Words: Louise McClean Images: Angelique Houtkamp
It is a rare occasion when you come across an individual in which you can say with true fervour that they were born with an ability of a most striking kind. Angelique Houtkamp of Amsterdam is one such person – she has used her uncanny creative finesse to just do about anything that springs into her mind. She has been developing and refining her talents over a host of mediums and projects, making her mark on bodies, canvases, journals, bags, shoes and greeting cards to name a few.
Best known for bringing modern, feminine elements to old style tattoos, her style purveys sentiment, beauty, nostalgia, romance and death – gifting us with a powerful and illuminating visual experience, communicating her deep interest in history and symbolism. Angelique’s industrious nature has resulted in a second book Tattoo Mystique which promises to be as beautiful and inspirational as her first. Louise McClean finds out a little more about the lady herself…
Louise McClean: The first thing you ever painted was a tattooed woman in a sea of flames. Vivid and unusual – carnival, bestial and beautiful imagery heavy with symbolism of feminine power, death, beauty and love has always been a signature throughout your work. What are your influences and inspirations that have given you the unique style we see today?
Angelique Houtkamp: Over the years you save a lot imagery in your head. Things that speak to you, that you explore or that just happen by. I think that there are a lot of things on your mind that you can’t really help, I definitely started paying more attention when I began painting and tattooing. I used a lot of old-time tattoo drawings to understand the medium. Trying to duplicate them at first and understand what it was about them that appealed to me. Eventually this led to exploring where the old timers took their inspiration from and I ended up looking at a lot of their contemporary popular images – anywhere from advertisements, illustrations, photography, fashion and art.
I found a wealth of reference looking for all these things from the start of last century. Of course old tattoo imagery is pretty heavy with symbolism and I always really liked that. For some reason people are looking for something with meaning if it involves something as definite as a tattoo. So a lot of it is about basic emotions like love, death, power and fear. Just look at all the tattoos that have panthers, girls, hearts, daggers, and eagles in them. Conveying these basic emotions has always kind of stuck with me. They seem to be the reasons and triggers for most of the things we do.
LM: I’ve noticed a pretty strong recurrence of mixing the beauty with the beast in a lot of your work. Beautiful women’s faces on the body of a variety of different creatures, can you explain what it represents for you personally?
AH: Mixing human forms with animals is of course something that goes back to probably before the Roman and Greek days. Most well known must be the centaur, the half man/half horse. For me this intertwining of forms is a way of giving a human the additional benefits of animal qualities. Qualities that we sometimes covet. To be as fast, fierce, elegant, strong as a ……, fill in any animal that you want. And I am genuinly surprised at how good my girls look with almost any animal body you can think of.
LM: Your last book delved into the meaning of some of your own tattoos. So many of them are deeply meaningful and relevant to you – do you think that this is important for anyone who gets or wants body art?
AH: Without a doubt a first tattoo is nerve wracking for anyone. It’s forever, it needs to be beautiful, it needs to be important enough to be there till you die. If people go on getting tattoos, this becomes less and I even know people who have so many tattoos that a little joke more doesn’t make a difference. It becomes more fun and like an adornment rather than something very serious. I always wanted to keep in mind to get things that matter to me. That can be lighthearted as well. It’s very easy to be tempted to get something cool. Like, I’ve seen tattoos of beautifully embellished guns, but I don’t like the violence that comes with guns, so it would be silly for me to get one. If that’s important to everyone, I don’t know. I think you should consider a tattoo as a part of yourself and of the story that you are.
LM: Sydney/Melbourne Gallery Outre have published your book, Tattoo Darling and your upcoming book Tattoo Mystique. How did you guys cross paths and why did you choose this particular gallery to work so closely with to publish your books?
AH: As I started painting more while tattooing I had prints made that I sold at tattoo conventions and in the studio. One of the girls who work at Outré heard that through the grapevine and they placed an order for some prints. It all sort of went from there. The prints sold well, I did a groupshow with them and came over, also because Australia had been on my list of places I wanted to travel. We got along really well. That’s important I think, we clicked and understood each other and sort of have the same mentality. This makes working together on projects a lot easier and enjoyable.
LM: You have tried your hand successfully at so many different artistic mediums – sculpture, painting, tattooing and illustration to name a few. Are there any avenues you haven’t yet explored which you would like to in the future?
AH: I would love to do some industrial design. Something like designing a tea set, dinnerware or furniture, you know, things we use everyday. Mostly because I find it difficult to get my hands on things that you need that also look good.
LM: Have you found a medium you enjoy working with the most?
AH: I really like to paint with watercolors. I think it’s what I’m best at and I didn’t even had to work really hard to get it. I just had a knack for it. A good friend taught me how to do it and I was immediately hooked, also because the result was there. I think it’s much easier to like doing something that you’re good at and comes naturally to you. Having said that I do always get enthusiastic about ideas that involve other mediums. I have to hold myself back to not just do something different all the time, because I realise that to get good at something takes experience and time.
LM: You have certainly established an incredible style, the fusion of old style sailing tattoos fused with modern femininity. How has your style developed since the release of your last book?
AH: I can’t say if it has developed a lot. My inspirations have stayed pretty much the same, but I always strive to become better and perfect certain aspects and details. I have been paying more attention to backgrounds in the last year or so. The emphasis was always on the subject and for me the background wasn’t that important. But now I look into trying other options with the background to see if I can make it more interesting or different, if it will add something or not. Also I’ve been playing more with the lines, doing them in other colours, sizes or not at all. I’ve sort of been experimenting with those things.
LM: Can you tell us little bit about what’s in store for us with your new book Tattoo Mystique?
AH: For me Tattoo Mystique is a follow up to the first book Tattoo Darling. Showing the work I’ve made since then and the progress and different subjects. My good friend Mike Giant wrote a little piece about me and he made artwork for the book that refers to me, which was really great to see. And we did a really swell photoshoot with one of my best friends Fotofloor who also took the shots for my first book. This time we wanted to go outside of my space and show a little bit of the city and my surroundings in Amsterdam. I really wanted to show people a little bit about me, mostly because I miss that a lot of the time that I buy books about artists. It has all the great art in it, but sometimes not even a headshot of the artist. I’m always curious to know who is behind the work and get a feel of who they are. I hope this book shows that.
LM: Do you have any future projects you’re looking forward to after the launch of Tattoo Mystique?
AH: In March 2010 I have another solo show in London and I usually do two or three group shows a year. I have one or two commercial projects lined up, but that’s in such an early stage that I can’t really say if it will happen or not. I like to keep my options open, so I’ll see what 2010 brings…
Outre Gallery launch Angelique Houtkamp’s new book Tattoo Mystique in Melbourne and Sydney this October.
For your chance to win a copy of Angelique’s new book just email [email protected] saying why you should win it.
Launch Friday October 9, 7pm to 9pm
Book Signing Saturday October 10, from 1pm
Launch Friday October 16, 6pm to 8pm
Book Signing Saturday October 17, from 1pm
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Words: Louise McClean Images: Angelique Houtkamp