Ria Houwen arrived on the island in 1973. Her first exhibit was held in 1975 at ‘gallery rg’ in Punda. As was the custom in those days the exhibit didn’t have a title and the invite simply read: ‘Schilderijen en Aquarellen door Ria van der Mullen-Houwen.’ (Paintings and Watercolors by Ria van der Mullen-Houwen).
The exhibit was succeeded by a solo in The Curacao Museum in 1978. In the following year she was also invited to do a solo at Cas di Cultura on Aruba. Through the years Ria kept on exhibiting regularly, locally as well as abroad. In 2003 she participated with a solo at the Miami International Art Fair (MIA) and in 2011 she was one of 10 local artists invited by the American curator Susan Wilczak to participate in ‘Island Reflections’ in Michigan (US).
Ria’s latest local exhibit ‘Water’, took place in 2011 at Mon Art Gallery. The paintings showed figures moving under water, surrounded by all different kinds of blue. Beautiful dark hues, stunning turquoise and every possible shade of blue, contrasting with the white bubbles and foam created by the movement of the figures.
“This last exhibit took me back to my starting point, namely just pure painting. During my career as a painter I have experimented a lot with different styles and methods, like my Assemblies and Pandora boxes. But now I am back to just painting again. The human body has also reappeared. When I first started the body was a recurrent theme in my work. It was inspired by the Greek Kouros statues. Later it disappeared, but now it has returned.”
The art of Ria is romantic and dreamy, but also powerful and sensual. During the years it has become more and more abstract. Her imagination is strong as ever. “And I am not ready yet”, she smiles, “There is still so much more…”.
2012: Text by Josée Thissen-Rojer.
Click here for the documentary ‘Island Reflections (2011) on 10 Curacao visual artists.
Exhibition: ‘Goodbye Ria Houwen – Farewell Curaçao’, in Gallery Alma Blou (2022).
Exhibition: ‘Water 3.0’ in Gallery Alma Blou (2017).
Exhibition: ‘Strong Women’ in Landhuis Bloemhof (2017)
Click here for the exhibition ‘Water II’, in 2014.
Students of Ria Houwen: ‘Through the years with Ria Houwen’ (2013).
Students of Ria Houwen: ‘Through my eyes’ (2014).
Temporary studio in the Rif Fort (2013).
by Ria Houwen
The Sea inspires me in all her shapes and forms. I have painted her several times before. First, I was looking for the tension, between the water and the coast. There, where the sea meets the land, you get an interesting game, just at that line, where they meet each other.
The sea is sizzling and sparkling…. the land is quiet and receives the water. But that happens only where there is sand. At the rocky coast, or North-coast, where the rocks are hanging over… there is a struggle between land and sea… It is a dramatic fight. The sea wants to come in….. the rocks are defending.
The water is rising, with big splashes… The rocks, are falling towards the water, splitting and bending. There is a never-ending repetition of struggle between the two elements: water and earth.
I was also interested, a few years ago, in the big rain-curtains, hanging over the ocean. They were so gray, so dark blue, so mysterious. When clouds, full of water, pass our island and drop the rain far away on the ocean, it is an immense view.
The sea is kind of a motherlike creature. She can be overwhelming and close you in her arms. It’s enormous, how she can change shape and color.
My paintings, nowadays, try to tell about the light and the water. The light falls upon the surface of the water and tries to break through it. Circles form on top of the water -and when the light reaches the bottom, it forms a kind of moving trapezium beneath. When you are swimming under the surface, short moving lines appear on your body. These lines play with the roundness of your arms, legs and belly. Fascinating, how they do that.
The shades of color change from pethalo-blue towards turquoise and pethalo-green… to blue ultramarin. Under the water suface, looking up, you see all the different structures, water can create. When the light comes from above and cuts the water elow, you see beams. These kind of water-pillars are like the swords of warriors. Cutting the sea. But, in a very silent way. So silent.
What I am looking for in my work is the ultimate moment. The moment when the body of the swimmer is one with the sea.The sea is sizzling, splashing and foaming. You see all the bubbles and bells. The sea is protesting.
In horseback riding, there also is a moment when the rider is one with the horse. It is a wonderful moment. It is about feeling. But in a painting, it is about seeing. It’s a visual-one-ness.
My obsession is to make a painting in which the bubbles of the protesting rebellious sea close in to the swimmer and embrace the human body. That has to be a stand-still moment. No movement any more. Sparks and bubbles are frozen. The water is still water. But just like, and together with the human being, grasped in an eternal light.
Studying at the Academy of Visual Arts in Holland, I met a guy. He came from an island in the Caribbean: Curaça0. That name was sounding magical to me! I will never forget, that first moment when I heard that name ‘Curaçao’. Something was resounding in me.
And so it happened that we, as a couple, travelled to Curaçao. We came by boat…..
It was an amazing feeling to see the island, slowly rising out of the sea. I came by choice. And with the first step on the island, I knew, here… I am going to stay. This is my place… I felt like coming home.
After a few years my husband wanted to go back to Holland. I had to decide, to stay or to leave. So I stayed.
For 38 years I have been living on Curaçao, and all that time the island has given me inspiration and the opportunity to develop my work.
©Ria Houwen, 2011.
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