Joline Kwakkenbos

Joline Kwakkenbos


From Small Town Roots to Artistic Expression:

Joline Kwakkenbos's Journey.

I developed a profound appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, as well as a strong sense of freedom in imagination and tranquility.

Kwakkenboss work delves into various facets of her identity, portraying herself as a young woman who is free-spirited, spiritual, seductive, historical, and powerful. Her expressive brushwork and vibrant colors invite viewers into her inner world, blending personal narratives with broader cultural themes. She challenges societal norms and traditional notions of gender and identity, offering a rich tapestry of female experiences.


In 2024, Kwakkenbos was selected for a prestigious residency at Tracey Emins TKE Studios in Margate, UK, where she found new inspiration and opportunities for growth. Her practice also includes creating handmade garments that disrupt conventional understandings of femininity, further enriching her artistic expression. Overall, Kwakkenbos's art is a deeply personal exploration of her multifaceted identity.

Joline Kwakkenbos
Joline Kwakkenbos

Joline, thank you for taking the time to chat with us. Your work delves into the complexity of identity, particularly through self-portraits. Could you elaborate on how your childhood and experiences shape the themes you explore in your art?

Thank you! I believe our formative years often lay the groundwork for a lifelong journey of understanding, reconciling, and sometimes challenging our past. It’s a period of our first experiences with love, of impactful events, when self-reflection has yet to fully dawn. There were aspects of my youth that made me feel confused or evoked anger. Painting became my conduit for navigating these complexities. Initially, my canvases were filled with portraits where I personified various emotions as allegorical figures. I juxtaposed my struggles with the innocence of my inner child, weaving myself from the present into the tapestry—sometimes in harmony, sometimes in discord. As time passed, this introspective exploration evolved into a celebration of the diverse nature of personal identity. Ensuring an accurate portrayal of today's diverse human expression became very important to me. What does clothing signify as traditional gender roles blur? How do we interpret nudity through our own gaze? And as a woman artist, how can I redefine the essence of portrait art? This journey is not just about self-discovery; it’s a testament to the evolving narrative of human identity and expression.

Coming from a small Dutch village, how do you think your upbringing has shaped your artistic journey and the manner in which you convey yourself through painting?

Growing up in a small Dutch village nurtured my imagination and fostered an early love for nature. Surrounded by picturesque landscapes of fields, canals, and windmills, I developed a profound appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, as well as a strong sense of freedom in imagination and tranquility. However, as a young person, I often found myself yearning for excitement and adventure. Living in a conservative village grounded in a primitive farming lifestyle presented challenges in exploring aspects of myself beyond the familiar. It pushed me to delve into facets like my sexuality and the expression of it and radical thinking, ultimately leading to a deeper understanding of myself and shaping my artistic journey in new ways.

Queerness, for me, is a multifaceted identity of fluidity, resilience, and defiance against norms.

Joline Kwakkenbos

Your paintings often navigate themes of queerness, femininity, and personal history. Can you tell us more?

My paintings delve into my personal experiences, exploring queerness, femininity, and personal history through introspection and storytelling. Queerness, for me, is a multifaceted identity of fluidity, resilience, and defiance against norms. I celebrate the beauty and diversity of queer experiences, shedding light on struggles and triumphs. Femininity is also central, challenging traditional notions and reclaiming it as empowering and diverse. Personal history provides a canvas to explore memories and emotions that shape identity. My goal is to create dialogue and connection, sparking conversations about queerness, femininity, and personal history while finding broader courage and authenticity.

You mentioned that your portraits constantly balance between characters and yourself. Can you tell us more about how you navigate this dynamic between self-expression and portraying different personas?

In life, we often play multiple roles that fit within the societal framework, and these vary across time and culture. I am a daughter, a white Westerner, a woman, a lesbian an artist. To me, these are all roles that stem from old systems and hold a universal significance, revolving around how others perceive you. The self-portrait, for me, is a liberation from all these roles. I take full control over the representation of my own existence, clothed or naked, and determine what it means to me. It’s a collection of images that resonate with me or may have no association at all, images from my days in different clothing that transport me back in time or create a character I invent myself, or images where I take control of my internal human emotional world, allowing me to release sadness or preserve happiness.

Joline Kwakkenbos
Joline Kwakkenbos

Are there specific symbols, motifs, or imagery that you associate with the concept of rebirth in your art? If so, what do they represent to you?

I create self-portraits as a means of seizing full control over my existence. Through painting, I confront and navigate emotions like trauma, memory, and desire—forces that can otherwise overpower one's life. Within each portrait, I unlock the potential for an entirely new world to emerge, offering fresh perspectives on my own being. In my work, you’ll find echoes of traditional self-portraiture, where artists often depict themselves with canvas and brushes, symbolizing their craft. One recurring motif is the presence of a pocket-sized sketchbook, alongside elements of cross-dressing and spiritual figures seemingly confined within my body or surroundings. Over time, nudity has become a prominent theme—a symbol of constant rebirth. Throughout history, women have been predominantly portrayed nude by male artists, often with connotations of sensuality, eroticism, and divine beauty. In my self-portraiture, however, I reclaim ownership of my nudity, reshaping its meaning through my lived experience as a woman inhabiting my own body.

Looking back at your artistic journey so far, what have been some of the most significant milestones?

Theres only one answer to that; being able to fully live for art. It feels like Ive crawled through a tunnel of societal expectations. After many side jobs as a bartender and art teacher, I am now fully committed to painting and spend all my time doing what brings me the most happiness. The studio in Margate, offered to me by Tracey Emin, has played a significant role in this journey.

I create self-portraits as a means of seizing full control over my existence. Through painting, I confront and navigate emotions like trauma, memory, and desire—forces that can otherwise overpower one's life.

Joline Kwakkenbos

Have you ever experienced a significant moment of rebirth or transformation in your life that directly influenced your artistic work? If comfortable, could you share that experience and its impact on your art?

For a long time, I’ve been writing letters to “the Painter”, a character I’ve always desired to be or fully become. It’s an ongoing correspondence between the “human” and the “spiritual” aspects within my portraits. I’ve always believed that one must suffer to create art, to channel the most intense emotions. Over the years, I’ve been able to reconcile many dark emotions and am now following a new, more joyful path. I’ve watched my portraits transform; gradually, they begin to smile now.

As an artist, what do you hope viewers take away from experiencing your artwork? What conversations or reflections do you aim to inspire?

For me, the greatest happiness lies in painting, not in being seen. However, I do believe that art can broaden life’s horizons and serve to give people hope and wonder. I hope that people become curious, invent stories, but above all, learn the power of their own self-representation. I hope we can discover that we have the ability and the right to determine what our lives look like, how we see ourselves, and that we can find happiness in that and inspire others.

Looking ahead, what future projects or themes are you excited to explore in your art? Are there any new directions you're considering in your creative practice?

An integral aspect of my self-portraits is my profound appreciation for clothing. Having studied fashion design, I later redirected my focus towards painting, yet my fascination with garment creation and its historical significance seamlessly transitioned into my new artistic pursuit. Over time, I’ve curated and crafted a diverse array of remarkable pieces, each finding its place within the characters I experiment with in my portraits. Presently, I'm engaged in collaborative projects with contemporary fashion designers and tailors who share a commitment to exploring androgyny in their work, incorporating historical elements into their designs and materials. It’s an exciting new course, and through my paintings, I’m honored to capture a snapshot of this period while retaining full artistic control over the portrayal of myself, distinct from the digital realm.