Dutch-born, Noortje Stortelder combines different techniques across multiple mediums. The digital follows up on the analogue, but can also be a source of inspiration by itself. In conversation with Nina Knaack, she discusses her artistic journey and how making NFTs gave her the recognition and freedom that she had been searching for throughout her career.
This piece was originally published on Nina Knaack's personal website.
After a brief stint in commercial design, Noortje studied at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam from 2006 to 2010. She initially focused on lifestyle and design, but quickly found that making autonomous art suited her better. “My work was not at all made with a selling point of view. I was not commercial enough,” she explains.
Three years of artistic research and practice followed, with graduating as a sculptor being the result. “Back then I actually only made sculptures, and not digital art. I loved working with my hands and learning more about specific crafts. Together with my artistic partner I made big physical 3D works out of latex and rubber.”
After graduating as an artist, Noortje decided to pursue further study. “This time something where you really had to learn from books. I felt like I needed that, as if that was ‘actually studying’ and art school didn’t count. But soon after starting the sociology degree I noticed that I couldn’t live without creating. That’s when I knew that my destiny was to make things, all the time.”
“My work was not at all made with a selling point of view. I was not commercial enough.”
— Noortje Stortelder
However, making enormous installations and sculptures is not easy if you do not have the space and the materials at hand. “I was quite short on money, but felt that I had to make things somehow. I started making 2D works. I had my laptop and I had Photoshop on it, so that’s the medium I decided to use. In the beginning this resulted in very raw collages. I stole photos from the internet and used them as parts of my assemblages.
“Of course I knew that wasn’t really correct, but I sort of felt rebellious towards the internet culture. Everybody was just putting everything out there and I felt a need to then use it to make something new. Eventually, I did research on when you were allowed to reuse other people’s images; when you totally reform them to an extent that they’re not recognisable anymore, it’s alright.”
Even though the medium through which Noortje began to work was very different from what she was used to, the working process felt the same. “Sculpturing consists of working with layers of clay and other materials, constantly building new pieces on each other. I would also make prints of body parts, paste that on the physical sculpture and then make new molds and forms of that again. In Photoshop you actually do exactly the same: add on, redesign, reprint, cut, paste; again and again. It all felt very familiar and it also felt really good to be in the process of making something again.”
From that moment onwards, Noortje started to produce a lot of art in a range of mediums. “Besides making my own digital collages, I also worked a lot with musicians and dancers, making their video clips or posters for performances. “The dancers gave me a lot of new inspiration with regard to working with the human body as a starting point. They showed me how you can use a body and all its parts. Music can be another great inspiration for me, especially with regards to the emotions I feel and trying to capture those feelings in my artwork.”
Noortje's biggest artistic influences come from Auguste Rodin and Hans Bellmer. “Overall you can say that my work is always about transformation: the transitions between humans and nature and their unique structures. Body language is fascinating to me. Your posture is an underestimated form of communication. They present you something without words and there are a lot of emotions involved. I once had a very vivid dream about human bodies and I’ve been trying to visualise that in my work ever since.”
Nature is another early source of inspiration, due to the fact that her parents always took the family out to the forest and framed what they were seeing all around them. “Also, the older I get, the bigger small things become for me. One leaf can now be such a magnificent thing for me to experience, whereas before I would probably have focused on the tree as a whole.”
Her 2D works were part of several exhibitions over time, printed and framed. Sometimes Noortje would sell a print but she always kept feeling that ‘this is not it yet’. “I had to work in bars at night to make my living. In the mornings I would then create. I was quite frustrated about this from time to time but the urge to make things still stayed. So I kept on going.”
Then the big Beeple sale happened. Noortje was deluged with texts all asking the same question: should she not do something with NFTs? She had briefly heard about crypto art through another platform, but had not learnt much about the space so far. “Since multiple friends drew my attention to it, I decided to research it. 'What do I have to lose?’ I thought to myself.” She created a wallet on the Ethereum blockchain and started putting art on OpenSea. She minted a series from 2017, called Bugs (now Crypto Bugs), and started a Twitter account. After a month or so, Noortje reacted to a tweet by a ‘dark art’ profile that asked ‘Show me your Dark Art’. Noortje posted her work and soon after got a message from a collector who was very interested in her work. “He then pretty much immediately bought it and, for the first time, I felt the recognition I had missed all these years.”
After that, Noortje was motivated to learn more and work more in web3. She spent a lot of time watching YouTube videos about how to market your NFTs and how to build a community in the space, eventually coming into contact with Yam Karkai from World of Women and receiving an invitation for Foundation through her. She also began minting on Tezos. “Sometimes I make these quick and raw images/collages that might feel slightly unfinished but are actually quite interesting visuals. Those I drop on Tezos and this gives me great freedom. Other works that have a long making process or are part of a bigger collection I put on Ethereum.”
“I have never felt so strongly about my art as now, since it gets worldly recognition. This is what I was looking for.”
— Noortje Stortelder
But whichever blockchain she uses, Noortje feels like she found her ‘crew’. “When I started minting NFTs, it suddenly all clicked for me. There are people out there that are actually interested in my work. They like it and they also want to pay for it. I guess I always felt that I didn’t really belong in the Dutch, traditional art world. My work has a touch of fantasy and that doesn’t really have a place here or in the big museums. However, in other parts of the world it’s much appreciated and that feels amazing.”
After almost 18 months in crypto, she remains very grateful for the community she found in the web3 art world. “The internet gave me a lot. It was first a starting point to make art again, the 2D works in Photoshop, and now I’m distributing my own collections and new creations all over the world. I love to use the blockchain technique as a new medium. It gives you so many different possibilities. For example working with different layers and minting different versions of a work.”
Noortje also sees making NFTs as a way to overlay her physical work. For example, if she creates a sculpture, she then fragments certain elements from it to reshape it in a digital art piece. Crypto art and physical art are therefore intrinsically related; “they complement each other.”
Bear market or not, Noortje has confidence in the web3 and NFT communities. “I think that this time is perfect to create a lot of new work. As long as you stay active on Twitter and Discord, I think you’ll get there with the community that you built and are still building. I have never felt so strongly about my art as now, since it gets worldly recognition. This is what I was looking for.”
“Overall you can say that my work is always about transformation: the transitions between humans and nature and their unique structures.”
— Noortje Stortelder
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