The work of Risja Steeghs (Reuver, 1991) has an uninhibited childlikeness. The jumble of colours, patterns, materials and media form a bright ensemble. The carefully presented tapestries, canvases, installations and sculptures, overwhelm you. Entering a space that is filled with Steeghs work is like entering another universe. Steeghs considers her work as an extension of herself, if not herself as an extension of her work. Risja Steeghs is the fourth WARP-artist that is featured in SEA Foundation’s vitrine. The previous artists were Sabine de Graaf, Lisette de Greeuw and Peng Zhang.
Who is Risja? Steeghs welcomes me wearing a beautiful outfit: shimmering fabric, puffed sleeves, silver shoes. Her makeup is sparkly and glittery. The artist has flair, a certain extravagance. It’s also reflected in her work; exuberant and above all: idiosyncratic. This eccentric persona that’s reflected in both work and personality is reminiscent of great fashion designers such as Thierry Mugler or Vivienne Westwood. Not quite surprising, considering Steeghs initially attended fashion school. When she became ill and bedridden she had had to put a hold on her education. The urge to create and work in art stems from this time when gravely illness struck her. While lying in bed, she created small works, mainly collages. The need to create has not ceased since then, as Risja Steeghs became a self-taught visual artist. After her ‘self-education’ the artist studied at The Royal College of Art in London, where she obtained her MA Sculpture in 2019.
Steeghs and her art are one. The way she dresses, the things she does, the food she eats, and fluids she drinks, her environment, all this is her work. As a kind of collage, these components serve as a diary. To the visitor, these elements may seem indistinguishable. They are abstracted to an extent that they are unrecognizable. In the abstract works, the artist emphases colour and form, the narrative is somewhere vaguely in the background like an inscrutable gut feeling. Risja adds: ‘I find it very interesting how something is explained in its entirety, yet you can convey it to someone else. This can act as a kind of mirror for reality’. Therefore it is not important for the spectator to draw the same conclusions from the work as the artist herself; her works are open to interpretation.
According to visual artist René van Tol, self-expression is always extrovert, all energy is directed outwards. He states that this art form is characterized, among other things, by its personal content. Art that manifests itself by means of self-expression breaks away from collective codes and symbols, as a result of which the content is always ambiguous. No decisive answer is given.
Such openness of content is something Steeghs aspires to within her work. Despite the fact that her work is susceptible to free interpretation, the artist is concerned that it sometimes detracts somewhat from the intention of her work. “Interpreting my work can prevent you from experiencing it, as you are not receptive, or physically experiencing the work, but immediately give it meaning with your intellect.” She is hopeful that the beholder is amenable to her work.
This receptivity that the artist demands from her audience is an attitude of life she lives by. Steeghs possesses great curiosity and openness to the world. She creates with a kind of childlike enthusiasm, as though she rediscovers the world every day. By being receptive to the world around her, she allows the world to influence her, making her change all the time.
Ancient philosopher Heraclitus is known for his aphorism ‘Panta rhei’, freely translated this means ‘everything flows’.  A much-used metaphor for this aphorism is the river: considering all things pass and nothing stays, you can’t step twice into the same river, meaning that everything changes and nothing stays the same. The antithesis of this theory of ‘becoming’ is the theory of ‘being’. The Greek philosopher Parmenides argued that every change in the world is only an illusion, according to him everything is fixed.
When Risja changes, her work changes. The becoming of her person directly influences the becoming of her work. She considers her artistic practice to be an intuitive journey that she embarks upon with herself, life and her works of art. The starting point for the work is the artist herself. During this journey she changes, she becomes more mature: ‘A few years ago my work was very fluffy and pink, now it has become a bit more mature’.
The artist believes that she can indirectly influence this process of becoming by being aware that a transformation is taking place within herself. “I feel that I am influencing this movement of becoming, but I am not influencing what is transforming. That just happens, without me being able to influence precisely what is changing. In a way, just like life itself.”
Risja Steeghs lives in symbiosis with herself, her life and the art she makes. As an example of this way of life, she refers to Monet and his house in Giverny. “The way he decorated his house, and the large garden where he made his works, are like a total fusion between artist, environment and his work”. Her work is not limited to artistic practice, it is a way of life. “Just like breathing, the process of being and becoming is also an interplay in which you merge and change, merge and change, like an eternal continuum”.
The artist’s open-mindedness, receptivity towards the world and her work process facilitate her ability to connect with her canvas. While making an intimate process, inner transformation arises: “I am the canvas, the canvas is me and afterwards we are two separate parts.” At that moment one can wonder whether Steeghs is the artist, or the work itself. After this moment of transformation, the two become separate once again. The work is now ready to enter the world.
Being and Becoming in Modern Physics. (2001, July 11). Opgeroepen op November 20, 2020, van Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/spacetime-bebecome/
In Plato, Cratylus (Vol. 402a, p. 388 B.C.).
Popova, M. (sd). Nietzsche on the Journey of Becoming and What It Means to Be a Free Spirit. Opgeroepen op November 20, 2020, van Brainpickings: https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/10/15/nietzsche-free-spirits/
Tol, R. v. (2010, August). Kunst als zelfexpressie. Opgeroepen op November 24, 2020, van vantolart: http://www.vantolart.nl/krantkort.html

Website Risja Steeghs
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photo's by Meike Hekers
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This article originally appeared on the SEA Foundation website as studio encounter