Aimée van Drimmelen is an artist based on the west coast of Canada. Her unique circular drumskin paintings have been exhibited in Montreal, Vancouver and San Francisco, and featured on numerous art and design blogs. This latest series, inspired by ancient folk art traditions, pays hommage to the circular form, exploring ideas of rhythm, motion, and interconnection
Each drum painting is carefully rendered by hand with archival paints and inks on the prepared surfaces of synthetic drumheads (like what you'd find on a bass or snare drum), and framed in custom made baltic birch frames. They are designed to act as objects for meditation and contemplation, and to bring good energy into the home. Custom orders and private commissions welcome. Questions? firstname.lastname@example.org
10% of each sale is donated to organizations doing important work to protect the environment for future generations. Bio photo by Ingrid Mesquita
Laurie White (Art Historian & Curator based in Vancouver): As an artist, illustrator, and also as a musician, your creative practice spans a range of media. In the drum skin paintings I see you engaging with the materiality of music making. The drum skin is a surface that can be activated in different ways. Older skins show the history of their use. They are also made from different materials, synthetic or natural, which have their own qualities. Can you talk about how you came to use drum skins at the ground for your paintings? What is the significance of them for you? Where do you source them?
Aimée van Drimmelen: I first saw a painted drumhead at my partner's recording studio on a beautiful marching band drum from the 30s with a painting of a person's silhouette standing in front of an ocean sunset, playing a pipe. It came with a lightbulb inside, as did a lot of older bass drums, which were used for aesthetics and also to warm up the calfskin heads to improve tone. I was so attracted to this idea, the shape, the drum itself. I had to try it.
I had recently finished my undergrad in Anthropology and was working towards a career in journalism, but my artist side was rearing its head. I was doing a lot of experimenting and having lots of existential crises. A couple of drummer friends gave me their used bass drum heads to paint on and it was perfect timing. Painting on drums was a breakthrough; in fact this was how I discovered the medium and style that I use to this day in most of my illustration and artwork. Acrylic inks are permanent and adhere to the skins without being so heavy that they dampen the tone. The fluidity, the layering of colours, the mix of detail and abstraction, all started there on the surface of those skins.
This process has captivated my short attention span for a long time. I love the connection to music, and to the most ancient of instruments. I love that most of the skins I paint have been used—some have visible dents and gouges from years of getting hit— and I’m able to give an them a second life. I love hunting for them, going to music shops and musicians and conservatories to see what is kicking around. Right now I have been lucky enough to acquire a huge stockpile of beautiful blank drumheads from a variety of local sources, and I feel a sense of responsibility to paint them all.
LW: The forms in your newest series of paintings are reminiscent of Ukrainian pysanky egg paintings and traditional quilt patterns. From the eggs, I also see a link to the way you layer colours to create a glowing, kaleidoscope effect. How did these forms start entering into your work? How has the circular shape influenced your designs and even your thinking?
AVD: For this new series I wanted to intentionally design imagery that fit within the circular shape of the canvas. As I started sketching, these shapes began to emerge that were reminiscent of some of the folk art I had become interested in a few years back, spurned by finding my grandmother’s collection of Ukrainian easter eggs. I was immediately struck by their designs — the intricacy and precision, the delicate lines, the motifs and colours that were used. I sat at her table and tried to copy some of them (mostly as an excuse to hang out and ask her questions about stuff), and it was so hard! I've always been intrigued about the Eastern European side of my family, and discovering these objects that had a cultural connection was an important moment. When the time was right I gave myself permission to learn more about them and try to figure out how they worked.
LW: There is a formal contrast between the geometric and the curly lines in pysanky and quilters also use this when they sew curly patterns over the coloured blocks. In your work, this contrast invokes natural elements like feathers and vines but the geometric forms also seem to relate to natural phenomena like comets and stars.
AVD: I picture these paintings like multi dimensional images that are sort of alive or coming to life. Their various layers evoke depth and motion, as though the shapes are radiating outwards from some sort of cosmic centre. In terms of my process thus far, the organic forms, decorative lines, feathers, water drops help balance against the geometry and bring spontaneous energy to the pieces. I’m also experimenting with sewing and embroidering on the skins, and other embellishments to add more depth and texture.
Another element that brings the pieces to life for me are the eyes, which gaze back at the viewer. I like the idea of this interaction between painting and viewer as an exchange, perhaps even a conversation. And it's meant to be playful too.
LW: There seems to be a tension between intuition and experimentation in the structure of the art forms you are researching yet you describe your process as intuitive, contemplative, experimental. How do you create the space and freedom to experiment? Can you describe the stages you go through in this process? Do you leave a piece and come back to it after time.
AVD: There has always been that dichotomy in my work, the balance of controlled and uncontrollable. First off the medium I use, ink and water, is impossible to fully control. Because the surface of the drumskins is synthetic and usually covered in gesso, it won't absorb the liquid like paper would, so I have to wait for each layer to air dry. You can see the water element doing it's thing in every painting, the pigments settle and pool, making the evaporation process visible. The edges may appear sharp, but up close they ripple. This gives life and movement and unpredictability to the pieces.
I have yet to finish a painting that was exactly like my initial sketches. Once I have a rough idea of my design and colour combination worked out on paper, I’ll start attempting to map my design out on a skin, using various techniques to recreate my sketches “by eye,” and avoiding precise measurements or using pencil.
I sit and stare at each painting a lot as I contemplate what to do after each step or each layer. When I'm stumped I'll take a quick photo and use the crappy draw tool on my phone to try out a bunch of different scenarios digitally before I decide what to do next. While I shy away from digital technology when I'm working, this relationship with my phone is quite useful and fun. Ironically I’m often inspired by the confident, gestural, yet childlike lines I achieve by sketching on my phone.
LW: You are drawing from a specific cultural heritage, and it is your own Ukrainian heritage, but viewers are unavoidably going to infer other things – Tibetan Mandalas and Navajo weavings spring to mind – that you don’t pretend to have any claim to. What do you think about this issue?
AVD: I don't find it surprising. Both of the art forms you mention are very ubiquitous because they are so visually powerful. Perhaps, as a result, the designs have been vastly appropriated and appear everywhere from clothing to new age posters (that most likely weren't made by people coming from those cultural backgrounds). When I started sharing images from this series some people drew comparisons to art traditions that weren't my own. I take cultural appropriation very seriously and even questioned whether I should continue on with these pieces for a time. But instead I turned to research, to feel confident in where I was coming from and to make sure that the end results of my own process wasn't ending up too much like something else.
The fact that I'm painting on drums is also something that people connect with Indigenous art. Victoria BC, where I live, was built on the unceded land of the Coast Salish peoples. There is a strong tradition of circular shaped art motifs here that stemmed from carved spindle-whorls used by weavers, and in more recent times decorated round drums made of animal skin. I have been fortunate enough to witness singing and drumming ceremonies, and some beautiful painted drums, since moving to the west coast. I came across this quote from Salish artist named Doug Horne that says, “We are all born to the beat of a drum, it is within us. Our drum beat is what leads us to find our own path through our journey in life.” The practice of decorating drums exists in almost every culture that used a drum, including rock & roll culture where I'm coming from.
LW: You are drawing on folk traditions in more than a visual way. What is it about these practices that informs your work? Is it about preserving a tradition, or learning from it? What’s the importance of analogue methods for you?
AVD: The practice of egg painting dates back to the neolithic period, and the Triptillian-Cucuteni peoples a who inhabited large parts of what is today Eastern Europe. Everything from the motifs and colours to the eggs themselves have meaning. The eight pointed star is a common motif in pysanky and symbolizes the sun. For me this shape symbolizes interconnection. I am very interested right now in ideas of interconnection and communication at a time when we are simultaneously so connected and so disconnected. Connected in a virtual sense, in a curated cultural sense where we rarely see beyond our own bubbles, but at the same time not necessarily knowing our neighbours, being alienated from each other in the streets or the grocery store.
In a way I'm starting to crave or seek out these greater connections. Maybe one way is this going back to analog roots: craft, folk arts. Simple expressions made with care and love, like a quilt. Stitching, sewing, holding together, taking time. The connection of hands, eyes, heart, mind. Meditating. Processing. Searching for hope & beauty. Maybe some of this invisible energy also filters out into the world, and connects with a viewer or a passer by on a deeper level.
LW: What does it mean to be an artist at this time? You mentioned how it can sometimes feel meaningless to be requiring people’s attention for your art when there is so much crazy stuff happening in the world. Is there a flipside to this feeling? In my view, being an artist is a radical act because you consciously situate yourself against dominant channels of production and consumption. The criticality and open questioning mode of the artist is an essential antagonising force for society. Perhaps you struggle with this because you make work that is quite visually accessible and that is about creating supportive, inspirational environments, rather than work that is about negation or disruption? Having said that, I think the values in your work do disrupt certain aspects of contemporary life because they appeal to an aesthetic sensibility based on care, patience, tradition. Having known you for a while now, I would say you have a very thoughtful existence that practices the values you are exploring in your work and research. To return to the question then, how do you see yourself as an artist within the various circles and communities in which you operate?
AVD: I do believe that the artists I know and most enjoy spending time with are the ones who buck against the status quo, who live intentional and alternative lifestyles, and care deeply about the planet and bringing about positive change in these times. My goal is to engage within and beyond my community and to continuously question my role as an artist, my privilege, and to give back in every way possible. Yes, I want to create supportive inspirational environments, that is very accurate. I want my paintings to bring joy to people, to have a place of prominence in someone's home and bring positive energy every day. That has meaning for me. But I also live in a place where I see homeless people on the streets every day. A place where the cost of living is so high that most artists and working class people can't stay here, and those who try literally can't find a place to rent. So I ask myself, who gets to benefit from these spaces I strive to create? How can I work to help improve the situation, in all its complexity, instead of just “being an artist” and ignoring these realities. How can I extend my reach beyond those who can afford to buy art? I am investigating ways to do so including offering a sliding scale model, barter, and the option for more wealthy collectors to help subsidize a piece of art for someone with less money. I also donate a portion of each sale to groups doing environmental and social justice work. I want to do more.
These days I've got a handful of people around me who are artists in the true sense. They, we, are viewing the world and everything that is going on with a compassionate eye, we are very concerned, we are talking about it, and seeking solutions in realtime – not in online arguments, not on social media. I am very thankful for being able to have these discussions. I have been taking breaks from social media, my devices, and the “online” life in order to give myself time and space to really contemplate these issues. It feels right, right now, to exist more in the real world and be the curator of my own information and experiences on my own terms. Having these real, meaningful conversations feels important to me and if that is being an artist or just being a human I don't care, it just seems like the right thing to be doing right now. ✸