Like many of us, Michael Raedecker can’t quite always remember his dreams. Although the Dutch artist's work is often described as ‘dreamlike’, his inspiration tends to come from altogether more prosaic places, settings, and circumstances.
“Inspiration can come at the most unusual moments; riding on a bus or reading a book. But most of the time you just have to work for it,” he tells Artspace. “Sitting down, making sketches, browsing in catalogues, looking at images, and letting the intelligence of the work guide the selection."
The acclaimed artist calls his process a "clinical" one, whereby he uses "elements and topics as props that could make an intriguing composition and a visually enticing image. It’s like how a writer wants to develop an exciting story, and a movie director translates a script into a fascinating film," he explains.
Elements of those fascinating translations can be found in Raedecker’s now iconic paintings of swimming pools, glassy patches of bright chlorinated blue, set in unnerving, unloved, occasionally malevolent landscapes. What formative experience could have fired these feelings and observations?
“When I made my first swimming pool painting it reminded me of the (1968) film
where the protagonist Burt Lancaster decides to swim back home from pool to pool, meeting along the way their owners, his old friends,” he tells Artspace.
“The pools in the film seem to be the idyllic settings, but everybody appears to be out of touch with reality, and there lingers a strange atmosphere of foreboding, and signs of decay. Reading between the lines, like in a good painting, it gives you just enough information to figure out the missing parts.”
“Swimming pools for me mean leisure, summertime, and being outside of your usual surroundings. And I am in particular talking about the suburban, outdoor pool here. This is one of the ultimate places that embellishes the pleasure principle. A place created where one can forget the outside world. A carefully created paradisiacal zone where one also simultaneously realises that this is not really real; it is perhaps all too good to be true. But an ideal and powerful prop and construct for a painting.”
A significant and constant element in the construction of Raedecker’s paintings is the weaving of thread through the canvas. As well as creating points of interest, a visual counterpoint to the wide open spaces through which the viewer’s mind wanders, these punctured interventions pop up here and there like half-recalled memories.
They also evoke domestic associations with stitching, a non-art technique which proved crucial to Raedecker’s initial breakthrough as an artist in the late 1990s when he felt both the weight of art history, and the prevailing nature of the art world at the time, impeding his progress.
“I started painting in my late twenties and felt like an intruder because I didn’t have the history or education that people my age had. I was always drawing as a child, but when I became a teenager, it was just drawing fashion, men or women in flashy outfits, never really working with paint as such,” he reflects.
Growing up in Holland, Raedecker remembers watching the Paris fashion shows, twice a year, on German TV. Gaultier, Lagerfeld, Yamamoto - it all felt very glamourous. He applied for a BA in fashion design and became, in his own words, “obsessive about it”. Later, he did an apprenticeship in Paris and worked with Martin Margiela.
“When in 1990 I finished my BA in fashion design after doing some apprenticeships in Paris, I decided to change direction completely and focus on panting,” he told Artspace. “There wasn’t anything obvious about this decision since I had not painted before, and for whatever mysterious reason I trusted that this was the absolute right choice. I then needed to figure out what painting is and what my approach to painting was going to be. One of the first things I realised was that I didn't want to just paint a picture with paint, this had been done for hundreds of years.”
“I was drawn to an aesthetic whereby I was investigating painting as a historical medium in relation to a Sunday painter’s approach where there is no agenda. Just because, one loves to paint. My aim was to escape the ‘tradition of painting’, and I introduced for myself a ‘wrong’ element into the mix. I introduced a non-art technique, the thread, in combination with paint. Embroidery is a craft, it is a hobby, and like Sunday painting; embroidery does not have an ideology. I chose to combine ‘high’, painting, with ‘low’, craft, to create new paintings. So the seemingly small act of embroidery on canvas has subverted the surface and meaning of these paintings.”
You can learn more about the work of Michael Raedecker, which is held in the collections of Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL (US); Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo (NO); British Council, London (UK); Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY (US); ING Art Collection, Amsterdam (NL); Istanbul Modern Collection, Istanbul (TR); Kunstmuseum, The Hague (NL); MAXXI National Museum of XXI Century Arts, Rome (IT) as well as in many private collections, in a new Phaidon monograph, made in collaboration with the acclaimed artist . Meanwhile, look out for news of a very special, very limited edition coming soon. In Spring 2024 Raedecker will have a solo retrospective at the Kunstmuseum, the Hague, in the Netherlands.