Our exclusive Q&A with painter and Academician Angela Lizon…
“…Snobbish attitudes in the art world really annoy me – “My taste is better than yours”. I subvert the kitsch and repurpose it for the Fine Art world…”
From her studio in Bristol’s Spike Island, Angela Lizon RWA creates striking, enigmatic oil paintings, often working from ‘kitsch’ ornaments, or from old photographs that she collages and digitally manipulates. She gained a BA (Hons) in Painting at Bristol Polytechnic in 1986, and then went on to study at Krakow Academy of Fine Art in Poland after gaining a scholarship from the Polish government and the British Council for study.
Angela’s paintings have been selected for numerous exhibitions and prizes including the RA Summer Exhibition, London; the John Moores Painting Prize, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool and The Threadneedle Prize, London. She was made an Academician of the RWA in 2018.
Here’s our Q&A…
When did you realise you were an artist?
It might sound cliched but I have always wanted to be an artist for as long as I can remember, and always wanted to be a painter. Luckily I had very non-interfering parents who let me follow my own path or plough my own furrow. There was no experience or knowledge of art in my family but my father was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker, and my grandfather was a glass blower.
Why do you make art?
It’s an imperative, an obsession and a joy.
Your works often feature cheap ornaments and kitsch, cutesy objects in unexpected settings. What are your views on kitsch, and why do you use it in your art?
A lot of my work makes use of undervalued and discarded objects – making something from nothing. The kitsch ornaments I work from cost only a pound or two from charity shops and are also redolent of the art I grew up with. Snobbish attitudes in the art world really annoy me – “My taste is better than yours”. I subvert the kitsch and repurpose it for the Fine Art world.
Another common strand in your work is the use of snapshot-like compositions of human figures – often these have a mysterious or even slightly disturbing effect. Can you tell us about that – and do you copy real photos or are they entirely invented?
I mainly work from real photos from anonymous sources that I find on the internet, again looking for discarded, unvalued ones, badly taken or badly worn. The images that I choose are the ones that appeal to me on an intuitive level. I don’t try to analyse it, but when put together they do have a certain look and coherence – dark, mysterious or disturbing (or funny). I blame my childhood and all the Eastern European fairytales I read.
“…The images that I choose are the ones that appeal to me on an intuitive level. I don’t try to analyse it, but when put together they do have a certain look and coherence – dark, mysterious or disturbing (or funny). I blame my childhood and all the Eastern European fairytales I read…”
What other artists, works or art traditions have most influenced you?
Apart from kitsch I enjoy many artists and traditions. Russian icons, Tudor portraiture (for the costumes), Pierre and Giles, Gerhard Richter, Luc Tuymans. I am always interested in seeing work by the old masters such as Rembrandt and Velasquez (my favourite) – particularly the portraits of the Spanish royal family. At the moment I am very interested in the Dutch flower painters of the 17th century. George Stubbs was a big influence when I started painting giant kittens.
How has your work changed or evolved through your career? Was there a particular turning point?
I spent 15 years as a minimalist abstract artist before I returned to figurative painting more or less overnight, as an escape from a painting block. I went from huge minimalist pared down colour paintings to giant kittens within a month. It was fun and liberating after struggling for so long to evolve my abstract work.
Tell us about your postgrad study in Poland – was that important for your artistic development?
It was an amazing opportunity to live in Krakow for a year and to make contact with my unknown Polish family. Living under a communist regime was an interesting experience for me but life was very hard for most Poles. At the time I don’t think it affected my artistic development unless subconsciously but I have always been interested in where I come from. I have recently been making a series of paintings based around a fake family tree as I still do not know much about my Polish father’s side of the family other than that my grandparents were Polish. I had a DNA test done which threw a lot of unknowns into the mix. The identity I had made for myself has been revealed to be a kind of fairytale in itself. Also, the Poland I visited in 1986/87 did not match my father’s stories that I had grown up with. My own reality was not actuality. “Who do I think I am?”.
You were made an Academician of the RWA in 2018. What did that mean to you – and what part does the RWA play in your artistic career generally?
I was really happy to be made an academician and feel it is a great achievement. I enjoy being part of the artistic community at the RWA, going to the private views and meeting new artists.
What are you working on now?
I am working on a large flowery painting with ornaments which is about the meaning of spring – growth and reproduction [above]. I have been struggling with it for months and don’t know if I will like it when it’s done. It was a bit silly to start a painting about spring in the autumn but it’s taken so long that spring flowers are appearing in the shops again , so that’s a help.
Many years ago I read “The Masterpiece” by Zola. The title is a mis-nomer as it is about an artist who tries to create a major work only to fail, scraping the paint off each day, making a muddy mess, submitting it to the Salon every year, getting it rejected, feeling despondent. His failure to live up to his own idea of himself leads him to commit suicide in front of the painting. I’m feeling a bit like that (not the suicide part) and am enjoying re-reading the book alongside my struggle.
Finally, a fairy godmother waves her magic wand and says you can own any artwork in the world. What do you choose?
Relevant to me at the moment would be a painting by Jan Van Huysum: a Dutch old master flower painter, the tops. It would be a constant learning tool. Hopefully I could imbibe something by living with it.
You can see more examples of Angela’s work on her website.