Dutch Artist Meets Budapest

An Interview with Stefan Bleekrode

Dutch artist Stefan Bleekrode’s artworks probably make everyone wonder how it is possible to create such cityscapes that he draws. Stefan has visited Budapest several times and captured the Hungarian capital from a meticulous bird’s eye perspective. Let’s check the results!

When did you decide to become an artist, illustrator?
I dont think I have ever consciously decided to become an artist. It was something that struck me. I’ve been drawing (probably more doodling) ever since I was able to hold a pencil. After a visit to Paris as a 10-year-old I wanted to capture all the famous buildings I’d seen so I decided to do a felt tip pen drawing of the entire city. Ever since I have continued to work, often with mixed results, on new drawings trying out all kinds of architectural styles. The idea to become an artist has never really taken root in my mind as a child or adolescent, even now, it sounds a bit awkward for me to say I’m an artist. Perhaps you’re one right from the start or you aren’t.

When and why did you choose this very specific form of art? (I’m referring to your drawings right now.)
Similarly to the previous question, I’ve never really chosen this, at least not consciously. The Paris drawing was just a way to recapture what I’d seen; I didn’t even consider it art. I never woke up in one morning and said: Eureka, I’m going to spend hundreds of hours working on meticulous bird’s eye perspective drawings. I just kept on doing what I liked best, creating quietly and uninhibited by prevailing artistic trends and combining my love for drawing with my interest in architecture, urban planning and perspective.

Do you think your personality manifests in your pictures?
Yes, certainly. “The man’s the work. Something doesn’t come out of nothing”, to quote the American painter Edward Hopper.

How do you choose locations for your projects?
I don’t, I just record in a sketchbook everything I find interesting and see if I can use it again later on. There are a number of places that inspire me more than others. Cities that are regularly featured in my drawings are, of course, Budapest, but also New York, Prague, Rome and Naples and more occasionally Paris and London. Most of my paintings are more site specific and aren’t so much an amalgamation of ideas. Clearly, the influence of North America is visible in my paintings but more recently I’ve also found a great number of ideas in Budapest and Transylvania where the wild mountains have attracted my attention.

How much time do you need to finish a piece?
This varies depending on size and subject. A little drawing can be done in 25–40 hours of work. A big drawing, like the one of Budapest, takes roughly 4 to 6 months to complete and as many as 1000 hours. I’m still reworking that one actually.

How did you come up with the idea to draw pictures of Budapest?
I went to Budapest for the first time in 2007 and, honestly, I didn’t really know what to expect. For three days I was walking around somewhat perplexed; there was a city that could rival Paris and London, yet it was so awkwardly mysterious with a language and culture that were completely puzzling and foreign to me. I wasn’t able to understand anything or anyone but to me this only added a depth of character to the city. I was immediately fascinated by the architecture, the neoclassical, the Gothic revival, the baroque and the art nouveau style. There seemed to be another imposing, highly original structure to be discovered around every corner. I’d never heard of the architect Ödön Lechner, but his masterpieces such as the Post Savings Bank and The Museum of Applied Arts in Üllői Road could measure up with Guadi’s structures in Barcelona. I made three small watercolours of the Danube and the Parliament, and when I came home I immediately started a 60×40cm drawing of the Grand Boulevard.

Over the course of the last seven years I have repeatedly visited Budapest again and again, and the fascination has grown even stronger. By now I must have done about ten drawings of Budapest (two of them aren’t finished) and an equal number of paintings. Especially, the two great railway stations and the dark side streets of the Grand Boulevard caught my eye.

What are the biggest challenges while working on those pictures?
There are many actually. Getting the perspective right is the most important but also working out a composition can be tough. Before I start working on a drawing I only have a global idea of what I want. I fill in the details as I go along. This can alter both the perspective and the composition so I have to be cautious. Also, spilling ink is something to watch out for.

Are you planning to visit Budapest again?
Certainly, I’ve been there numerous times now, but the city still continuous to amaze and inspire me for both drawings and paintings.

I’m thinking of doing a drawing now that will only show the bridges seen from Margaret Island all the way to the Liberty Bridge. I’ll probably have to crop the image severely to make it fit on a rectangular piece of paper. Furthermore, I’m currently working on a small watercolour of a station that heavily resembles the Western Railway Station.

What do you consider your greatest success so far?
There are two on an equal level. In 2012 I was given the opportunity to exhibit in Bern, Switzerland. Every three months the accomplished Swiss photographer Werner Tschan turns his photo studio located in the old centre of Bern into a marvellous gallery in which he exhibits talent not normally seen in galleries. He calls these events appropriately KeineKunst. Two pieces of mine had been already sold before the show opened, and after it had closed, all the drawings got sold and I had seven commissioned pieces to do. Since then I’ve been able to devote all my time to my art.

Besides that I must mention the show which opened this September at the Frank Welkenhuysen gallery in Utrecht, the Netherlands, of MC Escher. Three of my drawings were placed next to his prints.



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