Contact Proof: Mike Woning
Paintings and words by Mike (as told to Gra Murdoch)
I was born in the Netherlands, but the family moved a lot for my dad’s work – several years in the UK and Canada, before returning to the Netherlands when I was 10. I've been here since.
All that moving wasn’t conducive to long term friendships, so as a youngster I’d draw a lot – mostly pirate ships! The drawing dwindled as I got into windsurfing and skateboarding in the early ‘80s. I used to build a lot of stuff. For winter surf, I built an ice-surfer out of an old skateboard. For the windless summer days I made skimboards with spray paint designs on them. As I got older I’d build stuff for climbing and bouldering, made some furniture and had a go at pressing longboards (skateboards) with a wooden frame and car jacks. I’d thought my creative side dried up after I stopped drawing but now realise it was always there.
Over time, the windsurfing faded away and I got into freeride telemark skiing with a group of Dutchies. For some reason, someone suggested we do a summer activity and we went surfing. Shitty weak North Sea surf, and I thought my arms and shoulders would fall off – such hard work getting out the back – but I loved every second of it. Bought a board the following season at 38 and never looked back. I’m 49 now.
The Netherlands isn't a great surf zone. We have the North Sea which is shallow and murky. We also have England blocking all the swell from the Atlantic. So our surf has to come from the North, from weather systems between Greenland and Scandinavia. Northerly winds equals waves! But in wintertime, it can also mean bitter cold. This last winter had my teenage daughter and I donning our wetsuits, behind the car in a blizzard with a -20° windchill. Nice offshores though; was a good session!
My homespot is The Maasvlakte 2. This is a man-made piece of land on the south side of the Rotterdam Harbour. When building it, they also made some beaches for recreation and those are the beaches we surf. The drive there is quite depressing: massive industry, huge refineries, electric powerplants and what have you. But once you step over the dunes onto those beaches, the heavy industry is out of sight. And given the strict environmental laws here, the water is quite clean. There's a massive seal population close by so we see seals nearly every time we go surfing.
I say ‘we’, so I've got to give a shout out to my surf crew the 'Vlakte Mafia' We're a group of people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds with one thing in common: we love surf and we love our home spot.
I'm an engineering geologist by trade and work at an independent institute for applied research in the field of water and subsurface. It's a super interesting field. We work on issues that vary from water scarcity, to marine and river ecology, flood safety and the how the changing world impacts these issues. I work as a project manager on the impact of natural hazards on infrastructure networks. In short, our team helps countries, often developing countries, to make investments in infrastructure as effective as possible. I've done projects in Albania, Paraguay, Dominican Republic, and am currently working on a project in Kazakhstan.
Surfing led me to painting. I’d repurposed a board – using foam from an old windsurfer. It required a tonne of repair work to the foam before I could even get started with shaping. The resulting blank urgently needed a cosmetic make-over. A few YouTube video tutorials later, I found I really enjoyed decorating boards using paint pens and was pretty decent at it too! So, I did my other two boards, then a few skateboards and a skimboard. But then I ran out of boards to paint. However, the seed was planted, and I picked up a brush and bought canvas and paint in tubes in January 2018; have been painting ever since.
I mainly work in acrylics, mostly because we live in a modest Dutch house with no ventilated space for oils, not to mention room for a studio: so the dining room table, chairs, walls are covered in paint - my wife has the tolerance of a saint.
I follow a bunch of photogs on Instagram, and if I see something that blows me off my feet, I ask permission to paint it. Most of them are very kind and appreciate me asking. I also do the odd Dutch landscape and I love clouds and cloudscapes. There’s thousands of cloud photos on my phone.
With a regular day job, I mostly paint at the end of the day, after dinner, when the rest of the family is watching tele. Not my thing most of the time, so instead of leaving the room, I paint. Clear off the dining room table, set up my stuff, don some headphones and listen to music and podcasts.
There are a number of creatives I look up to: Wade Koniakowsky makes breathtaking art, as does Rebecca Arguello. Kevin Lowery has a unique style that I'd like to learn from too.
I’d like to retire early, buy a camper and surf/ paint myself down to Portugal/ Morocco. Though I don't see myself being able to go 100% professional, I'd like to take my art to a more professional level. I'd like to impact some more people with my paintings, and I hope my ‘Plastic Soup’ series finds some traction and helps, in some small way, address the problem of our oceans becoming increasingly mistreated.
Doing a beach clean up at my local a few years ago opened my eyes to the sheer amount of plastic debris. That's when the 'Plastic Soup' series came to mind: I was going to paint that plastic crap in my 'beautiful' waves too! It hurts every time I deface a wave like this. I feel it in the pit of my stomach... the cringe. And I hope that’s what the viewer feels.
Anyway, the concept is that the 'Plastic Soup' paintings are available for sale at a friendly price or, for an additional fee, the plastic item will be painted out by yours truly, leaving no traces. Leaving the purchaser with a plastic-free wave.
100% of that additional fee is passed on to the Plastic Soup Foundation, or a similar charity nominated by the purchaser.