Lena Brazin was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize 2020 with her mysterious painting Cottage 6. The richly coloured, loosely painted scenarios in Lena’s work instantly ignite the imagination with their dreamlike narratives and floating faces. Here, Lena discusses preparing her own paint, the inspiration behind her self made stretchers and the vision she seeks to inspire through her work.
Above image: Votre Dame, 2019, Lena Brazin, Acrylic and oil on linen, 246 x 168 cm, Photo credit: Ben Deakin
Clare: Can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education?
Lena: I am a largely self-taught painter influenced by some alternative ways of mentoring. I started to paint in 2010 and my first few years were all about living and working in between my home country of Slovakia and the South of France. During this time, I had a chance to work in the studio of an established French painter. This experience taught me a lot about what it means to be a painter and an artist. In 2015 I decided to embark on my solo journey as a painter and my steps led to London and I have been living here for 5 years now. In terms of education, I graduated from the 2 years long Turps Painting Studio Programme via Turps Art School in 2019.
Clare: How would you describe your practice?
Lena: My work is expressive, figurative, narrative and mystical. I am exploring themes of human life that have something to do with metaphysics, spirituality and ordinariness. My vision is to inspire people to think beyond their material existence when they look at my work. I also call my work “materialized immateriality”.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you describe your process?
Lena: My process has been changing during those last 10 years of painting, but most recently I have got accustomed to a very comfortable and natural methodology to me. Firstly, I digitally prepare a proposal for a painting, which consists of collaging photographs from my ever-expanding archive of pictures, and then editing and drawing into them. Once I am happy with the composition, symbolism and colouring, I proceed to paint it straight away. I either prepare large linen stretched over my custom self-made crossed wooden bars or small linen wooden panels. I paint on the gessoed surface. The first layers are with water-based paints, top layers are always oil-based.
Clare: The paintings where the wooden stretchers are protruding around the edges are so interesting and they really shift the context of the work for me. Can you talk a bit about how and why you do this?
Lena: The most famous person to ever do this is probably Jean Michel-Basquiat. He is one of my biggest influences and so when I saw his work in the flesh at the Barbican, I have decided to make my own version of these stretchers. At this point, it really was about testing and trying out what could work well with my work. It is also interesting that during that time in 2018, I was also developing my invented cartoon-like fluid characters as well and so they just made sense altogether as objects. The whole idea was about trying to depict the unseen. Crossed wooden bars were giving my first spirit paintings a very orthodox, icon-like, omnipresence feel with a contemporary and raw twist. I see these intentionally visible wooden stretchers as a reminder of the fragility and intangibility of the material world. They also complement and balance out the ethereal world that is taking place on the linen.
Clare: There are so many fascinating characters throughout your work, but the floating face seems to appear in nearly all of them and seemingly in different moods and forms. Can you tell us about that?
Lena: As I mentioned above, I invented these characters which I now call “Spirits” in the summer of 2018. They can represent anything but material. I also see them as quiet and observing guardians. I really wanted to break free from a painting that is being inspired and based only on photography and these fluid bodies with round floating faces were a result of my intuitive drawing sessions. At first, I was creating compositions solely with these beings, then later on, they started to enter into my figurative work inspired by real life. As a result, my paintings are now a fusion of the two – our reality vs everything that is unseen.
Clare: How have the events of the last couple of months affected your practice?
Lena: I was lucky enough to establish very important contacts before the lockdown happened and so I felt massive support from people that have been following my art practice. It is still very hard financially, but when you have your priorities set nothing can really stop you from doing what you love the most. The painting holds the second most important spot in my life, after my own and my family’s and friends’ well-being. I have been fortunate to be able to continue working during these few months of uncertainty. I am grateful for my part-time work and partial studio rent relief. I also felt like I needed a break from the crazy fast-paced lifestyle of a big city, so this slowing down really was a welcome change. I have found my inner peace again and I feel like I am entering into a very creative, consistent and prolific period in my life. I moved to a new studio the day before lockdown and I am very happy with it. I also must give a shout to #artistsupportpledge initiative which runs on Instagram and has been created by Matthew Burrows right at the beginning of the lockdown. It generated an astonishing amount of income for artists around the world including myself. It really helped me to survive these unexpected circumstances.
Clare: What can you tell us about your approach to colour? Do you work with pure pigment and blend colours yourself?
Lena: In the most recent years, I have been using pure pigments which I mix with different binders and mediums to achieve results that I want. Colours out of tube have a certain consistency and although you can adjust it in some ways, there is a limitation to this. I really wanted my paintings to be interesting in the flesh and so I have found out that preparing the paints by myself I am able to create more versatile results. I still use paints from the tube but this is usually only when I am working on a smaller scale and some details.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Lena: I have collected probably 200 brushes so far and they are my main tool while painting. I also love to work with the drill which is essential when I am building my surfaces and I am making holes in my walls haha. Other than that I also like to re-use plastic forks, knives and spoons from takeaway restaurants, paper rolls and empty plastic and glass pots and jars from our household´s waste.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Lena: I rarely have a bad day in the studio, if ever. For me, being in the studio equals a good day. I do what I love the most, I feel free. I have my little routine, coffees, teas, snacks, music, chat with fellow painters and of course the painting. Even during those days when I struggle with some painting, it still is an exciting bit of my life.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Lena: The era that I was most attracted to and had the biggest influence on me when I was starting out with painting was the era on the edge of the 19th and 20th centuries. Japonism, Symbolism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Metaphysical Art with the names like Henri Matisse, Paul Cézzane, Paul Gauguin, Suzanne Valadon, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Natalia Goncharova, Hilma af Klint, Giorgio De Chirico, Vincent Van Gogh, Francis Picabia, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Alphonse Mucha to name a few. This period was loaded with energy. You could see it through the use of colour and line and that is what I love about it. My aim is to do the same with a contemporary twist that reflects our era. I want to preserve the depiction of a soulful human spirit through an expressive and colourful language and also neutralize all that expanding High and AI Tech. From the later part of the 20th century and also contemporary painting, these names have the biggest impact on my work – Jean Michel Basquiat, Alice Neel, David Hockney, Francis Bacon, Martin Kippenberger, Gerhard Richter, Peter Doig, Michael Armitage, Sanya Kantarovsky, Oscar Murillo, Katherina Olschbaur, Katherine Bradford.
Clare: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Lena: A show that is running right now and I am taking part in it via an online fundraising exhibition is through the C&C Gallery and is called We could put our lipstick on. I also know about two other group shows that I´ll be part of. One will take place in a new Anderson Gallery in Hackney later this year and another one in Edinburgh via Arusha gallery opening someday in September. You can always visit my website or Instagram for updates on upcoming shows or to see more of my work.
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Jackson’s Painting Prize.
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