Abstract and surreal art
The American artist and teacher tells Gary Evans about art as a career, social media acceptability, and why painting is like finding faces in clouds
I could lose hours poring over Vanessa’s sumptuous artwork. Treat yourself to the same time on page 46.
During a recent interview, Vanessa Lemen was asked why she decided to “pursue” a career in art. The American said that painting was just what she did. It was what she wanted to keep doing, even if nobody ever paid her to do it. She never decided to pursue anything.
Vanessa used her column for the fantasy art site Muddy Colors to elaborate on her career in art so far. In high school, she painted huge Christmas displays at a grocery store and made big murals of album covers on the walls of a record shop. In her 20s, she worked as an illustrator and layout artist at a craft supplies place.
After college, she went to work for an advertising agency, then spent almost a decade at a greeting cards company. She did other jobs, including being a file clerk and a waitress, but at night she always went home and worked on her own stuff. None of these jobs involved making the kind of art she was into personally, the work she’s known for now: a dreamy, sometimes nightmarish mix of abstract shapes, abstract worlds, figure painting, portraiture and fantasy.
So when Vanessa is asked a similar question about her education in art – two universities, another two community colleges, various ateliers and workshops – she replies with a similar response.
“If you want a list of schools I’ve gone to,” she says, “I can provide
Subtlety is an amazing thing. When something is subtle it can feel as if it’s gone unnoticed. But then you find yourself drawn into it…
that, but it’s the combination of those college experiences, as well as my work and life experiences, that has made me who I am.
alw ays evolv ing
“My education history is pretty diverse and eclectic,” Vanessa continues. “I think that’s really helped shape what my art became and also what it can become – the notion that it still has the opportunity or potential to become something that’s evolved from what it is currently. I think that comes from my eclectic background. I guess I’ve never been one to feel as if my education will ever stop. I hope to continue to learn and evolve and grow as long as I live.”
Much of Vanessa’s work is portraiture. She often paints her subjects with restrained facial expressions. There’s a subtlety to her work, an ambiguity, a sense that she wants the viewer to do some of the work. Is this a hard skill to hone?
“It’s not a skill to hone. It’s a way of being. All of us have the ability to give the viewer the benefit of the doubt. Not all of us do it, but all of us have the capacity to. Subtlety is an amazing thing. When something is subtle it can feel as if it’s gone unnoticed. But then you find yourself drawn into it – not knowing why, but feeling as if you’d made that choice to go there. Because you have. You were drawn in
My education history is pretty diverse and eclectic. That’s helped shape my art
by way of a subtle invitation. That subtle invitation left it up to you to decide whether to engage or not, and once you do, how you will engage is open as well.
“Or ambiguity could very well be what the draw is. The unknown is always a curious draw, and if we can remain open while stepping into the unknown, that leaves so much room to explore and discover. To those who are always seeking, and even to those who find themselves drawn in unexpectedly, the unknown or unexplained has that pull. It
Within/Without The“AndBeatleslifeflowsprovidedonwithin Vanessayouand withoutwithinspirationyou.” for–ThethisBeatles piece: “And life flows on within you and without you.”
Letters To A Young Poet “A painting inspired by the book Letters To A Young Poet. It was written by Rainer Maria Rilke, the poet and novelist, to a young poet trying to find his way.”
Fiery Mind “She is a fiery mind, a fiery heart. She is a reflection. I can look at her face and see our story there.”