Artist Profile: Steven Nederveen

In anticipation of Toronto-based artist Steven Nederveen's stunning and moving new solo exhibition Special Trees, the artist shares his his thoughts on the nature of community as expressed in his newest forest images, along with his truest and deepest principles in the context of artmaking, engaging and harmonizing with nature, and building elements of memory into his landscapes. Special Trees opens on November 4 at Bau-Xi Vancouver and runs through November 16, 2023.

Steven Nederveen, Common Ground. Mixed Media on panel, 54 x 54 inches.

My work depicts scenes of nature as a metaphor for our internal world in a state of transience. We can see ourselves in its vastness and depths, its calm and its torrents. Nature reflects back to us our inner worlds and emotions. I've grown up with, and adopted for myself, a wonderful ease and enjoyment from nature walks and spending time on the water. The feelings of being grounded and expansive on these outings are so rich that it's easy to make spiritual associations to it. 

I have spent many years developing my mixed media approach to image making, through which I visually express the energy in nature and our spiritual and emotional connection to it. I layer acrylic paint and C-print photographs, etching down into the emulsion of the photograph to reveal golden hues and also building up the surface with impasto and washes of colour. The result is an image with photo-sharp detail in focal areas, and painterly brush marks that obscure and create space for the imagination.

Steven Nederveen, Back From Infinity. Mixed Media on panel, 24 x 72 inches.

I've made many of my landscape scenes less about location and more about the boundaries between reality and dream. In a way, I also try to capture the emotional memory of a place instead of a documentary style image. This allows for a scene to be coloured by my experience, highlighting some features while others fade away or meld into some other vague memory. In the way that our minds can fuse together different memories into one event, I've made most of my landscapes from different views along the journey.

Steven Nederveen, Interrelated. Mixed Media on panel, 42 x 42 inches.

For the past fifteen years I have used my depiction of trees to evoke an "austere and serene beauty, expressing a mood of spiritual solitude recognized in Zen Buddhist philosophy” (from the Definition of Wabi). My trees represented the isolation, strength and stillness we have within ourselves. In this latest body of work, my trees focus on the communal aspects of life. I've added vibrant colors and delicate patterns to small tree groupings to imply connectedness: a vision of trees as having families and communities. This comes from relatively recent scientific research that has revealed that trees have a complex and interconnected social network. Through their root systems and underground fungi networks, trees are able to communicate with each other and share resources, such as nutrients and water. This network is sometimes referred to as the "wood wide web". The concept of the "wood wide web" highlights the importance of interconnectedness and community, and that trees are not the solitary plants we once thought, but are actually living in dynamic relationships to the other plants, able to work together to raise saplings, ward off intruders and send warnings. Just as humans rely on each other for support, cooperation, and empathy, trees also depend on each other for their survival.

-Steven Nederveen

The artist in his studio.


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