Marleen De Waele-De Bock was born and raised in Belgium. It was there that she received her arts education, met her husband and had her first two children. After spending several years in South Africa for her husband’s job, which is also where she had her third child, the family was transferred to Nashville, where they have been for the last 15 years. When Marleen’s not painting, she’s teaching at O’More College of Design, where she has been leading classes for the past nine years. Her art can be found locally at LeQuire Gallery, as well as in her own space in the Arcade (upstairs, Suite #56), which is only open during the Downtown Nashville First Saturday Art Crawl. Her work also can be found in galleries in Knoxville, Atlanta, Chattanooga, Lexington and Cincinnati. Today, we’re thrilled to introduce you to artist Marleen De Waele-De Bock as our FACE of Nashville.
What was the biggest adjustment to life in Middle Tennessee?
I wasn’t really happy about Nashville at first because I am more of a big city girl and I wished I was in New York or San Francisco, somewhere not as traditional or conservative as Middle Tennessee. But after all these years since I arrived in 2001, a lot of good things are happening in Nashville. The city is blooming, the city is blossoming, the city is growing … there are many people moving to Nashville, many interesting people, many creative people — so that’s a good thing. There are more galleries, there is the art crawl that is a big event every month, and there are people buying more art.
Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Inspiration is very important for a fine art artist or any kind of artist, so the inspiration for me is basically the environment — where I live, what the culture is and what I see around me every day. So, when I was living in Africa, I was very, very inspired by that culture. It was new for me, it was colorful, the light was different, the people looked different, the markets were different, and so it was one big inspiration pool to paint. That’s what I did. I painted people, I painted markets, I painted wildlife and, at the end, I started to make a series about African sculptures. And with that series, I had my first exhibition here in Nashville in 2003 at the Parthenon.
What is your favorite piece you ever created?
That’s a very tough one. Maybe it’s a very, very old drawing I made when I was 17 years old for art school — my mother, she loved it so much that she hung it in her house and adored it. So when she passed away, that was really the only thing I wanted to have from Belgium from my house where I grew up, and that’s the work I have here in my room, so that’s dear to me. Is it my best work? Not really, it’s just more sentimental, I guess.
You teach at O’More College of Design. What do you teach and how long have you been there?
I have been teaching at the O’More College of Design for nine years now. I teach Design Principles, and this is a first-year, first-semester class, so that means I have all students. It is a very interesting class, I think, because if you don’t get the principles of design or the principles in art … if you cannot see it, if you cannot work with it, I think it will be a hard life to succeed in design or in art.
So, not all students understand that, or they don’t want to understand it, or they don’t get it, but most of them are really happy after finishing the semester because they feel they have learned some really good basic principles. My favorite part about that job is being connected with the young people — they have a dream. They want to be a designer, they want to be a good designer and they want to work hard for it. Some are so talented that I can learn from them and some are really beginners; but they want to work hard and they just do an amazing job. If you compare where they were at the beginning and then at the end of the semester what they could do, that makes me happy that I was a part of that.
If you were not an artist, what career path do you think you would take?
I think I can say two. I would spend all of my money on traveling and just see the world, meet people, eat food from different places. I think it would be so nice to be a travel journalist. Another one I think I would be very good in is being a stylist. That’s something I also like. I had, in South Africa for a couple of years, my own fashion design company. It was for little kids between 0 months and 7 years. I’ve always had a love for fashion design.
What is the biggest misconception people have about artists?
In my case, I have the feeling many people think that making art or painting is not really working, that it’s just kind of fun, you know? You just kind of paint a little bit here and there. They don’t realize that if you want to take yourself seriously as an artist, that it is really a job that you have to concentrate on, that you have to make the time to do it every day, that you kind of have to struggle with that artist’s block we talked about earlier, that there is not always success, that there are much more rejections than the people who want to represent you. They think that, when you paint and you have some work, that you can go and show it in galleries and people will buy it and it’s all that simple and easy and so fun if you have that talent. I am happiest that I have that talent and, yes, I am happy that I can do what I like to do; but again, it is still hard work and it is not always coming as easily as people would like.
What are three things you can’t live without (excluding faith, family and friends)?
I would say first of all, music. I really love music. Another thing I cannot miss is the sun. I really like good weather … sunshine. And then the third one, I think, is chocolates. Being a really good Belgian girl, I really love my chocolates. Also fries; that is kind of typical for Belgium as well, the French fries. They call it French fries so people think it is from France but actually we are more famous for the fries. That’s actually our national dish — mussels and fries. So yes, the three things I really cannot miss are music, sun, chocolate, fries … so foods, you know, combined with the fries and chocolates.
Thank you, Marleen, for providing a candid look at what life as an artist is like. And thank you to Ashley Hylbert for the beautiful photos of Marleen in her Brentwood home.
Meet more inspiring women in our FACES series — click here!
And, be sure you are signed up for StyleBlueprint Nashville emails for exclusive offers, exclusive content and the best “me moment” of your day! Sign up HERE.