Lisette van Hoogenhuyze is a Dutch artist whose work, spanning across painting, textile and ceramics, explores the connection between cultures and narratives and our shared visual language. A couple of months ago, I visited Lisette’s studio in Lisbon and we talked about her career as an artist, what inspires her work, and the projects she is currently developing.
– By Carolina Castilho
Hi Lisette! To start off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started as an artist?
Sure! My name is Lisette van Hoogenhuyze. I’m Dutch and I am currently based between Lisbon and Amsterdam. I have always been interested in art but initially, I started off as an art history student. Just before signing up for a master, I realised that that wasn’t exactly what I wanted, and I decided to go to art school instead. When I began art school at the HKU everything made sense.
I love to travel and during my time as a student I was able to do this a lot: I went all over central America, and also to Vietnam, Iran and Kenya. I found myself so intrigued by all the new things I learnt every time and the beautiful people I met, but also the completely different mindset everyone has once they’re away from home.
It’s interesting that you studied art history first and then moved into art school. Were you already making art before, or what led you to want to make that switch?
I don’t know if I was necessarily making art, but I was always creating things. I remember being asked about my first encounter with art, and I think it was when I was really, really young. I was obsessed with tree houses and when I was around six or seven I would go into my dad’s tool shed and take all his tools, take them to the park, and then just build stuff there with my friends. Eventually I wasn’t allowed to do that anymore because all of my dad’s expensive tools were gone, but I kept having these smaller projects and making little houses for my pets, for example. At the time I didn’t see any of it as art, but I think that was the start of it.
I was really unhappy when I was working at a gallery, after my studies in art history. It was there where I realized that that was just not for me. In this exact moment someone at a party asked me, “What do you really want to do?”, and I replied saying I dreamt about being an artist. They said “Then, there you go”, but at that point I was convinced it was too late. I was 23 and this person was in their 30s, and basically they just told me to get over it and change my mindset immediately. The year after I applied to art school and got in, and it was obviously not too late. It was the best decision I could have made.
You mentioned that you were able to travel a lot during your studies. How did that impact your work?
When I was in art school I moved back to the city where I grew up, which is on the coast of the Netherlands, and I always had a side job working in hospitality. At one point I was managing a beach club there, so in the summer I would work there full time and in the winter I would work in a bar —if I wasn’t in the studio, I would spend all my weekends and my free time there. Living near the beach, together with traveling and going abroad, had a big influence on my work because that was when I was shaping my body of work and my interests, letting my identity come through the work and figuring out what I wanted to do, what my voice was. I became interested in what I call coastal culture, or leisure culture, and the more I traveled, the more I saw how there seems to be a shared language within all these coastal places. I found that there are a lot of dualities and juxtapositions between things that are seemingly happy, chill and relaxed, but that also hide some tension. You travel somewhere and see a beautiful beach, but at the same time the locals are worried because their local town has become completely gentrified, or there’s a lot of waste on the beach. There are always those two sides to the story. So I started working with that and trying to find similarities and, these visual elements that everyone recognises.
That was very, very present in my initial work, and in the last few years I think I’ve been moving towards a bit of a broader perspective on the same essence. I’m looking at it from further away, and focusing more on the similarities between human civilizations, how we share so many things and almost have this universal language with its imagery, artifacts and archetypes. I’ve started to look more into folk stories and fairy tales, and also focusing on the idea of the Apocalypse. There are so many stories from different cultures about the big flood, which is present in the Bible but also in a lot of cave paintings and hieroglyphs. It fascinates me, and in my own way and with a contemporary view, I try to lead all these things and put them back together in one big pot and create new images that people identify with, or in which they can project their own views. I play with this shared memory that we all have.
And how does art allow you to explore those issues?
For me, I think art is the most basic form of communication. I was recently in Athens for a residency, and something that I found so inspiring there was that you can see all these artistic objects that were made thousands of years ago. It’s just something you can’t wrap your head around. It’s so cool to think about how people actually sat down and made these art objects, even though maybe at that time they weren’t necessarily supposed to be art and were basically used in education and to tell stories. But it is still the most basic form of civilisation, how we start shaping things for each other. Because that’s what it is, we do it for each other. It’s not necessarily that you make art for other people, but you always have it in your mind that people will see it, and there will be different visions, different ideas, different perspectives. For me that’s a huge part of the work, and especially when I was making more abstract works, like wall pieces, people would always have different reactions to it and different interpretations. It’s that interaction between the viewer and the work, because then I step back and the object is there to be seen.
In your work you explore different mediums (textile, ceramics, painting). How different is the process with each one of them and how do you decide on what formats to use?
I think it started more because I’m really impatient and have trouble sitting around and waiting while I’m working. And of course, when you’re making a painting you need to wait until it dries, and it’s the same with ceramics, since it can be quite a long process. So it started off more like that, with me needing to be doing things simultaneously and also exploring how they react to each other and at a certain point it all just started to connect. I was making these wall pieces of different types of fabrics with prints, painting and drawings and then started to incorporate ceramic objects. I think they’re all different elements that are part of the same work. My work goes between abstract and figurative, so parts of it can be patterns or shapes, but then there are also these objects that hint more at a narrative within it.
So right now we’re in your studio. How important is it for you to have this space? How does it affect your work?
So important! I’ve thought about having a studio at my house, because I really enjoy having my own space and I’m always in my studio. But at the same time, because of that, I also think it’s really important for me to have a studio elsewhere so I can actually go there and see other people. I’m at a point now where it would be completely impossible to not have a studio space, especially since my work is quite large and the things I need to make it also take up a lot of space.
I think the moment you start renting a studio is the moment when you start to really take yourself seriously as an artist, because it’s expensive and it really is an investment in your work. When you make that decision, that’s also a career decision you’re making. But I think it’s the best investment you can make.
If you could visit one artist’s studio, who would you choose?
The first name that pops in my mind is Vivian Suter. In her work she buries her paintings in the forest in Guatemala, and I just see myself fifty years from now being somewhere in Brazil, or Nicaragua or Mexico, and working with nature, being intertwined with it. I just love the way she works, and even though now I’m moving in a different direction I think I’ve also always been interested in having a lot of different shapes and forms of works and the freedom to just hang them loose and have them more as a spatial installation. I also think about Rose Wylie, who I used to be a huge fan of, and she’s an older lady who makes these really funny, playful paintings. When I look at her work, I just feel like I want to get to know her. I actually have this with many female artists that I find inspiring!
And to finish off, could you share a little bit about what you’ve been working on or thinking about lately? What are some of your current inspirations?
Sure! I’m working on this huge project for Art Rotterdam, which is going to be an outside parasol, the kind that you place over your table when it’s really sunny. So it’s almost like a huge, round pizza shape, with six different slices. I drew all of them, and first I’ll start working on the textile and then I will make the base for painting. Then I have to put them all together and sow them. This work in particular is about an ancient Apocalypse, and all these things we talked about coming together. So there’s a lot of different influences from daily contemporary life, but also a lot from ancient times, and they overlap where they have these similarities. I wanted to make this work specifically for Art Rotterdam because I think I needed to do something that wasn’t just a two dimensional piece, but also not a ceramic sculpture, because I feel that my work is both. It needed to be something that combined both things. So it’s a big mission!
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All Photographs courtesy of
Lisette van Hoogenhuyze
Written & interviewed by Carolina Castilho
Edited by Lisette van Hoogenhuyze & Carolina Castilho
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