In the 1980s, a young generation of artists began to breathe fresh life into the genre of portraiture, most notably Thomas Ruff, who as a student in the class of the influential photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher created sober and razor-sharp portraits in the environment of the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf.
Claudia van Koolwijk studied at the Kunstakademie at the same time, but in the painting classes of Fritz Schwegler and Alfonso Hüppi. Independently of and contemporaneously with Ruff, she too in the 1980s began photographing the faces of her artist friends, her family, and also herself. Her photographs have always had a pronounced narrative character and skillfully oscillate between documentation and setting, reality and art. In numerous works, van Koolwijk interweaves images taken from art history and Catholicism with her own story, using costumes, fabrics draped in folds, staged backgrounds, flowers, or body paint.
In her motifs, van Koolwijk seeks an authentic beauty, which she renders lovingly and humorously, but always ensuring that there is a certain imperfection. As a result, the people shown in her pictures seem to be familiar, although they are unknown to us. Despite the staging, they appear unaffected, genuine and truthful – removed from everyday life and at the same time very close to the viewer.