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Marleen De Waele - Nashville, Tennessee

Story published in November 2016  | Interview conducted in July 2015

Marleen De Waele-De Bock is a renowned artist living in Nashville. I have completely fallen in love with her body of work and colorful paintings. Her color palette is so joyful yet peaceful that I can stare at her paintings for hours. It was such a pleasure to visit Marleen in Tennessee and staying with her for a few days !

SignMyCar! Belgians Living in the US.
Maputo, Mozambique (1984-1987)

Art has always played a huge part in Marleen’s life. She has always painted and drawn as a child. Marleen received a degree with specialization in printmaking from a prestigious art school in Belgium Printmaking trained her eyes for principles of design and taught her precision and patience. After her graduation, Marleen moved to Mozambique for three years with her husband, Freddy De Bock. She was in charge of educating the local population about the mining industry. “Most people could not read, so I drew posters explaining the rules and regulations of mining. The resources were so scarce - art supplies were unavailable - I had to use paper bags and pencils. The civil war was raging, it was really unsafe to be there. Our time in Mozambique was very challenging. We learned so much from it. When we returned to Belgium, it was amazing to go shopping and be able to go out for dinner again.” Marleen’s time in Mozambique helped her on how to capture beauty in the present moment which is an important element in her current work.

Johannesburg, South Africa (1990 - 2001)

After a two and a half year stay in Mozambique, Marleen came back to Belgium, where two of her children (Sarah and Thibaut) were born. Afterwards, she pursued additional education in Graphic Design and Illustrations. In 1990, Freddy was offered a position in Johannesburg. The family ended up staying in South Africa for ten years. It is where Marleen and Freddy’s third child, Joachim, was born. After moving to South Africa, Marleen’s work started shifting from printmaking to painting. “My art inspiration comes from my direct environment. And here I was, totally immersed into a different culture. I started painting the colorful marketplaces, sculptures and wildlife surrounding me”.

When she was in Africa, Marleen applied her skills in design and painting to open her own fashion line of children clothes. “I have always had a thing for fashion. I had ideas on how I wanted my children’s clothes to look like but I couldn’t find what I was looking for. So I decided to make my own line of clothes! I created my own designs and printed fabrics. The business was really successful. If I hadn’t been a  painter, I would have loved being a fashion designer! When I shop at TJ Maxx, women often ask me for fashion or accessories advice. It is really cool to help them achieve a style.” Marleen closed her business in 2001 to move to the United States with her husband, who was reassigned to Nashville.

 

Nashville, Tennessee (2001-now)

Moving to Tennessee was a real culture shock. At first, Marleen didn’t like the city. “I am a big city person, places like New York and San Francisco. It took me a while to adjust to the Southern culture and mindset. But Nashville has become this big art place, it attracts wonderful artists and musicians from all around the country. It is buzzing with art-related activities. It has great energy going for it .”

 

Marleen got her first Nashville show at a small gallery in the Parthenon in 2003. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Nashville, having your work exhibited there is a big deal and a great opportunity! Marleen presented her collection of paintings depicting African sculptures. It was a big hit. “Some people ask me if I still paint African sculptures. But since I draw my inspiration from my environment, I can’t paint this anymore”.

Marleen’s paintings

Nowadays, Marleen’s work is inspired by the quiet Tennessean nature surrounding her. She paints flowers, landscapes and atmospheres. Her paintings are characterized by a mixture of abstraction and impressionism, colors and texture. Have I told you how much I love her paintings? Her abstract night scenes with purple always puts me in a peaceful trance.

 

I asked Marleen about her process. She doesn’t have a set of subjects to paint. Instead, she finds beauty and joy in simple objects and daily life scenes. She walks around with her camera to capture landscapes and details. She uses these photographs as an inspiration board. Marleen paints from her pictures and her imagination. She works in layers. Her first step is to cover the canvas with gel to create an abstract background. Then she outlines initial shapes with acrylic paint. She scrapes some parts of the painting (to create texture) and puts another layer of paint. She repeats this process (painting - scraping - drying) until she feels the painting is done. Marleen doesn’t have a set schedule, but when she gets in the mood, she forgets about everything else.

 

Marleen’s work is represented in Nashville at LeQuire Gallery and at her own Gallery, BelArt, that she opened up in the Arcades in 2009. The Arcades is a famous spot in downtown Nashville: it is home to the popular First Saturday Art Crawls. She is also represented in Knoxville and Chattanooga (Tennessee); Atlanta (Georgia); Lexington (Kentucky) and Cincinnati (Ohio).

More than a artist

Aside from painting, Marleen teaches part time at O’More College of Design. She has been teaching Principles of Design since 2009. “A lot of students don’t understand why this class is required. Design is everywhere. Whether you are a photographer or an architect, you will need to use elements of design everyday. In my class, I am trying to teach balance and encouraging students in their art while preparing them for the real world. Talent isn’t enough. Being a full-time artist is not just about being creative, it is a business. It involves a lot of work and it is a competitive environment.”

 

Between her art, her classes and her family, Marleen is a really busy woman. Yet, she makes time to support other artists in her community. Her house is filled with  artwork from artists she admires. “I like to surround myself with good art, even from unknown artists. I also like to attend other art exhibits. It is a way to keep the good energy and inspiration going.”

November 2016 Update

2016 has been a amazing year for Marleen. She has been featured in numerous newspapers and art magazines. She spent the first half of the year painting daisies for her commissioned exhibit “Principles of Design”. She started a new body of work involving portraiture and she has been invited to exhibit at the Parthenon again in 2019 - this time in the main gallery! I have no doubt we will keep hearing about Marleen in the news in the future.

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