Graduate Profile: Henk Gieskens

Working away in Berlin attempting to carve out a journalistic career, I wondered how some of my fellow UAL graduate pals were doing, and spoke to pal Henk Gieskens, who completed his BA in 2D design at Central St. Martins, to find out.

Introducing Mr. Gieskens and his beautiful ‘wearable painting’

Hey Henk, tell us about your time at UAL, what you enjoyed about your course and the experience of living in a new place.

I originally started my studies (advertising) in the Netherlands, and went on to a fine arts Erasmus exchange at Central Saint Martins. After three months I got offered a placement on the course and decided to finish my study there – there were so many interesting opportunities for collaborations with other students. CSM also has a professional painting workshop led by Caroline List, and this also influenced my decision.

I can truly say that it’s the people (the students, tutors and workshop staff) that make CSM a very interesting place to study, and this majorly influenced my decision to stay in London. Of course London is also very inspiring in itself – it has a unique mix between old and new which I have never really felt in any other city I have been to. Living and now working in that city makes me feel very lucky.

What have you done so far since graduating?

One of the things I have done is work as an intern at Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio. Working for Nick was a great experience and has made me realize that I would like to go into the business side of art as much making my own works.

Phtholocyanine Green Lake – Wearable painting by Henk Gieskens

I have also been awarded the artist residency LIFE BOAT 2012 (this is supported by ArtQuest, ACAVA and Arts Temps). The residency involves a free studio/space at Vyner street as well as peer group meetings and crits with artist and galleries. I created a Facebook page and tumblr  for this residency because these mediums make it very easy to share an important part of my progress online. It’s been really worthwhile, giving me some very useful feed back from people who I wouldn’t have had it from otherwise.

I believe that sharing and showing where you’re from and how you make your practice can be very important to potential buyers, or people who just want to keep track of you. Documenting work online also works as an archiving system and helps to keep track of most things. Obviously I still use notebooks and sketchbooks, but this is something I consider more personal. I paint in these books and try ideas and mediums out that might lead me somewhere. During my studies for example I developed a new kind of oil paint that allows me to work with the medium in sheet format, and the whole process of trial and error in my sketch books was very personal and not be seen.

How did you secure the residency? 

I managed to get this opportunity just by applying. After graduating I applied for over thirty opportunities in the UK for showing work or doing commissions. This residency has been the only one out of thirty that I have been awarded. Sometimes you really need to bite your lip and just move on, get yourself out of bed and see what else is out there that might work for you, this is very exciting!

‘Wall structure – phthalocyanine turquoise’ by Henk Gieskens

Is graduate life how you thought it would be?

No it’s not. Finding a job is very hard and I have to do less exciting work then I’ve been trained in. Saying this everything is what you make of it, so deal with it! At the moment I do various sales work beside my studio work, and am waiting for results of job interviews I have done.

How are you surviving financially?

By working in sales part-time. In a way this is a shame but it makes me realize that I have a main goal in my life; to become an artist that can sustain himself through art. Despite this the experience is perhaps useful because I do like marketing and sales, and would love to start my own gallery one day.

Painting by Henk Gieskens

Are you glad you did the course at UAL, would you do it again?

Yes I would do it again. I think 3 years is too short though, you need more time to really get to know what you’re doing. You need time and space to fall flat on your face and pick yourself up and start again, and the freedom you get during your study is something you won’t experience again soon after graduating. Although writing essays and dissertations weren’t really my cup of tea, they really helped me to understand more about my practice and where I want to take it.

And finally, do you have any advice for future graduates?

Make sure you have idea of what you want to do after your studies! I applied for an MA Art and science, which I was accepted on but then realised it wasn’t actually what I wanted to do. I only did this because I got very scared of the world outside college. Prepare yourself for once you have left the cosy covers. Do an internship while you’re studying or make a plan of what you need to do to make some money in order to have a studio – but first ask yourself if you really need one.

Be very real to yourself about your goals but don’t get upset when things are not working out the way you planed – just change your plans for the better. To everyone you meet in your professional career, be nice and honest about what you want and what you can or can’t do. When things don’t work out, though shit – carry on! The most important thing is believe in what you do – if you don’t believe in it why should anyone else.

Amen to that!

Henk & his work ‘Cadmium Yellow Structure’