William Monk allows images from his surroundings to mature in his head and then paints new images on canvas based on them. And not without success: the artist, who trained at the independent art school De Ateliers in Amsterdam (see inset), enjoys international recognition. His exhibition Seven Leagues to Pompeii opened recently in New York.
William Monk has been living in Brooklyn for around a year now and looks out on the Freedom Tower. The Englishman spent a year struggling to decide whether to move from the UK to the United States; the Brexit vote made up his mind for him. Although he is on record as saying he had no reason beforehand to assume that he could afford to work and live in New York, his career has really taken off since he made the move to the Big Apple.
Monk has plenty of experience of living abroad, having lived and worked for ten years in Continental Europe “after a weekend in Paris,” as he puts it himself. During this period he evolved from being a talent to being a rising name. His breakthrough came while he was studying at De Ateliers (2004-2006), an environment which he describes as a monastery where artists are given the space to grow. It was during his Ateliers years that Monk won the prestigious Dutch Royal Award for Painting and met gallery owner Jorg Grimm, who organises his exhibitions.
“I’ve wanted to be a painter since I was nine years old and I have been able to maintain that focus since then. My only deviation was to briefly consider going into filmmaking, but I found the collaborative experience limiting. With painting I can be free and my goal has always been to paint and get better at that. I’m less interested in the art world, my measure of success is my studio practice. I want ‘a bigger studio’, preferably my own workspace at home because I want my surroundings to be as comfortable as possible so that I am able to work undisturbed on several large paintings at once.”
Resilience & perseverance
“Suffering from chronic dissatisfaction. My self-confidence goes through peaks but also deep troughs. Doubt would be good for the quality of art if it where just self-criticism and not a lack of self-belief. Fortunately I have become more confident over the recent years and I know more about what I want to paint and how to do it. During my Ateliers period I produced a lot of failures. Now most of the paintings have a greater chance of success but still not all. Two months before the deadline for my previous exhibition I failed at and destroyed two large works. It takes a lot of time and energy to recover from that.”
“I don’t think much about influences these days. All the things I can mention I have picked up through the course of my whole life and are now ingrained. I could mention all kinds of things. Anything I pick up from the world around me – landscapes, music, a moment from a film – could result in a new work of art. I don’t have a fixed recipe for it.”
“Painting is lonely but when I’m absorbed in it I feel good. I cultivate the groove, for example by playing the same music over and over. Then time really flies. At the same time I’d like to make time stand still. I never have enough time.”
“I have to motivate myself to stay productive. Good motivators are a deadline for a show and working on several paintings at once. If I have to say something about my own part then I think that I’ve always adapted in order to maintain the focus on my work. In so doing I have opened the door for luck and coincidence to come into my life.”
De Ateliers is a small, internationally renowned institute established in 1963 by artists who were dissatisfied with the way they were being taught. The school’s objective is to develop artistic talent at the highest level. This is done using a method which involves artists training each other. Each year De Ateliers selects 10 young artists from around 700-800 applicants. Many of the talents who trained here have gone on to become top artists. ING supports this initiative with a contribution.