interview • liz rice mccray

This month we had the pleasure of interviewing the lovely, talented, Dutch artist Roos Van Der Vliet. Roos is concerned with the human condition, particularly with how living in such a large and historic world affects our identities. She paints photorealist portraits of young women she identifies with in an effort to resolve these feelings of anonymity and alienation. Many thanks to Roos for taking the time to answers our questions. We look forward to staying in touch.

Will you describe where you are right now? This way everyone reading along can imagine the setting.
Well, I am sitting in my living room right now, at the dinner table. I’m listening to Soap&Skin (I love her so much!). There’s a huge black mug sitting next to me, with “I LOVE NYC” on it. I bought it last week when I was in New York. This mug is filled with tea. It’s dark and cold outside (freezing and snowing), but the heater is on, and it’s quite comfortable here. There’s this painting of my son hanging above the table. My living room is an open space; all the walls and curtains are white.

I painted my kitchen cabinets purple. I like it to be neat and tidy. I need that, because my studio is an enormous mess, always. It’s in my garden, very romantic, but you don’t want to see it right now. It’s like a battlefield of spilled coffee, paint and dead spiders. Gladly I quit smoking last year, because otherwise you would fall over ashtrays as well. When I’m in my studio, my head is filled with art, there’s no room left to think about cleaning.

Congrats on quitting smoking. Thanks for the great visual, your answer is the reason I love asking the question… Will you please introduce yourself to our reader, a little synopsis if you will?
I’m a 31-year-old female artist. Got my BFA in 2009, and I’ve painted almost constantly ever since. I’ve been teaching on the side for years, but painting was always the main thing. Last year I quit on all the other jobs. I saved some money and gave it a go. I worked my ass off, but one thing led to another, and it’s going better than ever. I am an insecure person though. I’m always afraid that this painting I sold will be the last one, or I’ll never have a show again, or that everyone will just forget about me all of the sudden. But I try to put it aside and live and enjoy it by the moment.

You were born in Dordrecht, in the Netherlands, and now currently living in Arnhem. Tell us about Arnhem.
Arnhem is a city in the Netherlands, near the German border. It’s the city where I studied at ArtEZ (Fine Art). It’s one of the greener and more hilly cities in the Netherlands. You can walk endlessly through all the different romantic parks.

I like it because it can be both quiet and very much alive. Because of ArtEZ, it’s an artistic city with a lot of nice little shops and hip cafés. I don’t think I will live here forever though, but for now I’m fine where I am.

You paint photorealistic portraits of women, mostly of their eyes and their hair hiding them, covering their mouths, leaving just beautiful details. Will you tell us about this series, your subjects, and what they might be concealing?
This is the hardest question. Although it’s my main series of works (I have been working on them for two years now), I still don’t know the actual answer to your question. It’s like the story develops while I keep on painting them. I make all these paintings rather intuitively. I don’t want to think too much because I don’t want to spoil them by overthinking. However, there are a few important elements that keep coming back in all of my work. Anonymity is one of them. Struggling with the unimportance of being human, while at the same time we tend to make ourselves the center of the universe. Outside versus inside is another one. How we are used to judging a book by its cover, and how that cover could never match the inner world. And above all, and this is the most important theme within my “Storytellers” series, that is this desire to be seen and heard, to be visible, but on the other hand to hide from this world, to close the curtains, to hide under the blankets. We want people to see us and listen, but we don’t want to talk. By painting these portraits I hope to make people stand still and look my paintings in the eyes. That’s why they are called “Storytellers.” The actual story can’t be heard, but it can be read by watching them closely. All these elements are contradictions actually, themes that I recognize both in myself and in the women I am portraying.

The beauty of your artwork is in the details. Would you call yourself a perfectionist? 
Yes, absolutely. I think most artists are perfectionists, because you have to be your own critic. I know I am usually a little too hard on myself, but I am okay with being a control freak. I enjoy getting lost in the details of a face, to challenge myself again with every new painting. You could even say that I’m trying to get more control over life by reproducing reality. Not necessarily over my own life, but life in general. By painting reality I’m understanding more of it. It makes me feel more real.

You mainly work with acrylic. How long does it take to create a piece?
I’m painting 8 to 12 hours a day, so I can work fast, and I usually finish paintings in about a week. But there are paintings that took only two days, and there are some that can take like a month or more. I’d say a week is perfect. Finishing a painting usually makes me a little sad because I get attached to my subject quite easily. But when working on a piece for more than a week I get a little impatient and hungry for the next one.

It must require an incredible amount of patience to create one of your paintings. Do you have strategies to sustain interest, enthusiasm and concentration?
The only way of sustaining interest in what I’m doing is by making sure that I love what I’m painting. I have to fall in love with the subject. I have to allow myself to paint all my favorite parts of a human being. To search for a balance between what I know by painting what I’m already capable of and what I don’t know by trying something new. For example, if you’d ask me to paint a basket of eggplants I’d probably get totally stressed because I’ve never painted eggplants before and this whole painting is just about eggplants, nothing is familiar. That’s no fun, that’s hours of hard work. I’ll manage it, but it won’t be a good painting. But if you’d ask me to paint a bowl of hair with an eggplant on it, it would be great fun and a nice challenge. I would then probably manage to paint a good-looking eggplant. I think that’s the key.

Have you ever had a moment of questioning your own personal identity?
That’s a hard one. I’d say no because I never had to go soul-searching in India or anything like that whatsoever. It’s been quite clear who I am. I’m just a grown up version of the girl I’ve always been. That doesn’t mean I’ve never felt lost though, or that I’m always okay with whom I am. It has been the opposite of that for years when I was struggling with so much stuff in my life that there simply wasn’t room for satisfaction and peace. I started painting self-portraits mainly because of this, and I think it has helped me to look at myself with a certain distance but also with an honest point of view. This distance helped me to get closer to myself. And placing me amongst other models with their own stories gave me a wider perspective. I’m not that unique and knowing that is comforting in a way.

Do you do any commissioned portraits?
I do. I like doing them when I have the time. I learn a lot from them. It’s different when I am not the one choosing the subject.

Last question, where can people check out your art?
My website,, Instagram: @roosvandervliet and my Facebook,