to be anyway! You need to make decisions, and be very clear about what you are doing, or you create a mess. It requires great concentration, and it’s a method that suits me well. People who know me realise that I’m very direct, and I think that translates into the painting. I like things that are honest: I’m saying “here it is, deal with it.”
Lot5: Finally, if you could hang this painting in any museum or gallery in the world, where would you place it?
Lizet: I feel awkward just thinking about it! But if you are going to force me I’d say on its own. In a corner with a light on it, so you can pass it by and not look or you can spot it and think, hey that’s fun! Or just have a look at a vol-au-vent for a minute.