Artist Hilde Atalanta Finds Beauty in the ‘In Between’
While Hilde Atalanta takes on projects of all kinds and works in a variety of styles and media, a primary focus is on making portraits—through which she explores themes related to identity, in particular gender identity, body positivity, and sexuality. Working in pencil, ink, watercolor, and acrylic paint, she creates art that reflects the diversity she sees around her.
[Editorial note: Before scrolling, please be aware that some of the artwork featured below the middle of this page includes illustrations of nude figures.]
Atalanta’s aim is to create images in which she can recognize herself, her friends, and the real people she sees every day. She says, “Mainstream art tends to show a certain type of person—and I know that in my own artwork, when I first started, I somewhat automatically portrayed that beauty ideal…. But I wish society would be more inclusive and understanding of our differences—would celebrate our differences. In my artwork, my goal is to reflect the diversity that is already a part of our world but that tends to get lost when we try to portray something beautiful.”
A love of detail is apparent in the illustrator’s work, as is a fascination with androgyny. “I love to make realistic portraits,” Atalanta explains. “I like to lose myself in details, and I’m very interested in painting faces and expressions…most of the characters I paint are quite androgynous—I mainly use female models, but then I play with their gender. I really like that they feel a bit ‘in between,’ because that feels very interesting to me. When I look into the world, the people that are a bit ‘in between’ fascinate me.”
REDISCOVERING A CHILDHOOD PASSION
Atalanta is a self-taught artist, and before she started drawing two years ago, she had not seriously applied herself to visual art since childhood.
Her first course of study was classical piano; however, after graduating from a conservatory in Rotterdam, she decided that the constraints of classical music were too rigid. Next, she studied psychology in Amsterdam and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in clinical psychology. She was interested in working in sexology or couples therapy but decided she didn’t want to invest more time in pursuing an advanced degree.
At that point, about two years ago, she decided to take six months off—to pause and figure out what direction she wanted to go in. But after one month, she realized that unstructured time off was not for her either. She felt lost. So she asked herself, “What am I missing in my life right now?”
And the answer was creative expression. Atalanta explains, “The creative side of me had gotten a bit lost during my studies. When I was a kid, I loved drawing and painting, doing little plays with my friends, and all that fun stuff.” So she decided to spend an afternoon painting and drawing, and she shared the results on Facebook. The response was so positive, and she had enjoyed herself so much, that she decided to keep going—and two years later, she hasn’t stopped.
A PROVOCATIVE BUT PLAYFUL SERIES
Atalanta works just about every day, in a central Amsterdam co-working studio space she shares with five other creative people, including journalists and a graphic designer. But her work, she says, doesn’t really feel like work: “I’m happy when I wake up in the morning and think, ‘What am I going to do today—OK, it’s this and this and this… and I can’t wait!’ I’m so intrinsically motivated that I know I’m doing the right thing.”
GROWING AS AN ILLUSTRATOR
The success of The Vulva Gallery was a bit surprising to Atalanta. “I’m from the Netherlands, and we are, I think, quite relaxed about a lot of things here, but I know that it’s not the same in every part of the world,” she says. “So when I started the account I wasn’t sure if things were going to work…. But soon some international publications got a hold of it, and it really started to grow.”
While The Vulva Gallery has earned Atalanta more attention, the series has, in turn, informed her work. Through the project, she found that she wanted to focus more on issues of diversity, not only in terms of human anatomy but also in terms of gender identity and sexuality. As that project grows into an interactive community, she’s adding a storytelling element to the vulva portraits she creates.
A newer self-initiated project, You're Welcome Club, features lighthearted nude figures—of all shapes, sizes, and types—and focuses on diversity, body positivity, and inclusivity; those works have led to some editorial and portrait commissions, and she also sells images from that series (among other illustrations) as an Adobe Stock premium contributor.
Looking into the near future, Atalanta would like to explore making larger-scale paintings while developing her technical skills and growing as an artist. But a primary goal remains creating images that celebrate our human differences. She explains, “I want people to be able to recognize themselves in my work and to feel included. I want people to look at my work and say, ‘Hey, that’s me’ or ‘That's my sister,’ and feel that what they are is normal and beautiful.”