Art is such a broad and ambiguous concept that its various forms often penetrate and influence each other, like music and painting, for example. Music has often inspired artists, such as Wassily Kandinsky, whose abstract works were influenced by maestros like Wagner, Beethoven, and Schoenberg. Marc Chagall, meanwhile, drew inspiration from Mozart's music when he painted the Ceiling of the Paris Opera. And the sounds of jazz guided Jackson Pollock's movements as he created his abstract artworks, with the trumpet solo of Louis Armstrong providing a subtle backdrop. In turn, Claude Debussy, the innovator in music, was strongly influenced by the Impressionist trend in painting.
Now, I have the pleasure of introducing you to the work of an extraordinary creative personality who skillfully combines music and painting in her art. Hélène Lindqvist is an artist and opera diva of Swedish and Egyptian descent. She began her vocal training in Stockholm with Florence Duselius and later studied at the University of Music in Saarbrücken, Germany, and at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, Austria. For a long time, Hélène used painting only as a personal creative outlet. In this interview, among other things, you will learn how the opera singer's paintings came into the public eye.
Hélène's painting is truly remarkable, as she combines the influence of both the Blue Rieter movement and Pop Art in an incredible way, despite their seemingly incongruous nature as two opposing movements. Using daring and bright colors, she presents seemingly uncomplicated subjects, which reveal a lighter and sometimes ironic approach, but beneath the surface, hides a profound meaning.
The boldness of Hélène's expression is also evident in her choice of subjects, which are still poorly represented in painting today, such as male nudity, vulnerability, and natural sexuality. It is my pleasure to introduce you to the wonderful world of music and colors that is Hélène Lindqvist's art.
Yuliana Arles: Hélène, your art includes elements of the renowned German expressionist association "Der blaue Reiter," whose members were some of the most influential figures in the history of fine art. One of its founders, Wassily Kandinsky, had a rare gift, synesthesia, which allowed him to perceive several senses simultaneously, such as seeing sound and hearing color.
Your artistic activity is also closely linked to the realms of painting and music, and in parallel to your exceptional talent as an artist, you are a professional opera singer.
What sparked your interest in these two art forms, and how did it evolve over time? Which came first in your life, music or painting? How do you successfully pursue both careers at the same time?
Hélène Lindqvist: I was 12 years old as I told my mother that I would become an opera singer, and spent all my time making music in one way or another. I was in the youth choir at the Royal Opera in Stockholm, but I also sang in a band and took dancing lessons. I took up painting in earnest as I came to Salzburg to study performing arts at the Mozarteum.
Being far from home and in a country where I not yet speak the language well was difficult for me. The grandmother of a friend of mine lived outside town in a blue house up in the mountains, was an artist, and she became my artistic fairy godmother. I would go to her on the weekends, and she would make me tea and strudel and let me play with her watercolors. She taught me the great gift of how to paint and be open and kind to myself with the results. How to accept the beauty of a piece, even if it turned out different from what I intended.
Through the years, I used painting only for myself, as an area of art making that was 100% private and for my own eyes only. Shortly before the pandemic, I had started sharing my work live and on social media. Then as we were in lockdowns and all concert and theater work fell away, I suddenly had time to go all in on painting, and I started painting all the time. It was like a new life had been given to me. In the beginning, I couldn’t sleep at night because my brain was creating shapes and colors on overdrive. It was and still is so very exciting to me.
For me, the focus and dedication in the moment of execution is the same in painting as in singing. In music, you have the added thrill (and stress!) of doing it in front of 3.000 people, but in visual arts, you create something that lasts even when you stopped painting. It’s all good.
Yuliana Arles: Your example serves to confirm that even among the difficulties of isolation during lockdown, there can be a positive side. It gave us the opportunity to analyze and reevaluate our priorities, which ultimately led to a newfound sense of creativity and self-expression - as it was in your case.
Getting back to your art, I find it particularly intriguing because it combines the influence of both the Blue Righter movement and Pop Art, which are two opposing movements. The German Expressionists aimed for equality between all art forms, particularly abstraction, while Pop Art emerged as a reaction against the seriousness of non-figurative art and other styles that emerged in the 20th century. I am curious about how you managed to merge these distinct styles in a such harmonious way in your paintings. Could you please describe how you reached this style and how you balance both influences in your artwork?
Hélène Lindqvist: I used to live in the lake region to the south of Munich, where the "Blue Reiter" movement first emerged. Maybe it’s something in the water?! But in all seriousness, I absolutely love how colors and shapes can be just as important as the subject matter itself. The way colors sing, the playful expressiveness of figures, and even the occasional clumsiness of brushwork all contribute to the overall impact of a piece. While I do draw inspiration from traditional art, I prefer to merge it with contemporary influences to create a bold and vibrant aesthetic.
Yuliana Arles: Speaking of the object of painting, itself, the delicate portrayal of male nudity from a female perspective stands out as one of the most recurrent themes in your artwork. Is there a specific social commentary or statement you want to convey through your pieces, or are they more focused on exploring the aesthetics of the human form?
How do you think your work challenges traditional ideas of masculinity?
Hélène Lindqvist: It's surprising to note that there are significantly fewer artworks depicting men compared to the abundance of paintings portraying women in contemporary times. The portrayal of men, especially in the nude, has decreased since the Renaissance era, whereas society is inundated with images of partially exposed women in various forms of media.
As women, it is vital that we harness our power to create our own vision of what we want to see and develop our way of seeing men and women. It's equally important for men to have images that appreciate the male form for its beauty and existence, rather than only portraying them as the primary observer of a situation.
When we see male nudity in art, it exposes the vulnerability of the depiction, which we tend to overlook in the case of female nudity, where we see it so often that the fragility of the position no longer registers.
Yuliana Arles: Undoubtedly, the theme of male nudity, vulnerability, and natural sexuality has not been fully explored in the realm of art. You provide a unique opportunity to bridge these gaps and complement the existing discourse with your artwork. In your paintings, you also use bold, sometimes acidic colors and dynamic shapes to convey the intensity of the emotions you are exploring. Can you share where you draw inspiration? Do you follow a particular process when selecting colors and shapes for each project?
Hélène Lindqvist: Taking a cue from pop art, I like to embrace irony and a lighthearted attitude towards painting. Did you know that in the performing arts, comedy is actually more challenging to execute than tragedy? It's all about getting the timing and flow of the performance just right to maintain tension.
I see a parallel to my own painting, where I aim to toe the line between expressiveness, stimulating imagery, maximal coloration and kitsch without crossing over entirely. It's a delicate balance, but one that I enjoy exploring.
Yuliana Arles: It should be noted that your ability to maintain a delicate balance between these different aspects is truly remarkable. The result is an original and distinctive expression that really comes alive. Upon observing your paintings, one cannot help but notice a distinguishing feature – the figures depicted are often accentuated with a vivid outline, reminiscent of an aura. What message were you hoping to convey through this technique? Could it be an emphasis on spirituality and the presence of an immortal soul in contrast to the ephemeral nature of the human body?
Hélène Lindqvist: I certainly believe that we are spiritual beings in human bodysuits, so the aura theory is good! But it is also a variation on the general outlining of shapes that Gabriele Münter used so much, and that appeals to me.
Yuliana Arles: Now let's dive into the world of music. Could you share your experience as co-founder of The Art Song Project, an online platform that pays honor to forgotten composers and their works? Could you shed some light on the genesis of this visionary initiative and tell how it has evolved over time?
Hélène Lindqvist: Including works by unknown composers in concert programs can be challenging, since audiences are often hesitant to attend concerts where they are unfamiliar with the music and unsure if they will enjoy it.
Consequently, unknown classical composers are seldom performed in public. However, there is a wealth of stunning music waiting to be discovered. In response, we recorded a collection of the most exquisite art songs that we could find and made them available for free on our website. With over 100 songs now available, our site has become a valuable musicology resource utilized by universities worldwide.
Yuliana Arles: It is safe to say that you have succeeded in various roles. Now you are sharing your experience and knowledge with the younger generation. As far as I know, you've conducted master classes on improving the vocal skills of teen refugees through non-profit organizations. How do you feel about your role as a teacher and mentor?
Hélène Lindqvist: Teaching is my passion, and I am fortunate to work with a dedicated group of students. While I maintain a strict approach with my opera students, my focus with my group of refugee students was centered more on helping them navigate their emotional challenges and establish a sense of identity.
Yuliana Arles: In regard to that, it can be assumed that individuals who have experienced being a refugee have gone through numerous traumatic events. In your opinion, does art help to change a person's emotional state and is it possible to transform one's inner traumas through creativity?
Hélène Lindqvist: I strongly believe that one of the core elements of human existence is the ability to transform our experiences through creativity. Singing, in particular, can be an incredibly therapeutic activity as it is deeply intertwined with the physical body.
Singing has the power to encompass a range of emotions, from weeping and laughter to shouting. While it is an innate skill, many people need help to give themselves permission to express their feelings in this way in the beginning.
Yuliana Arles: In light of your experience and international recognition, what advice would you give to young people considering careers in the arts or music, or maybe both?
Hélène Lindqvist: Engaging in some form of art can be beneficial for everyone. It's a fun, liberating, and stimulating experience that cannot be indulged in enough. It enables individuals to explore their inner selves, providing them with a symbolic understanding of who they are, which is incredibly beneficial. Above all, it adds joy to their lives. However, when it comes to the business of creating art, whether or not one should pursue it professionally is a separate issue.
Success in the art industry is impacted by numerous factors beyond an individual's artistic ability, and not everyone is able to maintain their passion for their art form after experiencing the professional world. It's crucial to keep these issues separate and recognize the complexities involved in the art industries.
Yuliana Arles: To conclude our conversation, can you tell about your upcoming projects or exhibitions that you are particularly excited about?
Hélène Lindqvist: Currently, I'm enthusiastic about just being in my studio and delving deeper into my art and exploring it more intimately. I sense that there are valuable ideas waiting to be brought to fruition. I still have no idea what they will be - it’s a good and thrilling place to be.
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