Interview of French artist Anne Van der Linden by Nina Zivancevic

Anne Van der Linden
Anne Van der Linden comes from a wealthy middle-class French family who allowed her at an early age to launch into an artistic adventure which he has never returned from afterwards. She was born in England, in 1959, but she was raised in France. She started drawing in the stream of conscioussness manner age seventeen, only to trasfer her interest to other genres while studying at the French Academy of Beaux-Arts. Perhaps it was this negative experience of the art school that prompted her to work all alone in her studio. She understood that the joy of contemplation and a challenging emotion could also serve the language of figuration and that these could be equally expressed through an expressionist drawing. Her drawings thus became at the same time serious and reminiscent of those ancient echtings of Dürer and Bosch and also critically charged and merciless somewhat like those caricatures of Otto Dix and Max Beckmann.The artist's drawings challenge those 'dangerous' or socially (un)acceptable topics-- she often asks a question whether all our relationships, including the family, sexual and the ones at work - are just a simple exercise of power ? The artist always answers this question in a brave and humorous manner as she reaches for the heritage of her great predecessors, notably authors such as de Sade, Bataille and Frida Kahlo who, in their turn, refused any given socal norms that stood in their way of being creative. The drawings of Van der Linden's are more than provocative- they are often ladden with the 'erotic' symbols as exemplified by the beautiful females resembling the top models placed on the torture table of the Great Inquisitor who, in splashing their sex with boiling oil represents, perhaps, common reason and consciousness. There are also in there the fallen angels who descend from Bosch's inferno and who devour penises in the red houses of Amsterdam and Antwerp.The constant themes of the artist's obsession are the following: the terror of racism, neocolonisation, consumerism and an overall industrialization of the society staggering both under the social regulations and family norms as well as under an influx of the pseudo-scientific and technological consciousness. And in an ancient expressionist manner her drawings also criticize the sanctum of motherhood, as they are critical of the Virgin and the Saint and of our new Holy father who hides a knife, an animal and a telephone in his pants instead of the penis. We could surely say that the girl who makes love to a phone receiver evokes more a naif symbolism of the neo-technocrat world than that she leads us to the erotic connotation of Van der Linden's image.

The artist complains that despite the fact that "all that she has always wanted to do is to be a painter" she gets sollicited by the publishers only as an illustrator. This is mainly due to her painfully precise analyses of the contemporary society, that is her drawings which often decorate the texts that are serious textual analyses of such. She treasures that painterly approach to color and the painter's material which often does not reveal itself to draughtsmen. Van der Linden had been visiting for some time psychiatric wards- an experience which left an impact on her; after such an experience she conceived the painting "Total peeling" on which a patient tries to peel off her own skin and flesh. In a certain way, the whole oeuvre of Van der Linden's enters the category of "peeling off'' of the conscious as the paintings evoke the reality peeled off and penetrated to the bone. Her palette is very heavy and sombre resemling a bit Diego Rivera's, although her overall sensibility belongs to the European art history.

The artist has also got involved in theater (through 1990s), performance and film, earlier with her legendary partner Costes. Her short films such as the "Ironing" and the "Well", 1999,treat cruel subjects: the problem of an alcoholic mother and life of a cleaning lady who gets literaly ironed by her boss. And although these films are both committed and heavy just like the artist's very painting they are also capable of keeping our attention on them- the phenomenon which surpasses many a contemporary artist and his work these days. If we were to ask about the number of Van der Linden's group or solo shows in the world we would learn that such number is big; and if we wanted to inquire about the importance or a scope of the places where she showed her work we would also learn that it has been very present in many prestigious places in the world. However, when we start thinking of the artist's work, this particular thing is not something that we begin to think of. The important thing is that her art approves of thinking, so to speak, and at the moment when she flashes her art like a gun or a glove , to the face of the spectator, he takes a good look at it- and starts thinking about it.

Her work is to be seen most recently at Les Singuliers Gallery in Paris.

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1. Question: What made you draw and paint in your life to begin with? Do you remember your earliest stages of interest?

Anne Van der Linden: As a child I had access to art books and art pieces as my mother managed a small art gallery in Paris - she sold contemporary prints. My first drawing experiments happened in the 70's. At that time everybody smoked pot and I did the same for a while, so in that sort of context I started drawing the improvisations, free association figures, objects and shapes, all of which were very distant from the academic type of artwork, meaning that they appeared very spontaneous. Then I went to art school and lost that manner, but in a way I kept the "free association" mood until now.

2. Question: I called you a sort of "female Durer"...What draws you towards drawing and etching as medium, and do you prefer that medium to oil painting ?

Anne Van der Linden: In the beginning drawings and etchings were the skeleton on which I had built my painting skill (isn't that a classic one?!), that was the place where the idea materialized, nothing more or less than that. Then a friend suggested that I just show my drawings as he thought them very good, and I followed his advice. However, the truth is that I still prefer painting (mix of oil and acrylic) to any other tehnique. Painting is really the cult object for me...maybe because the painting material makes the object look like a corpse, as it smells, shines, and appearing sometimes repulsive and at some other times attractive, it is more ambiguous, and interchanging according to lightning etc...

3. Question: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of that medium?

Anne Van der Linden: Drawing is easy to be reproduced, you hardly get bad surprises, also you can draw everywhere, you don't need much room. Drawing is the place of research, and by using the line you try to bring out ideas, and you can throw away the sheet if you are not satisfied with the result, thing that you cannot do so easly with painting, because it is so sticky and wet it becomes quickly fused and saturated with color. Plus, you don't want to run through the canvas too quickly because of the high price of the material! But drawing -the way I conceive it - is a very austere technique, I sit at my table for hours and sometimes I get hand cramps. Also it can take me quite a long time to fill the blank space and « kill » the paper sheet, unlike the medium of painting where you use a few brush strokes and that's it, the space of the canvas is conquered in no time- it becomes my space!

4. Question: How do you chose your subject , your themes in painting? Do you search for them or do they come to you?

Anne Van der Linden: It comes from varied sources, some images come from what I saw and that particular experince then influenced and inspired me to paint it, or also, there are ideas which I am not fully aware of and which come to me from the 'back room' of my mind... Most of the time things appear to my mind as set choreographies, and then the action becomes more precise from one study to another. The idea develops simultaneously with the shape, and after a few aborted attempts at legitimate existence it reaches the state of harmony, I mean I experience it as such when the image starts "talking" to me. Sometimes I take over the subject from one image to another, developing the so called 'small variations' of the original version.

5. Question: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), Would you call yourself an « engage »? A committed artist of a sort? How do you see your work in a larger context?

Anne Van der Linden: My art talks about mankind and doesn't avoid any aspect of humanity, I use obscenity, violence, sexuality and all our orifices as means of expression, and automatically that makes a committed artist out of me, as I have to account for the choices I make. A Feminist? It is a questionable tag for me to get- sometimes I can adopt a feminine point of view and explore some subjects that have been unexplored because they belong specifically to women's domain of work. Sometimes these are themes which women have not dealt with much until now, so it is interesting to use certain paths to explore them. But in general my position as an artist is the one of "transgender", meaning being beyond sexual determination, just like an animal is,so that I could feel more free in such an operating space. Also I happened to be rejected by so-called feminists, who thought that I was presenting a degrading image of women. I thought that their opinion was so unfair and boring! Such a mental sclerosis!

6. Question: What's the situation like in French contemporary scene? Closed or open? Likable, or rather dislikable?

Anne Van der Linden: Well, viewing things from my personal experience, the French scene is quite shy, at the same time full of the inferiority complex and conservative, always looking up to foreign countries art scene and deciding what is good in art or not, and the result of such a process is disastrous as we all know. Also the institutions have been adamant for decades that their rôle con sisted in promoting the old conceptual art, and all of us painters sculptors etc...could just go and die elsewhere. However, on the other hand, here in France I can make and broadcast pieces of art that could easily put me in trouble if I 'd shown them in other parts of the world. That lack of censorship here IS good!

7. Question: What's your experience with film, video? Do you like working with that media?

Anne Van der Linden: I have made 3 short films some years ago (2000-2001), and I used to develop and extend the themes of my paintings into film, in order to make them move into action, and this sort of experience was interesting. What I mean is that these films were close to performances, with a more material, everyday life aspect to them than my painterly images had before. But the filming of these images hasn't been an easy process- Ii had conflicts with the technicians I was working with and this problem has been blocking me and my filming process eversince.