I recently rediscovered the work of Maria Lassnig, an amazing abstract/figurative painter from Vienna who passed away at the age of 94 in 2014. Ahead of her time, Lassnig is best known for her Body Awareness paintings in which she painted how her body was feeling from the inside as opposed to how it appeared from the outside.
Reading the writings in Lassnig’s diaries has been a profound intellectual and artistic experience for me. Her paintings, most of which are self-portraits, delve deeply into the human psyche and the collective unconscious through shape, subtle color, and symbolism. Her writings and paintings seem to speak directly to me, providing me with the female artistic mentor that I lacked as a child and young woman.
Particularly powerful for me have been her following thoughts. “… One must be hungry, have inhibitions, be able to forget all images…The rhythm of painting should be like gasps of breath when life chokes us. The pure gesture will ultimately produce focal points, points of concentration. You can also begin with them, lose them and relocate them… Oh, the artists who are captives of their own style, grumpily looking out at the world, doggedly longing for the fruitful path of superlative success; discard style, alter it every week, revise your norms each week change the color of your hair, your wig, every day, change your vocabulary, your preconceived opinion about your neighbor and about politics every day, your way of life every week, change your job, anticipate the changes that time has in store for us… When, in my painting, I became tired of analytically depicting nature, I search for reality that was more fully in my possession than the exterior world, and I found it waiting for me in the body house in which I dwell, the realist and clearest reality, I only needed to become aware of it in order to be able to project its imprints as fixed focal points onto the picture plane.” (Maria Lassnig: Works, Diaries & Writings, by Fundacio Antoni Tapies, 2005)
Lassnig has inspired me to paint paintings that are my own. They emerge from a place inside of me that I did not know I had. I am plumbing the depths of my experience and connecting to a larger whole through paint, brush, fingers, surface. I am using the formal devices of art - composition, shape, color, and line - to develop a visual language that feels uniquely mine. Lassnig has also given me the courage to use abstraction, figuratively. I have no interest in recording the reality that we see with our eyes because cameras can do that. Instead, I paint paintings that live their own reality.