This week, I was thrilled to spend time with one of my favorite painters and people, Lynnea Holland-Weiss, while she was in New York visiting from Oakland, California. A native to the Bay Area, Lynnea has been creating a prolific body of figurative paintings out of her studio all year. Even though she is currently on vacation, she draws fervently out of her sketchbook at every available opportunity. She can’t help herself. Her work is part of the air she breathes, and it is clear that she does everything with her whole heart.
Lynnea is passionate about capturing life; her paintings are vibrant, imaginative, and intuitive. To me, they feel cinematic, charting people’s movement through space and time. Lynnea simply documents what she observes and graciously leaves it out in the open for you to feel.
I’ve had the honor of crossing paths with Lynnea at several distinct chapters of our lives, and because her work is unwaveringly real and honest, she is the type of artist you yearn to follow over time. Moods and tones in her work naturally shift along with her life experience. Her work echoes paintings by art legends Nicole Eisenmen and Alice Neel, artists whom have gone against the grain to create work that is real, transparent, and human. Lynnea’s work is no exception. She fearlessly portrays the human experience.
In addition to painting, Lynnea has been pumping out an incredible new body of comedic illustrations as this month’s artist-in-residence for Ground Floor Comedy. It has been wild to see her charter new territory in the field of illustration.
Lynnea and I sat in the sun together and discussed figurative painting, color, intuition, live comedy, and comedic illustration before sketching together at the Ridgewood Diner. Here is the conversation. Enjoy!
H: Your work revolves around people. Would you say there is a narrative?
L: I like to leave the narratives in my work pretty open to interpretation. You can’t really escape having narratives with figurative painting. The mind can’t help but want to look for one, but I definitely want my work to be open for any viewer to step inside the painting.
I don’t think about a story first and then make a painting. Rather, I let the painting, as it is being formed, tell me a story. When working with the figure, I am mostly interested in body language and what the body holds and expresses.
H: That reminds me that you come from a dance and yoga background as well…
L: Yeah, which I’d definitely say is a big part of why I am so drawn to the human form. Before even picking up a paintbrush, I danced my whole life. And because of that I feel that I think first from my body and make things from a very guttural place. So yeah, I feel like the work comes from physicality and then any story or narrative reveals itself afterwards, but is never the initial thought. I want people to read into whatever they read into it on their own. I don’t want to dictate anything.
H: Your intuitive way of working reminds me of improvised comedy because it is an art form that also comes from the body. In my opinion, good performance including comedic performance must be grounded in the body. Has comedy influenced your work?
L: I really enjoy comedy. I think comedians are brilliant artists, and what they are doing is not very different than being a painter or pursuing any form of art because it is all just about reflecting the world around you. I spend a lot of time listening to stand-up comedians. I don’t necessarily think about comedy directly when making my work, but I certainly enjoy it and I see how it relates to figurative painting. Both are simply about observing life and people.
H: This is a random side note, but you were the first person to show me Louis C.K.’s work.
L: Really? I didn’t know that. Yeah, he is the best, one of my favorite artists/people, for sure. I am just obsessed with him. He is a genius.
H: It seems that you use color very intuitively. How do you feel about color?
L: I feel that color reflects what I’m going through and where I am. Looking back at when I was struggling with health issues, I was so focused on skin tones and physical, natural colors. When I was studying abroad at the Rhode Island School of Design, I had my first experience of the fall. My color palette really absorbed the season’s colors. After becoming healthier, I have been enjoying color more than anything else. Now I want to push color to the limit and test the boundaries of what color can do and how colors can be used in relation to one another. So in my recent work, I’m really pushing the richness of bold colors and exploring how they make us feel.
H: It seems that about two years ago, you made many paintings with groups of people exploring, hanging out, or walking. I am sometimes envious of your west coast lifestyle because it seems to include frequently camping and hiking, and I like to dream that these experiences have affected your work. How would you say your lifestyle is reflected in your painting?
L: My lifestyle definitely leaves room for lots of travel. It is really a necessity for health and overall wellbeing. When considering how much my body plays a role in my voice as a painter, then wellbeing becomes a priority. It is funny because I definitely am more inspired by cities, like being on a crowded subway train is one of the most inspiring things to me, but I couldn’t make this work without being able to also retreat into wild nature and breathe in silence. After having thyroid cancer about five years ago, a huge shift happened in my lifestyle. It is totally cliché to say, but when your health is compromised, you realize firsthand that time is of the essence. Being present with your whole body and life has to come first. This shifted how I live my life drastically.
But to come back around and answer your question, all of my life experiences find their way into painting form. I couldn’t help it, even if I tried. Travel is also an essential part of my practice through working directly on the street and doing murals. I enjoy street art because it touches on such a basic instinctual desire to make marks and connect with a place. I also like that it is a way to make a human mark that is accessible to absolutely anyone.
H: You are a resident artist right now for Ground Floor making several illustrations a week. You’re more of a painter than an illustrator, so I am curious about how this project has affected your work.
L: It’s been really fun because I have been so focused on painting recently that it has been a nice break to simply draw again. I love drawing, and my work goes in a different direction when I draw. When I use drawing materials, my work usually becomes more humorous naturally because I love mark making in a “heavy handed” way. Drawing brings out the moniker, street, public art avenue of my practice. This type of work is much more quick and raw, much different than making a painting that you work on for a long period of time.
Also, making work specifically for a comedy publication has made me think more about objects. I am normally so focused on body language, facial expressions and color, but when thinking about what makes something funny, it’s really about specificity. I think that must be why comedians focus on who they are, their identity, often because the specifics of what makes them individuals makes them relatable. It’s more personal.
I’m finding that objects in relationship to the figure are crucial in making something more specifically funny in that moment. My work is typically more open ended, and I purposefully am leaving it ambiguous. The objects are a key component to actually making something funnier. It’s interesting.
H: Do you think the comedic illustrations you are making this month will affect your next paintings?
L: (Laughing) Yeah, I am already thinking about it. These illustrations have definitely affected what I now look at when I walk down the street. I often sketch or take photos of things to reference for paintings, so I have noticed that something in me has switched and what I’m looking for or noticing is different. I like it. I am excited to look and think about my work with a more humorous perspective, even if it is just in subtle ways.
Stay tuned to see what Lynnea makes next! She has plans to travel and conduct some public painting projects this summer. You may find more of Lynnea’s work on her website and Instagram @lynneahw.
Written by: Hannah Wnorowski (@freektelevision)
Collaborative Portrait of the Artist at Ridgewood Diner by Lynnea and Hannah This week, I was thrilled to spend time with one of my favorite painters and people, Lynnea Holland-Weiss, while she was in New York visiting from Oakland, California. A native to the Bay Area, Lynnea has been creating a prolific body of figurative […]