Johanna Van Daalen knows what she likes. And what she stands for. She very easily expresses her ideals and values. Even at a time of transition. Having worked as a furniture designer, a textile designer and a florist, Johanna is now giving herself a moment to breathe. She compares her new working process with her practice of yoga – she listens to her body and how she feels. Even if she has just thirty minutes to work, she will set herself a task to do something those thirty minutes and whatever comes out of it is an achievement.
Johanna entered both the textile and flower industry with the idea of changing the common way of doing things. A serious and ambitious vision, using sustainable methods which would have a less negative impact on nature and the environment.
Drawing has been Johanna’s favourite occupation since she was a little girl. And drawing has been the starting point of all her other creative activities.
‘I’ve always drawn. And it was time to go back to that. Allowing myself. Because I was missing it. I love thinking of things and then just drawing them. In school, art and philosophy were the only things I liked. And I’m now trying to find a balance between the physicality and the psyche.’
Even as a florist, managing her own flower shop, Johanna was using her drawing skills to create - and to breathe.
‘The moment I loved the most in the shop, was on Tuesday evenings when I was the one closing up. I was all alone and had one hour to do the new windows. I picked the flowers and did my arrangement and I was thinking, this is my painting, I am just grabbing my colours and I’m creating something.’
Johanna decided to start again from the beginning, by drawing. Reflecting on all these past experiences as a creative and finding a way to express it.
‘In this particular field, there isn’t an end to my work. It’s not like designing a product or creating a flower arrangement. It’s a drawing, it might stay in my folder, it might not. Before I was trying to build a business or to change a way that certain industries are working. Actually for the first time, I’m just doing it for me. It’s like being on a journey, and I have to tell myself that it’s ok. There’s no particular goal and it’s kind of relaxing. It’s a luxury for me to be able to do this. This way of working is teaching me to be in the now. It’s very grounding. I have a tendency to look too much into the future, to project things, wanting to get there and there.’
Becoming a mother has also had an impact on the way Johanna works, being present and understanding how valuable time is.
‘It’s like time has a totally different meaning. I have to use it in the best way possible. It’s teaching me to be efficient. I know how precious it is to have time to myself. That’s why I’m setting myself some tasks. It actually offers a spontaneity in my work which is also very interesting aesthetically. A sketch might take just five minutes. Or thirty minutes to do a whole series. I often come back to the first sketch because usually the rest are not as good as the first one. The freshness is gone. That is also why I haven’t started painting on bigger canvasses yet, that’s next step. I have to know what I’m going to do before starting that. With sketches, I can go on forever.’
Naïve simplicity. This is what Johanna calls her visual language. She tries to strip away as much as possible. To translate an emotion and at the same time, accept the naïve line and that it’s not perfect. She finds this very liberating as a process.
‘I experiment a lot and try things out. Techniques, subjects. But the subject for me is always very simple, everyday life subjects. Seasons, still moments. I’m trying to show that something has happened. Like these walnuts, that they were picked and placed in a certain way for a certain purpose. And it’s always things from our home or my close surroundings. Some of the drawings and paintings I do are quite meditative so it’s more for the actual movement of my hand and my state of mind that I find it interesting. With others it’s more about the subject, wanting to explore, almost like a research.'
Recently Johanna also started experimenting with clay.
‘I start questioning my work when it feels too safe. I need to challenge myself and I want to be innovative. In clay, I make these little prototypes. I guess that comes from my background as a designer, making prototypes first. I’m also learning how to throw clay. I take classes and the outcome is not perfect at all. I’ve been asking myself why I am doing this. When I’m drawing, I don’t think about the doing because I’ve always been doing it. Life circumstances are making me try out different things. It can be quite exhausting to reinvent your methods, if it’s not working out or going to be as you expected. Especially because I want to do things well. But with ceramics there’s no pressure, I’m just taking it as it comes, and it makes me feel really good.’
Johanna prefers not to put a label on herself and her work. And rightly so. She’s working across different creative fields both as a craftsman and as an artist.
Johanna Van Daalen and Marina Bautier go a long way back - back to design school in Buckinghamshire twenty years ago when they were both studying furniture design. They are still close friends and also make use of each other professionally by reflecting on their work and processes.
‘It’s a very rich relation we have. We’ve been doing this ever since university. Recently I went to see Marina for lunch, and I had brought my drawings to hear her thoughts. She saw the series of ‘Les Vases’ and she really liked them. She was so enthusiastic. These paintings were not intended to go up on a wall, they were born out of a study of shapes for ceramic pots. Seeing my works being sold would be amazing, I think that’s actually a purpose in some ways. That someone has been touched so much by what you’re doing, that they’re buying it. That’s quite a concrete thing that I never really thought of before.
For this series I chose black acrylic paint on paper in order to solely put the emphasis on the form of the vases. I like using black. It’s liberating. Because I don’t have to worry about colour, I can just do. If I paint in black, I see the form in my head, and I paint according to that form. And I think it gives it a three-dimensional feel, even if it’s flat.’
‘Les Vases’ are on display in the Bautier showroom all through December. Afterwards they will remain available online. Johanna’s work can also be followed on Instagram @johannavandaalen