Prepossessingly perched atop the Reception in the Whitby Hotel in New York City; two women are seated beside each other, clutching their beautifully embellished purses. You wonder what they may be chatting about as they seem to gaze just past you. Shrouded in brightly colored clothing and one in a headdress, they breathe oxygen into the senses with their vibrant, lady-like prose amidst the patrons coming and going, and one cannot help but ask, “Who did that??”
That’s exactly how it happened. I’m sure it happens all day long. The hotel employee obliged me and wrote the artist’s name down because it was hard to catch it the first time they said it. My friend Ilene, (who has a great eye) walked me over to the hotel to see the art after she had a meeting there earlier in the day. If you haven’t been, the Whitby is a lovely boutique hotel next to Central Park and is exceptionally pleasant for tea. The design is unique, and the rooms and decor are very well-appointed.
To answer the question, who did that?? It’s Carla Kranendonk. I did a little investigating and saw she was from Amsterdam. Her works are not only in the Whitby hotel, but they are also in South Africa, exhibited across the Netherlands and in London. Her work is held in private collections in New York, Cape Town, the Middle East, Barbados, Curacao, Geneva, Israel, Japan, Singapore, London and the list goes on. To put the icing on the cake, she has even done a clothing line with “Alice and Olivia.”
Carla’s work on the surface is brightly colored patters of black female characters. These women are meticulously dressed figures lovingly rendered amidst the joining of vibrant patterns and interwoven color. They represent engagement in the illumination of connectivity, consciousness, and reconciliation of universal love, bridging dichotomic paradigms.
Back in Miami, I saw Carla’s patterns on clothes in the Alice and Olivia window in the design district. I took a picture in front of it, deciding it was fate and got in touch with Carla straight away, making a time to meet her in Amsterdam.
When we met:
It was the damp kind of day where your fingers refuse to warm up, and you want to hold a mug of something warm. Fifty-two degrees at the end of May and raining. Strategically positioning myself in front of a fireplace in the lobby of my hotel, I waited for Carla. A petite, blue-eyed, sweet-faced woman walked in and said my name. We had some coffee and chatted about her career.
She told me the story of how it all began with a thoughtful gesture of love. Carla’s husband is from Suriname, and they have two sons, ages nineteen and twenty-two. The first picture she created like this, was made in honor of the memory of her mother in law after she had passed away. Carla wanted to honor her. What evolved after became a labor of love through color and gesture and awareness.
She indicates in her work:
1. The women in the paintings usually have stylish shoes. She educates, by explaining to me slave women were not allowed to wear shoes, so in most of her paintings, they are given beautiful shoes, which is her way of breaking down the social/economic barrier. In her eyes all women are worthy to express or wear the things they would like to.
2. The second is intricately beaded, elegant purses, (sometimes two), because according to Carla, “A bag is a place where a woman holds her secrets and only she knows what is inside.”
Three times she had to explain, so I knew what I heard correctly (I’ll blame it on jet lag). She takes patterned fabric she likes, photocopies it in black and white on paper. She adheres the photocopy on canvas and adds color. A lot of colors. Colors and patterns you would never think would work next to each other. She then will add layers, and beads, and embroidery, and it is terrific. We had a good laugh, when I said, “Let me get this straight (for the third time) its photocopied fabric on paper?”
Recalling the day gallerist Stephanie Hoppen first contacted her makes your heart jump a little. (I think I clasped my hands together as she told me what happened.) When Carla wasn’t painting, she had been cleaning houses part-time to subsidize income. While cleaning a home, she noticed a number she didn’t recognize on her cell. She picked up the phone, and it was Stephanie Hoppen, a gallerist who owned the Hoppen Gallery on Walton Street in Knightsbridge, London. This call changed her life. She told Carla she had seen her work and wanted to meet with her about repping her art. It was like a dream come true for Carla. Stephanie took Carla under her wing and her creativity into the world. When Stephanie retired, and the Hoppen Gallery closed, she found another gallery for Carla, referring her to the Rebecca Hossack Gallery, who is representing her work today. Carla is very appreciative of both Stephanie and Rebecca and loves working with them.
I can somehow envision little Carla Kranendonk in her home in the tiny village of Steggerda, Westellingwerf, (population 1049). She loved it there. Young Carla spent her days creating, and not focusing on her education. From a young age, she wanted to be an artist. Her mother always gave her the freedom she wanted and let her make up her mind about what she wanted to do. She is what one would refer to as a river person. Meaning, her whole life, she knew what she wanted and always moved in that direction. After an academic exam, the first art academy she applied to liked her work, and she got in. So, she left Stefferda, and after spending two years, primarily creating abstract works, she was then admitted to the prestigious, Rijksacademie van Beeldende Kunsten, in Amsterdam.
Carla has a special kind of spirit. A private, humble, polite person, with an underlying confidence and a mature, pragmatic outlook on her work. For instance, I asked her if she does commissions. She said she has, but she prefers the creative autonomy to create and, ” If someone likes it, they buy it.” I liked that about her. She doesn’t say it with ego, just ease of mind.
What were you taught in the Reich Academy?
It was very free there; you can make what you want. In the beginning, I was making ladies, in a cubistic style and then changed to abstract. But I was always thinking about Africa and African landscapes, and in the end, I didn’t want to make abstract, I wanted to make something real. So, it all came together, even now, at this moment, I still think I am an abstract painter with the color and compositions, and how everything comes along, in a mixed media. It evolved naturally over time.
It must be interesting sometimes when people see you are the artist of the subjects in your paintings, does it surprise you?
I don’t see why people think it is strange. It’s not strange, for me, it’s normal. Sometimes, they think it is African, which it’s inspired by. People categorize things, and I don’t paint a painting by its color. I am making this art that I love.
Where do you see your work going?
I want to make something with Fabrics on the wall, like stitch work, or tapestry in the future. At this time, I am automatically going from one work to another.
Do you show anyone your work before it’s done?
“I am always asking my husband what he thinks. He gives me good advice. If he says, I don’t know; I don’t like it when he says that, (she says with a laugh) I’ll fix it. I realize he has a good eye for color.”
In every painting, Carla bestows beauty, grace and the visual voice of empowerment that so many never had, making it exciting to witness her success. When you know her story, you feel like you are embracing it with her, because with her success, she remains humble and focused on her work, just as she always has. Given Carla’s knack of commingling the brightest of colors and layering them in a bountiful blend of bursting beauty, I am inclined to believe with advocation; she will be doing wallpaper, furniture, and handbags as well before we know it.
You can follow her on Instagram @Carlakranendonkartist