Handiedan Reimagines Beauty Through Reconstructed Pin-Up Girls
The Dutch artist discusses her process for creating intricately detailed compositions of femininity.
Words by Jamie Maleszka
Dutch artist Handiedan’s protagonists are three-dimensional in every sense. Her re-imagined pin-up girls—boss-femme-fatale-vintage-bodhisattvas embroidered with pen doodles and sailor tattoos—are relief maps of complexity. Freewheeling and unpinned by time, they are flush with thought, not peek-a-boo cuteness. Handiedan’s work seamlessly integrates the cut-and-paste of digital design with the highly detailed intricacies of hand-cut sculptural collage.
We caught up with the artist recently to dish on the specifics of blurring the line between the analog and digital realms, creating in flow, and what it was like working with Wall/Therapy for her latest mural.
Mass Appeal: Do you consider yourself a storyteller?
Handiedan: You could say that. Each piece has a story within itself, a story within a story. In my art pieces, you can find little hints and treasures of different subjects and themes from different periods of time. [It is all] captured in collaging. I’m able to combine all my fascinations. I can create something symbiotic and new. I tell a story and the viewer has their own personal interaction with the piece. They are free to create their own interpretations.
Your pin-up ladies are actually a composite of different images. From where do you source the different body parts?
The compositions are built from old pin-up magazine center-folds and from images found online and in books. By combining the classic, sexy aesthetic of body parts from different images, it allows me to give the ladies the body positions I want. They radiate powerful independence, with a subtlety and a gentleness of classic sexiness, but not the plastic or platonic energy we get served a lot of the time in the media or mass culture.
What strikes me most is that there is less of a sense of an objectification of these sort of idealized women and more so a reclamation or a re-imagining of the female form. Your pin-up girls are enlivened with a complexity.
I play with the layers of femininity. I think that woman can be complex and that’s sometimes hard to capture. There are a lot of unanswered myths and mysteries that are waiting to be excavated. In my work, I try to capture those little moments, thoughts and other aspects and give them life and translucency.
Do you think collage in and of itself is a bit tongue and cheek?
When you think collage, you think craft art right? Like arts and crafts? Within the context of collage though, you can find a wide range of techniques and styles, from high-end abstract modern art and surrealism to craft. In my opinion, the word collage should have better-defined categories that differentiate between the art definition and the more craft-like creations. People get stuck on the word collage instead of the subjects, the techniques used, or the exact style of collaging.
Can you walk us step-by-step through your process?
First, I make a rough pen sketch. Then I digitally create the design—a computer collage through imagery manipulation. I’m bringing classic pin-up body parts together with ornamental components from different currencies, sheet music and such, and my own cartoon pen drawings. Then I rebuild these digital designs into multi-layered hand-cut paper collage, paper layer on paper layer, weaving found collage material through the layers until it stands out in relief.
Is the collage then made in real-time in a sense? You’re selecting and rejecting materials and symbols as the work reveals itself to you?
For sure. I only start with a really rough pen sketch as a main idea. From there on, I’m creating in a flow and let the design arise by itself.
Aside from the female figures, where do you find the other material (money, sheet music, playing cards, symbols from cosmology, etc.) that you use? Is there a criterion for what gets used and what doesn’t?
I scope out markets, look online or find stuff just by coincidence. People sometimes send me little collage treasures too. The materials themselves have to fascinate me in their weathered kind of feel and trigger a “re-vision” or a new use for them in collage form. Going through materials, the ones that grab me go in to my image treasure box, awaiting the moment to be picked out and become a part of a new artwork.
It is often said that digital manipulation removes the presence of the artist’s hand, rendering the work less personal or intimate somehow. I feel like your work proves that there can be a happy medium between computer generated images and work crafted by hand. What are your thoughts on that notion in relation to your practice?
My main goal in the technique of digital design is to fuse together the two worlds of the analog and the digital. I want to create a digital piece, but without a plastic feel. Collage helps me fuse the two. Where the fine line between digital and analog fades, I find my ocean where I can create from the best of these worlds.
M.C. Escher once said “I could fill an entire second life with working on my prints.” Do you feel the same? Does the work always take precedence?
Escher is my all-time favorite graphic artist and inspiration. And yes, that is definitely the case. I wish the days were longer and that there were more days in a week, but in this life it’s all about finding a harmony. The work has always taken precedence. It requires me to focus, review and redefine a good balance between the life where I create and my own life. It sometimes can feel like the creative aspect owns me and doesn’t let go instead of the other way around. It’s a very strong part of me and I just have to do it. But the personal part of me also likes to secure a nice healthy and social balance.
What was your recent experience like working with Wall/Therapy in Rochester, NY?
The Wall/Therapy guys are such a kind and devoted team, bringing art to the people. They teamed up with Urban Nation Berlin and found me a very inspirational building. They understood what I wanted to establish with fusing my art with the unique characteristics of the building. If you look at the mural projects I’ve done in the past, it’s not about just pasting paper on a wall. It is about the fusion of the wall and paper. I am collaging to make the wall and the image one.
While [working on the project, we’d be] up on the lift and we’d received such an overwhelming response. People honked their horns, were hanging out of their car windows, shouting compliments, and seeking personal interaction. They wanted us to tell them the story of the artwork; all different kinds of people. The most important and interesting thing with art outdoors is that it reaches people who aren’t always in the position to go to a gallery or where the priority or interest isn’t art per se. It’s a great project.
Was moving to large-scale, outdoor wheatpaste collaging a natural progression? Were you petrified at first? How did you have to adapt your process?
Actually, I didn’t really have to adapt my process, because from the beginning when I started my collages, I always envisioned them on a large scale. Bringing my pieces outdoors was quite a natural process and result. As you noticed, I work in series. This is because I like to investigate what happens with an image on different media and in different sizes, from very small to very big. Rendering my work large scale and bringing it outdoors is not just an enlargement, but an extension of my art. It’s one of my dreams come true.
Handiedan’s work is now on view in New York City through July 25, 2015 as part of Trifecta at Jonathan LeVine Gallery. The Wall/Therapy mural Bollywood Sugar can be found at 820 Clinton Ave S, in Rochester, New York.