Dutch light/ Chinese light Essay by Chantal Spit (inspired by Xiamen and a documentary by Pieter-Rim de Kroon (2003) which I never saw but only read about on the internet)Is there such a thing as Dutch light? If so, is there such a thing as Chinese light? I have no answer to this question, but I noticed that the light in Xiamen is different from the light in Amsterdam . Holland is a country of water and air. In the sky you always see those wonderful gray and white clouds. A feature of the Dutch light is that the air is always changing because of the wind, the clouds and the water that are constantly in motion. The differences, these changes, are very important because these differences increase awareness. Not the paint but the light is the most important ingredient for a painter. The special light in Holland has inspired many masters of painting. Rembrandt, Cuyp, Vermeer and many other painters know the effects of light in painting. Also the horizon is important, the open, visible horizon. The more buildings block the horizon, the less you will think of Dutch light. In Holland we have areas where you have clear view at the horizon (like in de ‘polders’; a polder is an area that is lower than the surrounding water, where the water is artificially regulated.) I live in Amsterdam . In Amsterdam the buildings are too high and block the view. To see the horizon you have to go outside the city to find the areas that will give you view at the endless horizon en wide sky. In Amsterdam I’m not consciously aware of Dutch light. I became aware of it here in Xiamen . When I was working in my studio in Xiamen , I saw some amazing skies. The Xiamen sky shows many blue and gray shades. When the sun goes down in Xiamen the sky changes colours almost every passing minute. And they are strange colours, I want to call them ‘in between colours’. Blue is not really blue, it’s blue-like. Pink is not really pink, it’s pink-like. I saw the strangest pink sky I ever saw in my life. If I would have painted that sky people would have had a hard time believing that what I had painted was real. Sometimes nature is unbelievable surreal. Despite the beautiful skies, the light in Xiamen is not ideal for painters. In any case it wasn’t ideal for me. It must have had something to do with the white haze that I experienced in front of my eyes when I looked at my surroundings. You can see it when you look outside the window towards the background, when you look at the things at the end of your view. Most of the times the background is shrouded in a white veil. There seems to be fog hanging in the sky that prevents us to see things clear. Maybe it’s the humidity in the sky or the smog. I’m not an expert on the weather. Whatever it is, it is also responsible for the strange colours of the sky. ‘To see’ is to look at nuances. You cannot see the light itself but you can see what the light touches, that is what you can paint. We are surprised at the differences in brightness and the nuances in colour. The Dutch old masters had one thing in common in their paintings: brightness I’m quite sensitive to those differences in brightness and I guess I’m always, unconsciously looking for them. Because I use photographs for my paintings, I don’t depend on a bright view at my surroundings. In that sense the white haze didn’t bother me. But I did have some trouble judging my work. Not only did I see the white haze when I was walking on the street, I also saw it between me and my work. Somehow it made me want to rub my eyes to clear my retina. Once, someone called me a ‘chalk painter’, because I usually mix my colours with a little bit of white paint. In this ‘chalk environment’ that I experienced I felt like blending in. It’s like wearing camouflage clothes in a forest; it’s harder to see where your leg ends and a tree begins. That may sound strange to some people and even exaggerated. But like in any other profession people develop senses and skills to be able to get better at what they do. Considering that it’s a real comfort to realize that my profession made me look at the world around me with more care. Coming to Xiamen was a wonderful and instructive experience. For everyone, not only artists, I find it absolutely necessary to shift borders now and then. I had to work under different circumstances, with different materials, in different surroundings and in different light. Because of that I had to lose my habits and patterns. I sometimes had to find other solutions to be able to make the works that I wanted to make. Using other working methods, I found out, stimulate creativity and gives insights on who you are and what you want. Besides that I can bring home a load of inspiration and material (photographs) to work with for the coming months. And I do want to mention the fact that I met some wonderful people here that made this trip more then inspiring. In the end it’s not only art that makes a heart beat. Going back to Dutch light: I cannot wait to take my work back to Holland . To see the works in my studio in a certain light that I’m used to, where I can judge my works according to rules that gradually slipped into my system. Hopefully, looking at them in those circumstances will be as surprising to me as Xiamen was. I wonder if a Chinese painter would have the same experiences with Dutch light?
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