The only other time Jacqueline Peeters received a journalist in her studio was in October 1987. She was 26 at the time and a promising painter. Two of her paintings hung in the palace on Dam Square in Amsterdam, and that month she received a royal grant of 5,000 guilders from Queen Beatrix. Just before that, she had already received a start-up grant of 35,000 from the Ministry of Culture.
So the world seemed to lie at her feet. It didn’t matter that she didn’t yet have a gallery and had only sold one painting, she said password-journalist Cathérine van Houts: “First I want to do a good job, then exhibit.” She hoped that success would come soon: “Maybe the Queen will buy some!”
However, after the stormy start, her career went rather uneventfully. Ten years after the royal grant, Jacqueline Peeters still had no permanent gallery. She had participated in a few group exhibitions and sold a few more paintings, but she could not survive on her art at all; the majority of artists’ fates. According to the Visual Artists Professional Association (BBK), only 5 percent of the roughly 13,000 Dutch artists live above the poverty line.
For Peeters, the lack of attention and income was the reason to stop in 2002. As a media researcher, she had embarked on a new career, a job that would give her a living.
20 years later: success!
fast forward to 2022. Last week, a solo exhibition of the 61-year-old Peeters opened at the Gerhard Hofland gallery, one of the better galleries in Amsterdam, accompanied by a beautiful monograph. Next year an exhibition will follow at Annie Gentils, a leading gallery in Antwerp.
Unexpected success. All the more so since Jacqueline Peeters has continued what she left off twenty years ago: by making paintings about the lack of attention for her art and her inability to change that situation.
The big difference with then is that gallery owners are now excited about it; Peeters recently exhibited at exhibition venues in Milan and Herzele in Flanders.
In her studio in a walled former farm near Brussels, Jacqueline Peeters explains how she started her artistic career. Thanks to Instagram, a suitable stage for introverts like her.
I no longer wanted to depend on the judgment of others
When did you start painting about the lack of attention to your art?
“After my academy education, I often painted the view of my studio: courtyards, gardens, fences. Occasionally I would receive a gallery owner, curator or collector, but there was usually no response. Maybe it was my presentation, maybe my work. In any case, the study visits that led to nothing were not pleasant. Not only as a lack of recognition for my work, but also as a personal rejection.
“When I moved to Brussels in the mid-nineties, I shared a studio there with a couple of colleagues from the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. They were conceptual artists for whom painting had a slightly dirty connotation. In response, I fantasized about imaginary exhibitions of my paintings. I made invitations and posters for that. I also painted price lists with titles of unsold paintings and I started the series ‘Unsold paintings’: over old canvases I painted the text ‘unsold painting’ with a number. I got enthusiastic reactions, suddenly I was also a conceptual artist.
“There was something fussy about what I was doing. I was making fun of the art market and my own inability to conquer a place on it. But of course it was primarily a cry for attention. Look, here I am! Before that I made beautiful paintings, but my heart was really in my new work; I felt I was on the right track. And I was successful in that: in the late 1990s I had well-received solo exhibitions in Bern and in Brussels.”
Why did you stop painting soon after?
“I couldn’t make a living from it. I was approaching forty. I wondered if I should keep filling out grant forms until the end of days. I no longer wanted to remain financially dependent on the judgment of others. I also thought: maybe there are too many artists. And if you have an art education, you don’t have to be an artist for the rest of your life, do you?
“I started working at my husband’s media analysis company: reading newspapers, cutting articles, coding, I enjoyed it. In recent years, every day I had to write reports for a large client before 11 a.m. Nice to do work that was expected. As an artist, I was not used to that.”
You didn’t miss painting?
“Nobody. I deliberately kept my distance from the art world. I didn’t read art books and didn’t attend exhibitions of contemporary artists. Looking back, I don’t quite understand why I didn’t miss painting all these years.”
Fifteen years after you put your brushes away, you started again in 2017. Why?
“I no longer had to work full-time as a media researcher. Maybe I also got older and determined to do something else that gives meaning to my life. Carefully I started painting over old canvases. I have kept everything, including from my academy days, hundreds of paintings and drawings. I didn’t want to make new canvases again; If I drop dead tomorrow, my son will be stuck with it. ha ha.”
Jacqueline Peeters has hung fifteen recent paintings for the second journalist who visits her studio. Next to the entrance to her workshop hangs a small square canvas with the text of the painting’s title: Unsold painting no. 443 (2021). In another place hangs a large red cloth with white numbers and letters with the title Price list Edna Offenbach to Lee le Gac (2019, seen in the picture above). It is a price list of more than twenty paintings named after fictional galleries: Edna Offenbach 150×200 cm oil on canvas 5,000 euros and so on. Across from her desk hangs a large canvas in black and dirty white tones from a parquet floor with a bed on top, Zezette (2022) titled.
Parquet floors are a consistent theme. Many galleries have wooden herringbone floors, says Peeters. The bed represents the intimacy with which she exposes herself as an artist.
Also noteworthy is a white poem painting with black letters that La Wally Boolean Poem (2021), a list of famous men with a Jacqueline as a partner: John F. Kennedy, Aristotle Onassis, Jacques Chirac and so on. Peeters: “In the newspaper I saw a picture with the caption: ‘Jacqueline and John F. Kennedy’. My first reaction was: this is about me.”
The list on the canvas ends with a so-called Boolean search formula, which Peeters often worked with in his life as a media analyst. “I hate pretentious art. I find it surprising that you can do something as unheroic as googling the internet for a painting.”
How did you get gallery owners interested in your new work?
“When I started painting again, I kept thinking about whether I should. How did I ensure that my work is seen this time? The hard part is that I’m not one to get into anything. I don’t hang out at exhibition openings and I don’t hang out with gallerists. I’m way too shy for that.
“I did something that was not possible twenty years ago: I posted pictures of my paintings on Instagram. I started it at the end of May 2018. Instagram is useful for making contact and getting an impression of what is happening in the arts. I started following all kinds of galleries and some gallery owners followed me back. One of them was Gerhard Hofland, unknown to me. He was curious about my work and came to visit my studio two years ago. He showed his enthusiasm but said no more. Completely against my character, I called him. He started talking about the corona closure and at the end he said: ‘Keep up the good work.’ Damn, that’s what you say to an intern. Break it, one like that again, I thought. But in March he came again, and now I have an exhibition with him, plus a catalogue.”
Does the current success surprise you?
“My work is very good. I’m quite surprised it took so long to be picked up. A last chance? No definitely not. It feels more like a new beginning. Some people my age are retiring and working with grandchildren. I’m not at that stage of life yet. As an artist, I go out into the world and my works follow. Or better: my works go out into the world and I follow them.”
What can other artists learn from your story?
“There is no lesson. Also, don’t consider my work a critique of the art world. In any other profession, I would have struggled with my character. Introverts have a hard time. I stopped making art because I no longer wanted to sell my work and no longer felt like biting it. It was my own choice. But you can also continue as an artist without a gallery or collectors. There are countless examples of artists who make art on the side of a job. Every artist has to do it in their own way.”