Our seventy first interview in this series of intimate interviews is with talented mobile photographer and artist Max Lies Derdonk, you may know her work from her popular Instagram page – @aqua_libra. We also recently featured her new series #causewefeed recently. This is a revelatory and expansive meditation on fear and acceptance, desire and oppression and it’s filled with unforgettable art. Derdonk has created a narrative that’s both compassionate mixed with desire and the yearning for acceptance. A powerful interview by an enigmatic artist of love, hope and the richness of creativity, it touches me. Enjoy!
To read the other published interviews in this series including artists, Adria Ellis, Rino Rossi, Mehmet Duyulmus, Alexis Rotella, Lou Ann Sanford Donahue, Irene Oleksiuk, Kerry Mitchell, Filiz Ak, Dale Botha, Lisa Mitchell, M. Cecilia Sao Thiago, Deborah McMillion, Rita Colantonio, Amy Ecenbarger, Jane Schultz, Anca Balaj, Joyce Harkin, Armineh Hovanesian, Kate Zari Roberts, Vicki Cooper, Peter Wilkin, Barbara Braman, Becky Menzies, Sukru Mehmet Omur, Sarah Bichachi, Michel Pretterklieber, Alon Goldsmith, Judy Lurie Whalberg, Andrea Bigiarni, Sean Hayes, Oola Cristina, Kathleen Magner-Rios, Linda Toki, Deb Field, Emilo Nadales, Lydia Cassatt, David Hayes, Jean Hutter, Frederic Deschênes, Mark Schnidman, Fatma Korkut, Fleur Schim, Rob Pearson-Wright, Dieter Gaebel, James Ellis, Marco P Prado, Jeronimo Sanz, Manuela Matos Monteiro, Bleu Chemiko, Manuela Basaldella, Stefania Piccioni, Luis Rodríguez, Marilisa Andriani (@mitrydate) Mayte Balcells (@artofmayte), Nicole Christophe, Jennifer Graham, Cathrine Halsør, Paul Toussaint, Carol Wiebe, Julie Denning, Kim Clayton (@berleyart), Karen Messick, Serap Utaş, MaryJane Rosenfeld, Paul Suciu, Susan Latty (@pause.and.breathe), John Nieto, Phyllis Shenny, Joy Barry and myself, go here.
All images ©Max Lies Derdonk
What was your childhood or earliest ambition?
Archaeologist, I totally “blame Raiders of the Lost Ark” for this, because I was so fascinated by his adventures and ancient artefacts. I also spend a lot of time at my grandfather’s house in Amsterdam and besides the local markets we spend a lot of time visiting the museums in Amsterdam, like Van Gogh or Rijksmuseum etc. Look but not touch though. So back home I knew my dad had a coin collection so what more of an adventure if I took some coins and buried them in the garden and tried to find them again just like Indiana Jones. My father was not very happy. After that, I started drawing and making cartoons, much safer but still kept the love for old historical findings. Perhaps, this is the reason why I love to visit the abandoned places so much. To save it in the frame of a photo.
I was around 10 or eleven and my youngest brother found an abandoned kitten in the middle of winter while we were playing outside. We knew our parents would not be happy if we asked if we could keep it, so, we sneaked it into the house underneath my brother’s coat. Once we got it into the house and were in a hurry to go up to his room to hide it, it’s tiny tail wiggled away from underneath his coat and of course the hawk eyes of “Di Mamma” noticed it. Luckily, she melted watching this cute little fuzz ball and we got to keep it. Micky was with us for a long time.
Bookbinder at a local printing office with a friend from school when I was 13. Not too long because we were chatting more than working.
Private or State school?
In The Netherlands we have primary school (till the age of 12) and then you will go to a secondary school where there are different streams based upon interest, academic path or level. After passing your exams from, for example, senior general secondary education (6 years) you can go up to a higher level, bachelor, master, PHD. My parents could not afford to let 4 children have a higher education than secondary school. So I worked and studied after I left home around the age of 17.
University or Work?
Both, not University but at home studies, with a mentor class and exams at a school in the evenings. I worked 37 hours a week and studied in the evenings and weekends for a couple of years. (marketing & middle management certificates , retailer license).
Who was or is still your mentor?
It was very hard for me to trust people, especially men, due to an abusive childhood, living in a heavy religious village, being the outsiders, but it also made me fight every mountain in life harder, you get knocked down, you get up again and I discovered the ultimate survival technique, be “the clown.” Now, this can work for years and so I did pretty well. Till I got the phone call that my father was found dead by the police in his new home in 2006. He passed away days before. My mother divorced from him, not long after I left, with my younger brother and younger sister. My father was a very intelligent man with an IQ that was way above average but had no clue how the EQ should work. He had a lot of unpredictable behaviour towards some of his children and our mother. So years later, he finally was able to move into a smaller home with help from a social worker(because he finally accepted help). Only a few days after he moved in he passed away when he was alone and police found him four days later. Anyways to make a long story short, I was very angry because of the things he had done to us and sad because I know he was sick and no one deserves to die like that. I swallowed it, forgave him, made his grave worthy with my best friend and blocked it all.
Years later I worked in the removal business for large contractors around the world and handled the international removal papers, customs and insurance etc. My employer at the time was the most amazing business man with such a beautiful energy and wisdom. We also had a mutual friend and we could really separate work and private perfectly.
On a certain morning I could not get my hand towards my coffee cup at home and more tremors joined in. First doctors thought of a brain tumor or a bleeding. In a matter of hours my entire left body did not what it should be doing as so did my speech. After 2 months, because they first thought that it could be a virus, we met with a great neurologist and after testing she told us that something triggered my PTSD and my survival mode collapsed.
I worked for nearly 2,5 years to be able to walk again, ride my bike, speak without stuttering and the tremors left more and more. With help from my partner, a great revalidation centre and my former employer and father figure friend I took control over my body again. He helped me a lot with opening up and be more emotionally balanced. Besides my amazingly strong and beloved girlfriend, he still is my mentor and coach.
How Physically fit are you?
I have a thyroid condition (Graves) which will always be here and for now it’s under control with medication and checks every 6 months.
Ambition or talent: what matters more to success?
I would like to combine both and try to work with my talents. I don’t want to be put in a box as only to focus on Aqua Libra photo & video, which I love! I also love to paint, under the name, Art.by.Mileva, make 2D video animation or restore furniture. At least I can never have any regrets and the ‘what if’ question.
I ‘tried and it worked or I ‘tried and now I know it’s not my cup of tea. Did I had fun trying? Yes!
How Politically committed are you?
I am always interested in what is going on in the world of politics. I find it intriguing and shocking how politics work and how power, money can change people. laws/bills are signed without the public knowing about it and poverty grows, children dying, families being separated, and a bizarre healthcare system etc. I hope that there are still and will be enough good people to make the world a better place without prejudice and abuse of power.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
My first answer would be that “my mom” was still alive but just because I still miss her so much, I took care of her with my brothers and sister when she got cancer and that was the first time we saw each other again after 15 years. I am thankful for the most intense loving 2 years. I spend almost 24/7 with my mom and it felt like a real loving smart funny creative mum with a lot of heartache herself. And, the hugs and the “I love you Bella” were real. Still a huge void after almost 2 years. But you cannot own a life.
A larger home would be nice with a bit more space for our studio, atelier and where family and friends can pop in anytime to stay for a while of 4ever if they are in need of care or to enjoy a good meal together at our large family table. Love and laughter.
What’s your biggest extravagence
I have to vacuum clean the floor through the entire house every day before I start with work or come home from work. No distractions on the floor or tables hahaha.
In what place are you happiest?
Besides at home, (chilling with my sweetheart in our home bubble) the opposite of my happy place is the adrenaline rush when we go urban exploring because you never know what you will encounter at a location. That feeling, the smell, the mystery, the questions, the cold air, the decay, the energy is amazing.
What ambitions do you still have?
Making truthful documentaries, taboos, people work & backgrounds. Life is not only glitter and filter glamour, in any profession or the person on the screen.
What drives you on?
The unconditional love and support from my partner to let be me be me with every flaw and good intention. To get up in the morning with more than one passion and give it 101% and It’s okay to say, I fucked up today, tomorrow will be better.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
Taking action when I have an idea instead of being insecure and stash the idea away in my hippocampus box nr 8 or neocampus box nr 9.
What do you find most irritating in other people?
Bullying and arrogance.
If your 20 year old self would see you know what would she think?
You’ve wasted some years idiot but you are never too old to change that for the better and you did.
Which object that you’ve lost do you wish you still had?
My childhood stuffed bear I guess. I believed it had magical powers and made me better when I was sick as a child. And the name? Just Bear haha.
What is the greatest challenge of our time?
Besides taking care of the earth because the earth takes care of us say “hi” to a stranger passing by and fun fact there, people are surprised, laugh and say hello back. This should not be weird right? Some of my friends find it odd but I always say “hello” passing by on the street and will keep on doing that. Okay not a busy street ☺. Connect with each other not only through a mobile device all the time.
Do you believe in afterlife?
Yes, I believe there is. I respect other religions and their thoughts but I believe in afterlife and reincarnation to be born again, to learn and become a better person. Intriguing right? I can have talks for hours about life, religion and the spirit world with one very wise friend who is very dear to my heart and a great musician.
If you have to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
I have love, I have a roof over my head, food on the table so I think a 7,8 because I am not perfect not that I want to be perfect but can always try to learn from my mistakes to get to become an 8,2.
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