INTERVIEW: artist Rikki Tollenaere

Rikki Tollenaere. Photo by Jennifer Ritchie
Rikki Tollenaere. Photo by Jennifer Ritchie

This week I have the sheer joy to share the talents and gorgeous person that is Rikki Tollenaere. Rikki has made Antigua her home for part of every year and it is our pleasure to enjoy her phenomenal canvas paintings of the sea and of the ocean.

Rikki’s current exhibiton in Antigua is running until 12th March at Abracadabra’s in English Harbour.

The sea is part of life in Antigua: sailing yachts, motor yachts, cruise ships, divers, fishermen, snorkelers, for prestige, for earning a living or for sheer pleasure. The island is tiny and most views encompass some of the blue!  Mutual friends from the yachting industry introduced Rikki to me and I was finally able to put a face to gifted woman behind the wave paintings that have literally stopped me in my tracks in the art gallery in English Harbour.

Wave 73. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of Rikki Tollenaere

Rikki is an artist with a passion for the ocean that has led to recreations of these stunning seascapes and waves on canvas. When I asked her if she preferred calm or rough seas? “Calm!” she replied. In fact, her time spent living on boats distracted her from her real passion for painting. Finally now, art has won the war and she lives ashore, blissfully contented to study the sea through colour and brushes.

She admitted that the colours of the ocean run through her life from the clothes and accessories she chooses to the clean and simple décor in her homes in Antigua and Palma. I noticed that it sparkles even in her eyes!

Wave 72. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of Rikki Tollenaere
Wave 76. Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of Rikki Tollenaere.

– A small island like Antigua, surrounded by the ocean, seems like an ideal place for your art. How did you find Antigua in the first place?

In 1998 I did my first Atlantic crossing to Antigua with friends and loved the place immediately and have been coming back every year since.

– You are originally from Belgium, but now spend your time between Palma and Antigua. Do you paint and sell your work in both places?

Yes, I do have studios in both places and sell and work in both. In Antigua, I have been showing my work since 2006 at ‘Rhythm of Blue’ and ‘Harmony Hall’. I also use social media to get my name out there.

– Has art always been a part of your life? Did your childhood dreams involve being an artist?

I have studied art since I was 15 and after my studies as interior designer I did a master paint course where I learned to paint marble and wood imitations. This led to running my own business doing numerous paint jobs in private houses and commercial buildings and restorations for antique dealers. Then I got side tracked on boats, as I have been attracted to the sea from a young age, it was always a dream to see the world traveling by boat. So, I worked as a chef, but I always seemed to be in charge of the varnish as well! It was not until I moved ashore in Palma in 2003 that I started painting on canvas.

– I imagine the ocean is an endless source of changing inspiration for your paintings. You are near completion of a project called 100 Waves, could you tell me more about that?

At the beginning of 2014, I painted a seascape crashing over rocks from a picture I had saved for ages, and really enjoyed it. So, I looked for another one, and then one more and by the time I got to six, I thought “I really want to turn this into a project”. So, I contacted a marine conservation organization called Asociacion Ondine who are based in Palma, and asked if we could work together. Then I came up with the idea to paint 100 waves, seems like a nice big number. So, for every wave I sell I give them a percentage, to make a better world for everybody. 


– How has your style evolved over time?

I think my work got more and more realistic. Before I would paint the sea and sky and boats but more in an abstract way, using a pallet knife to give the impression of a boat. Or I use collage, newspaper clippings from races, the paper becomes transparent, so you see the back of the page as well, whatever the news is of that day, which gives it a little surreal effect. Or I use sail cloth as the little sails. I still use this way of painting now, but I have always painted the sea. People ask me what are you going to paint after the “Waves”? And I think, well the sea, water, the ocean, what else? It’s what I love painting.

– How do you feel when you are painting?

So happy, like it is what I am supposed to do.

– Painting on canvas is just part of your business, what other areas do you also specialise in?

I am forever creating and making things: my partner gets a bit panicky when I say “I have an idea” because it usually involves a lot of power tools and some of his time! Not that I am afraid to use them myself. I love upcycling things, furniture of old pallets, tree trunks, making lamps with driftwood, or making sculptures out of the wood pile for the stove. Nothing gets thrown or burned until I am sure I cannot make something out of it.

And besides that, I do a lot of touch ups on the interior of yachts, if there is damage I can make it go away.

– Do you create every day? Do you have a set routine that you follow or are you just guided by inspiration?

I create most days, and if not I am thinking about it and writing down ideas. If I have a dead line for example, an exhibition or a commission, I go into a routine, up early, coffee, check the news and then start, I usually paint for about 5 or 6 hours, most of the time listening to classic music with one of my cats keeping me company. 

– What artists do you admire?

There are so many talented people out there, but my drive comes from a really good friend in Belgium: Georges Cuyvers who is a silversmith and jeweller. He always inspired me to work hard at it, even on days when you don’t really feel like it.

– Where do you go to seek inspiration – galleries / online / books / nature?

Having sailed for many years, a lot of my inspiration comes from all those hours out there, but I use all the 4 above as well. Being in Antigua is the ideal place to watch the changing colours of the sea and sky, and I am lucky to live with a view of Falmouth Harbour, so I see it all day long.

– You also work in interior design, is having a beautiful home important to you?

Very important, I can’t stand ugliness or clashing colours and clutter everywhere. It gives me peace of mind when everything is in balance. I can’t paint if the house is in a mess. My friends call it “Ricky Fying ” a place.


Thinking about Antigua now!

– Have you got a favourite view in Antigua?

Every year when I return to Antigua and you come over the hill by the T-shirt stalls (Falmouth Harbour view) I love that view. It’s that “Ahhhhh, I am back” feeling.

And also from the Block Hut at Shirley Heights.

– Where do you like to go out to eat here?

There are a few places: Rumbaba, Catherine’s Café, Pillars at the Admiral’s Inn and Mauro’s Pizzeria.

– What is your favourite beach?

Half Moon Bay

– What do you most look forward to in Antigua each time that you return?

Seeing all the familiar faces and friends I have made over the years, the way you get greeted like you belong, and then the simple lifestyle, anything is possible, the positive energy I find here, Boot Camp with Ellis on Pigeon Beach, a swim at Galleon Beach.

– Where is your work available to view, and buy? How should people contact you?

At the moment, I have an exhibition running at Abracadabra until the 12th March, after that my work will be back on display in ‘Rhythm of Blue’ gallery or people can contact me personally by phone or via my web site

Seascape by Rikki Tollenaere. Photo by Jennifer Ritchie
Seascape by Rikki Tollenaere. Photo by Jennifer Ritchie

Quick Quiz!

Favourite childhood book?

‘I,Tin Tin’ or ‘Kuifje’ as we call him in Belgium.

Favourite music?

‘Matthäus Passion’ by Bach.

Favourite fruit?


Early to bed or working late at night?

Early to bed.

Cocktails at sunset or yoga at dawn?

Wine at sunset!

Rikki’s current exhibition is running at Abracadabra’s by Nelson’s Dockyard until March 12, 2017.

Contact Asociacion Ondine (director Brad Robertson) to discover more about their ocean conservation.

Rikki Tollenaere. Photo by Jennifer Ritchie

4 thoughts on “INTERVIEW: artist Rikki Tollenaere

  1. I love reading all your posts but this one in particular I adored! I could feel the passion leaping off the page. And the accompanying photos are beautiful. Planning to see the exhibition this weekend, thanks for highlighting it x


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