By Martina Losi
Annemarie Busschers is looking at her face in the mirror. There is a new red spot on the right side of her visage, perfectly arranged on her chin. It is just under the wrinkle that goes down from the lips. It blends with many other tiny spots that she has on her face.
It was 2003, Annemarie was 33, and one year earlier she gave birth to her son. Since then, more than sixty exhibitions have displayed her works in the Netherlands, Europe, and the United States. In 2013, she won two prizes in the Netherlands, her home country: Wessel Gansfortprize in Groningen and the second prize for the Museum Belvedere of Heerenveen for the Collection exhibition ReseT. In 2015, she received the van Lanschot art prize.
Annemarie loves aging. “My face is getting older and, I think, more beautiful as well, wiser”. She does not understand how some people would resort to surgery to cover their own wrinkles. “All our lives are written on our skin”.
She started drawing as a child, when her mother used to bring recycled materials home and with her three brothers she had fun painting, constructing objects and sewing clothes. They never sat still at their place and even now, it is not easy to find her sitting with her arms folded. If she is not working in her studio, she is either cooking or gardening.
Currently, the University Museum of Groningen is hosting an exhibition of some of her latest works, including a room dedicated to her “Copying the world” piece. When I meet her there, she is moving around as if she was in her living room. Hung on the walls, there are four paintings, giant portraits of people whose faces are damaged, wrinkled and looking pinched. Next to each painting, there is the related case with the mould of those heads, made out of cement.
Annemarie tells me that those molds were part of an extensive collection of clinical cases. The patients had their faces reconstructed after surgical operations. Some of them had deep holes in their cheeks, where prostheses were inserted. Others had some part of the face completely missing as if it had been ripped off.
The painting that catches one’s eyes entering the room portrays one of those molds. The white statue of a stone man’s head stays on a bright green background. “I decided to start from the hardest model,” says Annemarie. The whole left side of that face is missing, completely empty, with no eye, no cheekbone nor cheek. The right side instead has expression wrinkles and signs that are typical of a man in his fifties.
“The guy was a lucky bastard”, says Annemarie, “because he is a survivor”. Jack – that is the name of the model, or at least that is how Annemarie renamed him – survived a dangerous form of tumor that had developed on his faces. As a result, he had to have his eye and cheekbone removed. As I watch him again, now it seems to me that his mouth is thinly extended in a wide smile.
When Annemarie was enrolled in the Minerva academy of Arts of Groningen, she did not have high ambitions, contrary to her classmates. She merely wanted to become an illustrator of children books and she used to draw a lot just to have fun, dreaming with a pencil on her hand.
Due that there was no study program for illustrators, she was given the possibility to choose which teachers to work with. She decided to learn from those, not very many, who were able to talk openly about their own weaknesses. “I could not stand whoever would let everyone else think that he had a perfect life. We all deal with imperfections, in our face, and in our lives, and that is what makes us interesting. No one wants a Barbie in our beds, right? We want a person that is unique, with all their lacks”.
After her child was born in 2002, Annemarie became mature as a painter. She radically changed her painting style, going from dreamlike paintings such as the illustrations of Divina Commedia’s Inferno, to the realism of portraits.
The painting that most sanctions her change, of course, is the first portrait that she made of her son, when at the age of one, he got eczema. As a mother, she was concerned for his health, but while portraying him, she realised that he was beautiful with his shiny eyes and those red stains around his chest as a necklace. When his illness passed, the kid got chickenpox and probably all other childhood diseases, but at this point, the painter’s journey had already started. Fascinated by faces imperfections, asymmetries and the signs of aging and life, Annamarie has been painting portraits for 13 years.
People have often criticized Annemarie’s works, not understanding why she represents people with illnesses and anomalies on their faces. Even if she makes portraits on commission, she cannot avoid focusing on the details that differentiate one face from the other.
“People only want their best side to be represented. They ask the painter to improve reality, to make it perfect instead of representing it. But this is not what I intend to do, it is so boring!” she says.
She lately began to delve into the study of ancient sculptures, Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and medievals, that time and weather ruined. She admires the way they got chipped, fragmented, they lost some parts or changed color over time. Just like our bodies. “It is the signs, the scratches, and the wrinkles that we have on our faces that make us interesting. Whatever has left a mark and changed us defines us as unique individuals.”.
Strongly focused on her present and daily life, between her studio, her family, and her two dogs, all that Annemarie wishes for her professional life is to continue being happy with her work.