Viewing the work of Dutch artist Casper Faassen is akin to peering through the mists of time. With a studio in Leiden, the birthplace of Rembrandt, Faassen takes inspiration from the classical paintings he was introduced to during his youth in The Netherlands. Specifically, he approaches the vanitas genre of still-life painting from a new perspective, developing a unique visual language through the combination of photography, paint, and the application of craquelure. We talk to him about the meaning behind his meticulous practice, the relationship between the eternal and the temporal, and an artist’s relationship with the past. 
How would you describe your creative practice?
I work with different mediums, finding new ways to visualize things that impress me in art history, nature and life. Right now, I’d say sixty per cent photography, thirty per cent painting, and ten per cent film. I think this processing of impressions started when I was seven and first saw Rembrandt’s Nachtwacht – later painting my colourful version on my bedroom wall. My studio is in Leiden, where Rembrandt was born, so that whole romantic idea of being able to walk his steps still has a ring.
Your works demonstrate the stunning potential of combining photography and painting. What led you to this?
Ever since I can remember, I have loved to paint and draw. When this pastime became more of a profession, I had regular sittings with models. I took photographs as sketches or reference for my paintings. At a certain point, I started to have fun with lighting and composition, and the photographs started to become works in themselves. I didn’t like the directness or recognisability though. When looking at a nude in a painting, you look at paint on canvas so you never feel like a voyeur. You are not there. I wanted to create that same distance in my photos so I started building them up like paintings with several transparent layers – adding painted layers as well.
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Much of your work deals with vanitas, or the concept of transience. Yet you also explore nostalgia and preservation through a connection with history and visual ageing. How do you reconcile transience and longevity within your work?
That juxtaposition between the eternal and the temporal, beauty and decay, is my main theme. All painters and photographers have the ability to freeze time and capture one moment. I emphasize that role by adding elements of time. Not necessarily by using literal vanitas symbols but in the handling of materials. My subjects are traditional painterly subjects that have been explored in all times, which emphasises my standpoint that my work is about a different language or idiom, not about new stories.
You use a layer of craquelure on the surface of your works, which creates a sense of age, but also of distance. Which is most important to you? Why?
The craquelure is there for age, in the first place. It is my way of adding time. It does, however, also work visually as this is paint and thus sharp, contrasting with the rest of the blurry image. Most of the distance is created by the way the picture is taken; through a matte medium. I print the image on to that same matte medium giving a further sense of distance. A divider also touches the subjects, or vice versa. It can give the idea of pressed flowers: beauty at first sight, but also a little oppressive.
What I also like about the craquelure is the texture it gives to the surface or skin. The work becomes more material, more painterly. It’s an initial hint on the surface of the work pointing at painting instead of photography, encouraging one to judge it as a painting instead of a photograph.
What is your opinion on the idea of immortalisation through art, either as artist or subject?
I find it difficult to see myself as an artist or someone who is adding things to the art timeline. The process comes naturally to me and it is something that I need to do. When I look at other artists, of course, I can admire and love the idea that their art transcends time and that periods build upon each other. I was in the Lascaux caves last week, and the idea of this work being there for twenty thousand years is just amazing. But on the flip side, honestly, of course I am flattered when a museum collects my work – not for commercial reasons but because they think it’s good enough to keep as some kind of milestone.
How do you choose your subjects?
I come across my subjects in several ways, and like to work on multiple different series at the same time. Right now, I’m working around Ballet, Cityscapes and Morandi still lives. Just a couple of years ago, I got the chance to work with five dancers of the Dutch National Ballet for a charity and was captivated. Dance also symbolises the transience of things: it doesn’t last. I started working with film because that way I could do more with this idea of appearing and disappearing.
I started the Cityscape project because of an exhibition I organized with five contemporary artists from Leiden, working around five 17th-century painters from the same city. I coupled myself with Jan van Goyen and his View on Leiden. I forced myself into a new subject. Morandi still lives are just so blissful. These desaturated super simple compositions are as close to abstraction as I would like to get right now.
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Videos on your website give a glimpse into the process behind such otherworldly images. How important is process to you in the creation of meaning within your work?
Not so much. The process to me is important and, as I get older, I start to recognize the ups and downs, so I don’t panic as much anymore. In the past, I felt guilty because I was told artists have to suffer in order to create and I had the perfect youth and all. But I found out the suffering is in the process. It can be painful. I guess the main reason for giving glimpses of the process is because I get asked about it and it can give a framework.
Your Asia series demonstrates a deep interest in the traditional culture of Japan, specifically. Did the connection between your use of the craquelure technique and the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi influence your work? What led to you focusing creatively on Japanese culture and art?
Many aspects of Asian aesthetics inspire me. In architecture and design, there is the use of transparencies and wood, sliding doors, the whole introspective attitude toward things, Wabi Sabi, etc. I started noticing my work had components of these aspects in it. I started studying prints and asking why they were so appealing to me – noting the different layers, whites, negative space, stillness, etc. The Japanmuseum Sieboldhuis recognized these similarities and asked me to make an exhibition focussing on their collection. That’s when I started using more literal references to Japan, like blossoms, Kimonos and a more positive way of looking at the transience of things than the Dutch 17th-century Calvinist vanitas way – Mono No Aware, a slight melancholic feeling when realizing all things pass that comes with a desire to seize the moment and have lunch under the blossoms while they remain.
Kintsugi did not have a direct influence. The craquelure was already there but fits well in my reaction to the fragile Japanese prints that fade in the light. They are symbols of beauty and decay in themselves. And within the Mono No Aware idea, I also needed my reference to time. When exhibiting in Shanghai, I did get asked about the craquelure and whether it had to do with old Chinese dynasties and their porcelain. It all somehow came together a little bit.
What has been the proudest moment so far for you as a creative?
I was pretty excited when my View on Dordrecht hung side by side with Jan van Goyen’s. I guess when my creative progress keeps floating and goes hand in hand with the recognition, I couldn’t ask for much more.
Finally, what excites you most at the moment?
I just came back from a flea market in the Dordogne and found the most beautiful simple elegant glass vases. Can’t wait to get back to my studio and start working with them.
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