I am Artist, hear me roar!
When I met Lydia Janssen for the first time in Singapore two years ago, we had instant chemistry. I liked her work, her values, her energy and I liked her as a person. Since that fateful day, we have spent countless hours together, having endless conversations about the art scene, the industry and about art for art’s sake, as well as some very deep and meaningful conversations about life and relationships. To me, she is a strong and amazing woman with a breadth of talent. She is not the stereotypical crazy (well, maybe a little), hermit artist, nor is she starving. But as recent years have shown us, this stereotype is quickly changing.
Marina Abromović recently took hell from critics when she was quoted as saying that having children would have been a “disaster” for her work. “There’s plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family, children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that,” she said. And while there may be some truth to that statement, for some women, I don’t think it is a hard and fast rule and there are many examples, such as Louise Bourgeois and Cecily Brown, just to name a few, which support the idea that when a woman decides to pro-create it doesn’t automatically preclude her from producing meaningful and creative work.
So, when I asked to visit Lydia’s studio for the purpose of writing this blog, I took the calculated approach to not ask questions about her role as a mother and her “wife-ness” (yes, I am quite aware it’s not a word) as I feel it does a disservice to a female artist to identify a woman as being those things first and foremost; as if being a mother and wife is inseparable from being just Lydia, artist and woman. She was, after all, those personifications first. Not that I would ignore that her work must have been impacted upon marriage and having children. I just didn’t want to perpetuate for her a struggle that already has existed, historically, for female artists to overcome the stereotypes, whether they have kids or not. We don’t ask a male artist this question, why would we ask a woman?
When I first arrived at the studio, Lydia asked me to wait a moment while she finished a few rythmic brushstrokes on her canvas; a massive canvas! So I quietly took some snaps of her working while she wasn’t paying attention. I noticed the walls of the studio had some handwritten comments and numbers on them. When she put down her paintbrush and turned her attention to me, I asked her about them. She explained that the comments are raw notes which she writes on the walls in order to remember where she left off in her train of thought; so she doesn’t lose her place when she goes back to it, while the numbers are solidifying for her and are part of her complex thought process. Horses and other animals are a common theme in her work, capturing the primal movements in her mind, which used to come from her body.
As a former professional dancer who suffered several injuries which left her unable to dance, Lydia says she feels like Humpty Dumpty, the fairy tale character who fell off the wall. Her art practice is an illustration of putting herself back together again. She tells me that her process is fluid and she doesn’t really know what she is painting when she begins, but her subject matter is consistent in that it is always autobiographical and about her body and her relationship with it. Halfway through a painting the images start to move and melt, taking on a life of their own, until the very end when the strokes she has put down on canvas with oil paints take on a life of their own and reveal a meaning which is at once powerful.
Lydia is represented by the Susan Eley Fine Art in New York and Redsea Gallery in Singapore. She will present a solo exhibiton of her latest body of works in January 2018 at the latter.
For more info on Lydia Janssen, please click here.