It’s a sheer joy to see the work of Lisette van Hoogenhuyze (alumna HKU). Her imagery is bold, fun and has a sense of humour and lightness to it. Exploring a crossover between printmaking and painting, her visual language is confident, playful and authentic. This year, we proudly hosted her in The Fine Art Collective Residency in London, where she worked and lived for the entire month of October.
‘It’s all about experiment and play.’ – Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
We visited her in West London to see her latest work, and to interview her. Here you can read the entire conversation and see some previews of her work in progress…
How do you find living and working in London?
Lisette: It’s great! The city is really growing on me and I love it more and more each day. It’s always bigger than I imagine. When I travel by tube, I never know where I’m going to end up. That can be quite overwhelming at first, but it actually energises me a lot. It’s really inspiring being amongst so many different people in the speed of the Big City Life.
As a visual artist, why do you paint?
I ask myself the same question every once in a while. What I like about painting is that it allows you to express yourself in a very direct way. So, once you have an idea, you can translate it into a visual right away. Unlike when you’re working on a ceramic sculpture, for example, where the process takes much longer before you see the end result. I am a bit impatient, you see. I always want to do things quickly and see the result immediately and be able to work with it.
Aside from that, I think painting isn’t just about taking a brush and paint. You can broaden that perspective by using different materials or changing the idea of a set canvas. What I like to do now is to hang multiple unframed paintings on steel installations on the walls ˗ literally layering them. For me, there is still so much to discover within painting before I switch to a different medium.
What, for you, is the biggest difference between printmaking and painting?
I suppose it’s the handwriting. With printmaking, you don’t have the brush stroke. I think that’s the main difference. When you print, it’s literally just the shape you cut out. That is a very direct way of copying a shape, but there is less handwriting in that. But also, I think in printmaking, you lose control more easily and there is greater scope for serendipity. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes it’s horrible!
‘I just allow myself to do whatever I want.’ – Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
What’s the most important element in your work?
When I arrived at the Residency Studio, I initially thought I was going a bit crazy. I was starting to create such divided works. On the one wall of the studio were very small canvases – very detailed and structured. And then on the opposite wall of the studio, I created huge paintings that were a lot more impulsive.
First, I thought there was a big difference between them, but now I realise that there is a common thread between them, a connection. The experimentation and energy they are derived from are the binding factors in the works, and these change every day. The relationships between the shapes and colours also play a big part. By layering, both literally and physically, these relationships become crucial. All these elements are important, as one can’t live without the other.
I also see a lot of humour and light-heartedness in your work.
I am happy you say that! Ever since I transformed my work to become more and more abstract, I feared that by doing so, the aspect of humour would disappear. I mean how would you define humoristic abstract art?
I do believe that humour and light-heartedness are very important in art. I believe we shouldn’t take art, ourselves or life for that matter so seriously all the time. That is where the playfulness and naivety come into it.
Is painting like playing for you?
Yes, it is! When I start painting, I hardly ever draw sketches beforehand. I have ideas in my head, but haven’t figured out yet what they’re going to look like in practice. I wouldn’t say it’s impulsive or intuitive because I think it’s actually more experimental and playful. I simply allow myself to do whatever I want. Later I decide what will work and what needs more attention, or more research. Then I eventually put paint on canvas.
As a visual artist, what are your ambitions?
I have a lot of ambitions. I believe it’s very important that people do and achieve what they want to do. I always wanted to have a profession that I could do anywhere in the world so that I could travel, meet new people and learn about different countries. As an artist, I hope that I will be able to share these experiences and to teach or inspire others. Anyway, in the future, I hope to collaborate with other artists on projects and learn from their experiences. People can learn a lot from each other through art.
‘Humour and light-heartedness are very important in art.’ – Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
Are there any artists who you’d really like to meet?
Aha, well there are rather a lot, actually! Plenty of artists whose work I look at and I think ‘wow, that’s brilliant!’.
Can you name one or two?
Mika Rottenberg, I really admire her work, I’d love to collaborate on a project with her. She is able to address very earnest and real topics in a very clever and funny way, connecting them to great aesthetics and fiction. I believe she ticks all the boxes. She’s a video artist and I am usually too impatient for video work, so that’s says a lot. But I do always look at different media.
Is there anyone else?
I have always been a big fan of the work of Martin Parr – a British photographer. His work really comes to life, especially now that I’m here in the UK. He really knows how to capture certain subcultures and stereotypes in an unstaged and spontaneous manner.
Can you tell us a bit about the run-up to the residency? What was your goal?
Well, I had just graduated, and when you graduate you find yourself in this weird limbo. You suddenly have to start thinking about your next step. As I have always been a big traveller and I really enjoy big cities, I was really excited to go to London.
My goal was to start producing work based on the experiences I learned
from this city. Here in the studio, you are given so many really crazy
materials to work with which are perfectly in keeping with my everyday life of
discovering and exploring new things. It’s a good combination.
To combine both, I’ll work in the studio in the mornings, then try to see as many different galleries and museums as I can in the afternoon. This is how I’m getting the most out of my time here.
Is that the biggest difference for you – doing a residency versus working in your own studio at home?
Definitely, yeah! Firstly, my studio literally is at home. That makes things very different, because I can go into my studio wearing my pyjamas, for example. I don’t have to see daylight to travel there. That makes it kind of claustrophobic and not adventurous at all.
Being able to distance yourself from your work when you’re outside of the studio and concentrate on it fully when you’re there is key. And I don’t think that really works when you have your studio at home.
‘Just give me a chance and I won’t disappoint you.’ – Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
The residency is a fantastic opportunity. You can be fully focused in the studio building without all the social distractions and previously mentioned inconveniences. It’s all about what you’re doing here. And because it’s such a short period of time, you don’t want to waste it!
How does a painter such as yourself find writing a project plan?
It’s hard, because, especially if you work in an experimental and playful manner, it’s difficult to really put down in words how you do that. I also felt a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to keep my promises. If you don’t feel it you don’t feel it and you just start working – in my case, I start doing a lot of stuff. It will come eventually. It’s really hard to put that into words. My mindset is more like: just give me a chance and I won’t disappoint you.
Chuck Close once said: “Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up and get to work.”
(Laughing) Haha, that’s a good one, I can relate to that! I don’t believe in the whole romantic historical idea of this great painter who is in his attic working drunk after drinking a bottle of wine or on LSD making all these beautiful things, and no one ever discovers him until he dies. It’s like you say, we just go to work, go to our studio and start working, just like others might go to the office. I’m just lucky that it’s all working out for me.
Did you ever consult the lab next door?
Yes, actually Marc, one of the chemists, was not very pleased with my ideas. I wanted to work with materials that are not meant to be combined. He just didn’t get why I wanted to do that.
I see him passing by the studio a lot, and he is very approachable. I feel free to ask him anything. Like how come you don’t have oil colour sprays, for example? Then we simply discuss why something is possible or why it’s not possible. So, it’s nice. If you are a curious person, it’s an additional bonus to have the lab next door.
Can you name some new techniques you discovered whilst working here?
I was lucky to be given a lot of materials in the studio that I’ve never worked with before, so I spent the first two days simply trying everything out. Basically, just making weird little drawings in order to try out all the different mediums. The more time I spent doing this, the more interesting things became. When I discovered a new technique, I had all the time and materials I needed to research it in a practical way.
I wanted to see if I could recreate the same effect you can get in printmaking using just paint. When you layer with transparent and opaque layers, you create a lot of depth in the work. I wanted to test this with oil paint too, to see how matte reacts on glossy and vice versa.
How are the Winsor & Newton oil colours you are working with?
Yeah, they’re good! I actually really like them. They’re super bright and vibrant, so the colours really pack a punch if you want them to. It’s really important that that colour is exactly what you have in mind and stays that way, especially when colour plays such a big part in your work.
The only bad thing is that’s it’s really hard to get it off your hands (laughing) if you’re as messy as I am!
You were telling me you’re also happy about the Liquitex Soft Body acrylics.
I work very big, so most of the time I make sure the paint is very fluid to make it easier to work big and it prevents the paint from drying too fast. It can be a real deal-breaker if you don’t have enough of a specific colour and it dries too fast. Soft Body is very fluid already, so you don’t have to worry about that! To top it all off, the colours are amazingly vibrant too!
So, if you were to have a higher ceiling, would your paintings be bigger? Would you fill the entire wall?
I visited the National Gallery and saw the medieval paintings. They had the altar pieces there as well. At first, I almost walked on by, but then I returned later on because I realised that the ceiling there was 8 or 9 metres high. All the panels of the altar pieces were ascending up onto the ceiling. I just stood there looking at it and thought I really want to find a space like that and do that with my own work. That would be amazing!
‘There is no one way of doing things; there is no right and wrong.’ – Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
I would fill the entire space, going even higher, up to the roof!
Are you happy with the results of the residency so far? Have you fulfilled what you set out to achieve?
I don’t think I’m quite there yet, but luckily I still have 10 days or so remaining. But I’m actually very happy already.
Last week, I was in a bit of a conflict with myself because I was questioning the results so far, but I’ve since been working around that, trying to find a way to understand what I have been doing. I think it’s very important to take a little time out. You produce a lot of work and then you have that moment where you take some kind of break and you question what you’re doing. The entire process that takes me months at home has been compressed into just a few short weeks! I have learned a lot from this. So yes, I am happy with the result!
So, is it like the first week you’re on a high, the second week you’re feeling low, and the third week you’re back on track?
It really does go something like that, absolutely.
So, you’ve already graduated from HKU University of the Arts Utrecht. Can you try to tell us what’s the most important thing you’ve learned whilst studying there?
It’s very important to realise that there is no one right way of doing things; there is no right and wrong. You receive so much different input and you have to be able to listen to it and implement it in your own progress and processes. You need to filter what information is useful to you and how you can use someone else’s ideas to develop your own view or way of thinking. Criticise your own work and own methods before listening to others and stay true to yourself.
You’ve already given us some idea, but what are your future plans?
I want to keep travelling and do art in different places surrounded by different artists. Doing more residencies in different countries will really help me to achieve this goal. After this, I want to do a Master’s degree and maybe even a PhD. I think I’ll be an eternal student!
Even if you don’t go on to do a Master’s degree…
You never stop learning.
Thank you, Lisette.
Interview & photography by: Lennaert Koorman
Special thanks to:
Robert Rost | The Fine Art Collective
Mathew Gibson | Elephant Residencies
Stephanie Nebbia | The Fine Art Collective
Juan Bolivar | Visual Artist
Lieven Hendriks | Visual Artist, HKU
Astrid Everaard | Colart
Jasper van der Wurff | ColArt