Roel Vanderlinden: paint the painter

By Valeria Federici

Roel Vanderlinden studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, Netherlands. He exhibited in Amsterdam as well as in New York and he received a Nomination for the Royal Award for Dutch Painting in 2010. His ongoing project “unity through identity” has been performed in 14 countries. Roel lives, works and exhibits in Blijdrecht, a former swimming pool in Mijdrecht, The Netherlands.

A big part of your work is about self-portrait or a re-invention of the painting’s main subject through a self-portrait. Why?

It is most logical to paint myself because I am (my) the world. When I paint I become a painter, I become a painter who paints a painter. I become a painter who wants to paint because he paints the painter. I use paintings, made by painters, to analyze my own motives to paint the painter. It is pretty simple really, because the work is so introverted it has the possibility to say something about the whole thing. This is important to me.


When and how did you think about “unity through identity”?

When I lived in New York in 2008 I got obsessed with the obsession Americans have with their flag. Seeing the American flag everywhere made me wonder whether the repetition was making the flag very important or absolutely meaningless. I understood this in the way that I understand the repetition of the Self-portraits, through the repetition you can start to doubt. I like this.

Tell me some anecdotes related to this project.

With this project I got the chance to work on the streets, we are absolutely vulnerable when we are painting on a square. This triggers people to come up to us and to react on the work in progress. In Seville, Spain, there were people who re-painted every single flag. They told us that the color of the lower stripe of the Spanish flag should be indigo instead of red. Also they painted bombs on the flags and asked me to stop painting. Someone wrote on a paper: ‘We don’t like the Spanish flag because it’s a symbol of suffering, because it reminds us of the evil war and many fascists have used it against freedom, so please could you remove all this stuff from here?‘ We than decided to stop the event and we all together took the flags away, a great moment I believe.

How many countries have you visited and performed in through “unity through identity”?

14, hoping many more will follow.

“unity through identity” is most likely a performance. Do you consider yourself mostly a painter or Unity through identity put you in the realm of performing?

Being on the streets is very different from working in the studio, many people that normally don’t see art pass by and give their opinion on your work. First this was pretty exciting, out of insecurity I then started to really focus on painting, to give myself an attitude. For one day I am only busy with painting the same flag over and over again. Later I found out it was a great decision because it is very powerful when someone is extremely focused, it made people stop to simply watch me working, the rhythm, the repetition, the concentration, the peacefulness. I would say that through the concentration of painting I started to be a performer. But without the painting there would be no performance.

Who/what inspired and continue to inspire you most?

This is very hard to answer, the reason to work is coming from a disbelieve that- if we live only once-, this is the world we choose for. I don’t understand it and I need to ventilate this I guess.

Images: Roel Vanderlinden

Roel Vanderlinden web site:

“unity through identity” web site:

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What's in a book?


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