Finding beauty in decay – Niki Feijen

Talk about stepping into a space frozen in time! I was absolutely mesmerised for well over two hours just staring into the decay and macabre of the images captured by Dutch photographer Niki Feijen. Image and after image just pulled me deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole to seek out more and more of the beautiful sad imagery.

I found myself wondering endlessly about who lived in these places, why are they abandoned, how did the people leave? It’s like the people just vaporised and the homes were left to fend for themselves against the elements of nature and the ravages of time.

These rooms are reminiscent of the plight of poor Miss Havisham and her long lost love…… “So!” she said, without being startled or surprised; “the days have worn away, have they?”

I kept looking at this piece thinking, “Where is the old man who sits here to read his paper by the fire each evening?”

It’s not only abandoned homes that Feijen captures, he finds the most beautiful and damned places on earth, steps behind the “Do Not Enter” signs that people walk past without a thought as to what lies beyond. To most what they see is the exterior of abandonment, the over grown gardens and gates covered in vines, or the crumbling facade of a once industrial meeting place of academics and monks, or the flock of pigeons that burst out the windows each time another section of the building crumbles to the ground. 

What he captures is the sad wilting light forcing its way through the grime covered glass onto workstations long ago abandoned, the triumphant streams of light that break through destroyed painted ceilings from another century, the eerie coloured casting of light that gently bathes the untouched alters of a time long ago passed and light straining through the beautiful stained glass windows into the once trusted havens of the faithful servants of God.

Feijen uses the natural light of the space to captured the rooms and halls of these forgotten places rather than use alternate light sources. He has spoken about using very long shutter speeds to allow the natural light into the camera, because often the location is so dark it is almost impossible to see. This action produces the dark and eerie image and allows the viewer time to explore all corners of the image – each time seemingly finding something that was not seen before.

This also illustrates the kindness and respect for the space, allowing the walls and ghosts to whisper to him in quiet gratitude for taking the time to capture the essence of the space – not just the decay.

Feijen is one of the many artists and photographers who are fascinated by the art of decay. This movement is called Urbex – short for Urban Exploring. There are underground tours and secret swapping of maps and location sites amongst its most fervent followers. When I was reading about Feijen it seemed to me that he was very particular about keeping the location of his subjects secret, not to prevent other people from seeking out the beauty, but to preserve the space from expedited decay, vandalism and looting. He has taken some photographs across different seasons to show natures persistence at merging the outside and the inside spaces.

Feijen has the uncanny ability to capture a seemingly pragmatic scene into one of absolute beauty and intrigue. His photographs of stairs are breathtaking. He has often taken hundreds of shots sitting under stairwells just trying to get the perfect shot that depicts opulence and a gateway to the unknown – or down to the depths of the horror chambers where nobody wants to go.

He has titled this piece “The House of M.C. Escher” and I wonder is it really? Sure makes sense….or does it, look closer.

Perhaps the most haunting of his works are those depicting the urban decay a small township of Pripyat just inside the exclusion zone of the Chernobyl radiation plant meltdown. It is this town that the horror stories and plight of children affected by radiation  originate.

For me my most favourite piece is from that series of works of an abandoned merry-go-round ride that has been overgrown by green weeds and flowers. It shows for me an element of hope growing in the place where children full of dreaming and imagination once played and squealed with delight while parents looked on with joy.  It’s also the saddest image.

You can see this photo on his website here for yourself, I wonder what emotions it brings up for you. All the photographs are for sale and I think this one will look very nice indeed in my little collection. I really just love the way that he captures the macabre with such gentleness, I think it is this quality that makes the photographs so very beautiful.

Oh and I may just slip in one of Miss Havisham’s drawing room too….

C&M xx

P.S Thanks to Niki Feijen for giving his permission to showcase his photographs – always a delight to hear back from an artist. All photographs here are from his website directly.

 

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Ken Done – Australiana at it very best

When it comes to an example of art in real life Ken Done mastered this concept. As a child of the eighties Ken Done was a consistent feature in my childhood experience of art. From my swimmers to my doona cover, to the table place mats, beach towel graphics, the postcards I collected every trip to Sydney and the scarf loosely tied around my mama’s décolletage – his art was everywhere in my world – and I loved it!! I still do, thirty odd years later.

He broke a static mould for Australiana Art that the exuberant tourist and landscape weary citizens alike collected as souvenirs of abstract Australian life. The colours were so representative of the carefree happiness of Aussie life, the lifework represented our abundant freedom and the scenes he captured were iconic locations of Sydney delivered in a new albeit not so sophisticated manner but definitely celebratory in style. I guess as a child all these concepts were a little lost on me – because what I saw was bright, bright, bright colours that were a distinct bolt of excitement amongst the 80’s Nutrimetic Apricot & Cream interior decoration that was ever so pervasive in the homes of the day – and they were aspirational as I decided quite early on that I needed to visit each the places he painted to see if they really looked that way. Kid logic they called it!

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This piece above and the one below are two of those in my own hometown regional gallery – with the painting below Burning Cane depicting my beautiful home.

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It was around this early time in my life I first felt the feelings of rage when I heard people (usually dad’s) saying “I could do that, you can do that, Mr Scribble can do that”.  Man alive really?? I recall wanting to go and get my paints and give them to said persons and say – “ok go ahead, I’d love to see how well you can do that!” but alas as a child I just accessed that little reserve tank of grace and continued staring at the beautiful brilliant pools of colour. Nowadays – my reserve is empty and I certainly do not exude grace at this comment!

I digress. My apologese.

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The media loved Mr Done! Loved him! I recall flipping through my mama’s Women’s Weekly magazines for my “collage projects and decoupage projects” (oh insert cringing face) and being waylaid by the multiple pages throughout featuring Ken Done homewares, fashion, accessories, jewellery and poster art. I recall having a cork pinboard on my wall with torn out shards of Ken Done a frequently pinned item – much to my mama’s annoyance, I think she even took a page of that board to finish reading the article on the reverse side!

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My favourite piece Bungle Bungle – housed at the Grafton Regional Art Gallery

Nowadays, Ken Done is less frequently found, however I am certain most Australian of the eighties could dig deep in their side board or linen closet and find a remnant of his art amongst the time weathered and dusty keepsakes that just can’t be discarded for sentimental rationale. He is I was pleased to find out still a practicing artist and has recently resurrected his art with a whole new philosophy (read about this here) and you can still buy his older prints.

His style is instantly recognisable and to be honest I have not come across anyone who has attempted to replicate his works. The compositional expertise of Ken Done is awe inspiring to artists, however his work was widely poo-pooed by the art aficionados of the day – which is likely associated with the hyper-commercialisation of his art. I like to point out that the art afficiandos of the days past also did a great deal of poo-pooing toward the impressionists, dadaist, pop-artists – in fact who listens to critics anyways? I still believe that he holds a special place in the heart of Australians as a wonderful commodity and a collectable artist.

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In fact I have started seeing around the place young girls sporting “vintage” scarfs and hand bags they scored from their local op-shop for a treat – featuring the beautiful and unmistakeable art of Mr Ken Done. Not sure they know the relevance of their purchase – but I am certain someone (possibly me) is more than happy to stop them in the street and do that age old right of passage bragging “oh I had one of those when I was a teenage girl too, don’t you just adore Ken Done”. I am acutely aware I am highly likely to get the deer in the headlights stare back at me – but you never know that comment may just spark her interest enough to reintroduce Ken Done Art to the next generation.

 

So tell me, you had a piece of Ken Done didn’t you? Bet you wish you could find it right about now and do some serious reminiscing of lazy days by the water wearing your fruit salad dress and bright yellow sandals sipping from your can of solo and about to dig into some salty chips with sauce…

C&M