I always paint from photographs. More and more often my preference goes out to photographs taken by others. But I still make a lot of photographs (usually with a digital camera), often using a macro lens. Sometimes I take photographs of things that I decide on beforehand, knowing they may produce an interesting image. Or images are caught by my eye while I happen to be carrying a camera. Most of the time, however, I focus on things in my (near) surroundings that I have seen many times before. They are then 'revealed' to me at an unexpected time in a certain form, allowing me to see something I have never seen before. I sometimes only have a notion of what I could see if they were to present themselves in their true form, which is then still veiled by minor details or too serious a context. I must be able to see the object concerned free from its original context in order to get trough to its true nature. Isolating the subject matter from its original environment, taking photographs in extreme close-up, and creating a new context within the collection of other photographs, attribute to seeing the well known in a new way.

My sketchbook is made up of images and photographs that I either took myself or cut out of magazines. These images all intrigue me, for what ever reason. And just like sketches, they seldom become more than that.

Those photographs that do, I collect on my computer and browse frequently. In most cases I then digitally edit the images: colour, contrast and framing. In some cases I apply more extensive manipulations.

I surround myself with these images by pinning them on the walls of my studio. Initially the photographs are randomly clustered. After some time they start living a life of their own. Some disappear in the bin pretty soon, and some become part of the interior because I get accustomed to them. Others I relocate frequently, which often leads to unexpected combinations with other photographs. This allows me to see them in a new perspective. Although at first the motive for the photograph was the subject; in this stage it is the photograph that is the motive for a possible painting. At this point the photograph should surprise me. However this is usually not the case. The photographs that do, I project and enlarge on the wall or on canvas, one by one. I usually decide on the size of the canvas when I already have an idea of what I want to make. When I start projecting the selection of photographs, I have already set up the canvas stretcher. At this time I have not yet decided which photograph I will use for the canvas. This may, therefore, differ from the idea on which I based the size of the canvas. Because of the detail, the differences in focus and the projected size, I am able to see the photograph for the first time again, as it were. By now the image is very far removed from the original object. If it then surprises me again, it becomes a candidate for a possible painting. I usually browse until I have made a selection of photographs, out of which I then make a new choice. If I decide to use a certain photograph in the end, after having looked at photographs for a very long time, I usually need at least half a day in order to decide on the scale, framing and composition. I use an opaque projector  to draw the image on the canvas (which since 2001 is generally polyester) with a pencil; and then the painting can begin.

The painting is made up out of several layers. First I fix the drawing with transparent paint in a neutral colour and middle tone. Then I apply the large colour areas; again using transparent paint and a middle tone. I work on the darker and lighter parts alternately; in transparent layers. Depending on the complexity and size of the painting this may take up to 5 weeks to complete. With every layer more details are applied. Most colour schemes are not prepared on a palette, but are realized through optical blending of the different layers.

In the final phase I work out the darkest parts and enhance the whites. The last two days I generally spend using just a fine brush of marter hair, and only pure white on my palette.

strawberry cake (detail), 2004, 100x100cm, acrylic paint on polyester

At first I copy the photograph accurately; later on, however, I tend to adapt both the colour and contrast, and sometimes the form and composition in order to enhance the intended effect. My aim is to provide the painting with a photographic quality. In order to do so, I use typically photographic elements, like focus & depth, over- & under exposure and chromatic dispersion. Every detail receives ample treatment as I scan the image like a scanner or photocopier that traces the original inch by inch, non hierarchically. I try to translate the photographic image to paint as mechanically as possible. I never use the whole photograph, but select a framing, which, combined with the features mentioned above, determines the attention points in the painting.

I paint with acrylic paint (ARA), because it dries quickly, and it results in a 'dry', plastic-like skin of paint, which I think looks superb. Compared to oil paint it has a much better colour division, and it allows working both transparently as well as opaque, during every stage of the painting. Furthermore it is very pleasant material to work with; it does not contain any chemical additives, and is odour free. A wide range of media is available for specific purposes or circumstances, when needed. I prefer to use water to dilute the paint; I only use media for layers that hardly contain any pigments. (Lasceaux Medium Eggshell).

My tools include paintbrushes (with synthetic hair), an airbrush (occasionally), and I use my fingers. Sometimes I varnish a painting (using Lasceaux Medium Eggshell), for an even gloss as well as for protection, when the top layers are very fragile.

My aim is to create a surface without any relief and a practically invisible stroke. The attention should go out to the image; not to the paint.

The titles of my paintings are usually derived from the image. Everything I want to say about my work is captured in the image; I generally do not find it necessary to add any language. Writing or talking about the work is completely different, as the language is then not a part of the work itself. A too poetic or literary title would actually become a part of it. It would play too large a role as it would shape both the meaning and the interpretation. This I do not want, because I am convinced that when concerning my work, this would only deprive the image. The titles I choose actually limit the interpretation scope.


That what I want to show is already familiar to most people, but it is something one has never been triggered to look at. It is often so familiar, that it is overlooked very easily. I want to visualize the itch that you just cannot reach. Seeing the itch makes it even itchier. I try to show the naked object; stripped of the denotation of its context; not making the object more beautiful or uglier, more exciting, more repulsive or sensual than it actually is. The beauty and sensuality are already present, and only have to be revealed. I do not have to add them; I merely emphasize them.

My strongest motive is formed by desire. Every time I paint, I do this out of a desire for an image which, at that point, I only have a faint idea of. I want to make something that I have always considered to be ordinary, special. I sometimes succeed. Often this desire has an erotic connotation, but it always has a sensual one. However, in contrast to the sexual desire, for instance, the sensual desire is never satisfied. The objective that results from this desire is achieved, but the desire remains. A good painting only makes this desire even greater. This is what motivates me. The manner in which I respond to this is determined by all sorts of considerations and decisions: the choice of material, the technique and the subject; they all form the scope for my objectives.

But without this desire, the pursuit of any artistic goal would be a vain and meaningless waste of time.


Photography plays a large part in my work. Every painting I make starts off with a photograph. That is why it is important to explain what photography means to me.

I use photographs as an aid, in order to register that what I see as objectively as possible. Photography is a means of registration that can accurately and uncritically reproduce a part of reality, like no other. It can demonstrate an object in such a way that it is recognizable to everyone, at a certain moment, under certain conditions. A photograph is, however, always limited by the moment in time and location during registration. Therefore it can not be removed from this context, and hence asks for recognition in the first place: What, Where, When and Who. The spectator will be inclined to answer these questions first. A painting of this same photograph only refers to the moment of registration indirectly, so here these questions are hardly relevant. Normally looking at something is done purposefully: one attributes a function to that what can be seen, which may then be tuned to possible actions. During this process, meaning is given to that what can be seen. Because a painting of a photograph of a particular object is so far apart from the original context of that object, this process of function determination and putting on meanings becomes disturbed, which results in uncertainty. This challenges the spectator to look more closely; to form 'new' meanings. Meanings that might not seem obvious at first.

Photography and painting are united in my work in, what I call, the 'Camera Peintura'. I believe that this method (of painting a copy of a photograph as accurately as possible), is most suitable for the ambition mentioned above. The main challenge that really fascinates me is the translation of photographic information to painterly information. This is the only thing I'm occupied with while I'm painting, and it influences the painterly criteria I employ.

I want to show the world the way I see it. I never do this by making an impression, which would be a personal translation. If I would paint according to reality, I would be giving an impression of what I believe I'm seeing. My observation of an object is influenced by different circumstances, which always includes time. My perspective, the lighting, the colour and sometimes even the physical quality of an object change as the time needed for painting this object, goes by. Photography allows capturing a moment in time. This is not entirely accurate of course, but we can accept it as such; the time needed for exposure generally is negligible. A photograph is a factual and objective registration of a particular object, at a certain time. It presents a trustworthy and recognizable image of that what we consider reality.

So what do I have then? A piece of paper with images that contain information about an object that I may want to paint. That's it. It is not an independent image yet; it always refers to the moment of registration. This reference has consequences for the way people look at a photograph. A photograph is seemingly authentic; it is a certain kind of proof for knowing that someone or something was somewhere at a certain time. A 'certificate of presence1' Obviously a photograph can never offer truthful certainty. Photographs can be manipulated, and modern digital possibilities seem unlimited. But the pretence of truth is enough, which will invite the spectator to ask questions about the truthfulness of the photograph. Not the image of the object, but the object itself (and its possible reflection) is the subject to look at. The essence of photography is reference².

All information I need for a painting is present in the photograph, and this makes it the perfect model. Although the painting looks like the photograph; it remains a painting. The painting may seem an objective registration, but that is not what it is. It is a subjective translation that took time to make. This also plays a roll when the spectator sees the painting. A photograph is a moment in time; a painting is not. The time it takes to make the painting, and the consideration with which this is done, may result in the spectator experiencing that concentration again, as it were. And that is why it takes more time to look at. A photograph requires recognition for that what is depicted; it reveals specific information about the captured object. A painting is different; it refers to things in general. The image itself is specific, and therefore requires special attention.

1 Roland Barthes, 'Camera Lucida', Hill and Wang, New York, 1981; p. 81: -Every photograph is a certificate of presence

2 Roland Barthes, 'Camera Lucida', Hill and Wang, New York, 1981;

p. 76/77: "I call 'photographic referent' not the optionally real thing to which an image or a sign refers but the necessarily real thing which has been placed before the lens, without which there would be no photograph, [...] And since this constraint exists only for Photography, we must consider it, by reduction, as the very essence, the noeme of Photography."





last modified: December 20, 2015
© Cor Groenenberg 2015