• Sieglinde Van Damme

Everything you always wanted to know about me, and art ...

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Getting a head start in all things art.

As a little girl, I loved climbing up the steep metal stairs to my uncle’s art studio above the garage at my grandparents’ home.

He didn’t always allow it, but when I did make my way up to his sanctuary I felt so mesmerized by the life-size sculptures that surrounded me, amidst random pieces of metal, wood, and lots of plaster dust.

Image: little Sieglinde turning 5 years old!

My visits usually didn’t last long. As soon as my mother or grandmother realized I was up there in my pretty Sunday dress, I was summoned back down quickly. But not before I managed to score some treasures from my uncle’s “experimentation” pile. To this day, I still cherish those pieces in my home – in other words, I became an art collector before I was even 10!

My mother, also an artist, had an easel set-up in our dining room and it was amazing to follow her process and watch her paintings evolve. Whenever the smell of oil paint and turpentine was drifting through the house you knew dinner wouldn’t be ready anytime soon. But mom would be an entirely different, happy person and we couldn’t wait to see what new WIP (work-in-progress) we were about to discover next.

Sometimes my siblings and I would “fight” over who could claim a finished painting (we wrote our name with pencil on the back). Other times we loved an unfinished piece so much we had to convince her to leave it alone and consider it done (overworking ruins everything!) – clearly I became a self-proclaimed art curator at a young age as well 😂

Image: one of my mom's large oil paintings

In other words, from my uncle’s studio to my mom’s kitchen, from art academy visits to art gallery receptions and endless museum exhibitions on top; I was spoon-fed a love for art right from the start. The pull turned out to be much bigger than I thought.

A significant detour.

Plot twists make a story exciting and in high school I was told I had no artistic talent whatsoever and I should leave art to those who did have it. 😔 I went to college and graduated with an MS in Economics so I could get a “proper job” and make good money later on.

Then one summer I read a biography on the life and work of the artist Camille Claudel (aka the muse and lover of August Rodin) which once again fueled the still unexplained fire within.

I would sit on the window sill of my college room to draw the roofs around me and the tiny backyards below me. My landlady happened to be an artist as well (a figurative painter). I shyly showed her my drawing attempts one day and she was so impressed she took the time to teach me a few things 🙏🏻 My soul started singing. I was determined to keep its tune. I was launched.

I didn’t pursue formal art classes until I moved from Europe to the US in 1998. Within 3 months of my arrival, I was enrolled in my very first drawing class 🎉 I flew through the Art Studio Certificate Program at UC Berkeley Extension with flying colors! I fell in love with painting and ... endless experimentations with different media combinations.

Art heals.

Following a timely intrigue with video art, I ended up in the photography department at San Jose State University for my MFA (Master in Fine Art). As I found myself in the storms of separation and divorce with 2 small kids in tow, I spent those three years creating introspective videos and self-portraits trying to puzzle myself back together again.

Self-Portrait in Gum-Bichromate, 2012

What a gift! My job was to create art 24/7; I taught undergrads how to think and envision new concepts for themselves (well yes, I did teach them the curriculum requirements as well 😉), I achieved the degree I dreamt about so often … and I healed myself along the way!

A renewed love for painting?

Over the past 10 years I would pick up a paintbrush once in a while (aka I was a closet painter) – most notably after the terrorist attacks in Belgium (my home country); when my ex-husband threatened to take me to court way after our divorce was finalized; when my long-term boyfriend broke my heart … it’s painting, when the negative pressure is too much to handle and healing is required. It’s always painting – oil and acrylics alike.

Enter 2020! The unusual times we are going through right now made me crave more Zen and healing than any type of video, photo, or digitally produced work could possibly give me. I had to get out of my head and get my hands dirty, big time!

When the frantic hamster wheel of Silicon Valley came to a screeching halt during the COVID lockdown, I was able to more deeply reconnect with my paints. It’s like a long-lost daughter coming home again … wow.

image left: "Finding Zen #3," 2020

acrylics on canvas, 14 x 18 inches


Although my MFA degree (Master in Fine Art) is in lens-based media (photo/video), painting was and always remained my first love. Much to my own surprise, the visual elements I explored separately over the years now seem to magically come together as one, in one - as if it has always been this way ...

My drive to re-imagine what else is possible™ and create "new realities" in my work is still alive and well (also see artist statement). And now I get to do this while experimenting with more media combinations again! The artistic road in front of me is wide open - I’m happy.


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