Creative Amsterdam: Paul Brouns, Photographic Artist

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Paul Brouns is an artist, who is intrigued by the geometry and rhythm in architecture, and uses photography as a medium for creating art. “I am creating a body of work that is offered in limited edition prints, mostly not more than five or eight prints per image in three basic sizes (small, medium and large). I sell these through a couple of galleries in different countries (Holland, the US, India, and South Korea) but also directly at art fairs in Amsterdam, London, New York and Tokyo.

“I was born and raised in the South of the Netherlands, where I went to the art academy of Tilburg. Originally it was a job as a graphic designer that made me move North, near Amsterdam. And of course, I was instantly attracted by its amount of cultural activities: the museums, galleries and art events are simply countless. Not to mention the concerts and the special relaxed atmosphere in the city itself. Also it proved to be quite rewarding when I made a switch to work as a freelance designer, because there are many agencies to work for. However, I really fell in love with Amsterdam when I explored the streets to create my photographic work of architecture. The city appeared to be a very fertile place for eye-catching modern architecture, especially outside of the old city centre.

“As a child I was always drawing and painting, so at a very early age it was clear to me that I wanted to be an artist. As a teenager I loved going outside with a canvas or a sketchbook under my arm, but at the same time I also was very fond of creating fantasy compositions out of the top of my head in my own room, mostly consisting of scenes from books I read or imaginary landscapes.”

“My fondness of using my imagination when drawing at home, in time, has evolved into creating new realities out of my photographic material in my studio.”

Celestial Vision (c) Paul Brouns

“Nowadays I still recognise those two creative impulses: I love going outside and explore the world, but in time my subject matter has shifted from realistic and impressionistic landscapes to (nearly abstract) geometrical urban compositions using a camera. And my fondness of using my imagination when drawing at home, in time, has evolved into creating new realities out of my photographic material in my studio.

“After graduating from a Dutch academy of fine arts (Academie voor Beeldende Vorming in Tilburg, 1990) I spent a decade to create and make a living as a painting artist. As a side job I started doing some graphic design work for a local gallery and pretty soon this also opened up new dimensions for me as an artist. I loved the interaction between creating patterns and shapes on the computer and using those in the process of creating paintings.

“I was lucky to win several grants for emerging artists, but by the year 2000 graphic design had become a more important source of income to support my family. In all those years I mainly used photography as a means to quickly capture elements of life that fascinated me, like a small sketchbook to collect new impressions.”

“I loved the interaction between creating patterns and shapes on the computer and using those in the process of creating paintings.”

Blue Fugue (c) Paul Brouns

“With the development of digital photography (after 2010) I discovered that I could also use this digital footage directly for creating my own photographic work. After I switched from a steady graphic design job to being a freelancer, I was more flexible to free up more time for my own art again. In time this has led to the work I am showing nowadays.

“Right now, I am working on a series of New York fire escapes. During my 10 day stay (partly for exhibiting), I was particularly drawn to these apartment houses that have these zigzag stairs in front of their façades. To me they are very characteristic for New York and there is a rich variation to them in colour and detail. First, I created some rough digital sketches to decide how to use and combine them and now I am working those out in detail.

“Normally I would alternate this work with going out into the street and capture new photographs, but with the current lockdown that obviously is no option. Instead I have started archiving my photoshoots of the past couple of years. While doing this I take a fresh look at things which provides new ideas for processing or finalising some of these older projects.”

“Qualities that help me to create are curiosity and patience. Sometimes I can spend a lot of time waiting for a single moment of sudden magic.”

Walking the Line (c) Paul Brouns

“Qualities that help me to create are curiosity and patience. Sometimes I can spend a lot of time waiting for a single moment of sudden magic. A beam of sunlight to appear that is reflected in a window, getting the right settings for capturing a cyclist passing a façade or the wind to lie down to reveal a beautiful water reflection of a building. For this reason, my means of transport of choice is a bicycle. On a bike you are not only more flexible to stop whenever you see something interesting, you also have more time to look around while moving. And the big bonus is that cycling is the most sustainable means of transportation possible.

“Another essential feature for creating art is intuition. Whether I am out in the street or working in my studio, it is always vital to recognise things that really move me visually. Many times, I happen to see a certain detail of a building which intrigues me for some reason. And even though it does not qualify for being a great composition in the way I photographed it, I always look for ways to bring out some kind of spark in a new digital composition, by manipulation, repetition or by combining it with other images. That discovery is a wonderful sensation to have and vital for any artist, I think. Working as a painter as well as a graphic designer also helped me in developing my skills to edit and retouch my photographic work and see possibilities to get closer to the core of what moves me as an artist. I will give two examples of works (below) to illustrate a few different ways in which I may process my work.”

“I took this photo in Milan, Italy and I was immediately struck by the beautiful olive green background, which provides such a beautiful contrast to the rhythm of the windows.”

Summer Song (c) Paul Brouns

Summer Song (above): “I took this photo in Milan, Italy and I was immediately struck by the beautiful olive green background, which provides such a beautiful contrast to the rhythm of the windows. The orange / brown shutters beautifully reflect the warmth of the sun. In this case the magic came in directly through the lens without any need for extensive manipulation. I only straightened the vertical lines and gave the image the right colour balance. This view onto the apartment building instantly felt like a song to me.”

Follow the White Rabbit (below): “A courtyard in Hamburg, Germany was the starting point of this composition. I was lying on the ground in the exact middle when I took the photo. I remember from the experience of being in that place, that I was enchanted by all the lines and multitude of windows around and a sunlit sky far above. Looking at the original image though, I was not completely happy with it and I wanted to enlarge the original sensation of being enveloped in a web of windows. So, I decided to extend the perspective into the middle of the composition. As a finishing touch, I blended in a cloud, magically hovering inside of the courtyard. When I suddenly noticed the rabbit shape of its outline, the title of this work was born.” 

“A courtyard in Hamburg, Germany was the starting point of this composition. I was lying on the ground in the exact middle when I took the photo.”

Follow the White Rabbit (c) Paul Brouns

“Being able to make a living out of what I love to do most of all, makes every new day another highlight. Looking back at 2019, a lot of fantastic chain of events took place. I showed my work in India, London and New York, I finished a commission in my hometown (Almere, next to Amsterdam) and all year long my work was being shipped to new collectors in many corners of the world. It really feels very cool to realise that people are appreciating the work I do. 

“An artist whom I greatly admire is Teun Hocks (also Dutch, born 1947). It is completely different from my work but is also rooted in photography. In most of his work he portrays himself in different surreal situations. There is a wonderful feeling of understated humour and melancholy in his work and because of that there are parallels with the work of other admired artists like René Magritte, Buster Keaton and Jacques Tati. However, the work of Hocks definitely is a class in itself, very original and characteristic. I also admire the way he crafts his work: each time he carefully creates a scene in his studio with painted backgrounds, props, and himself in the main role. The black and white photograph that captures this set-up is enlarged and very carefully coloured in oil paint. All of this gives his work a timeless quality that keeps fascinating me and always makes me smile with delight.” (See Teun Hocks work HERE.)

“Whether I am out in the street or working in my studio, it is always vital to recognise things that really move me visually.”

Flight of Imagination (c) Paul Brouns

“At the moment, the entire world seems to be “on hold”, both socially and economically. Working also as a freelance graphic designer for the first time in decades I have an almost empty agenda. Of course, the extra time opens up possibilities to think about new art initiatives and plans to develop.

“I am looking forward to my upcoming Other Art Fair in London, which is scheduled in October. At least I hope that by then the situation will have returned to normal so the event will actually take place. I keep returning to London for two main reasons: its lively art scene and its beautiful architecture. For a Dutchman living near Amsterdam, London is very close, and it is always a pleasure to spend time and explore new areas.

“Originally, I was going to be there last March, but then things were cancelled because of the Covid-19 precautions. Last year the fair has proved to be not only quite rewarding, it is also a great opportunity to interact and talk about my work to the British public. In addition, it is an ideal place to get in touch with galleries and fellow artists.

“In the meanwhile, the organisers of The Other Art Fair have undertaken a very sympathetic way to give all participating artists a boost in cooperation with Saatchi Art. In alternating selections, all fair artists are being highlighted on the Saatchi Art website on the Online Studios pages. My work and profile can be found on the London page.”


Paul Brouns’ Top 5 Amsterdam

To Eat: Restaurant Portugalia (Kerkstraat). It is a cosy little restaurant jus out of the noisy centre that offers lots of delicious Portuguese specialties.

To Drink: De Haven van Texel (Sint Olofsteeg) is another nice restaurant, but it is also a great spot to enjoy a drink on the terrace while admiring one of the most beautiful canal views of Amsterdam.

To Party: My favourite type of party is to go to a jazz concert. My venue of choice in Amsterdam is the Bimhuis (Piet Heinkade). They have a marvelous and adventurous choice of concerts and musicians from all over the world. It is beautifully located on the banks of the river. The same building also houses a larger concert hall (Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ).

To Walk: Along the canals in the centre of Amsterdam. The centre is very compact and its picturesque narrow houses, bridges and canals are a joy to one’s eyes.

To Shop: Along the same canals there are also many interesting small shops specialised in interior design, old books, antiques, fashion, different types of food and much more. It is always a pleasure to dwell through those small streets and discover something new.

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