Sissy Lange: ‘Everybody is a Crime Scene’

‘Everybody is a Crime Scene’, exhibiting from Satuday, June 27th to Wednesday, July 8th

Sissy Lange is an artist who explores the universal aspects of the human experience through her colourful creations, described as ‘psychedelic’ by some and ‘psychedelic, low-brow humour’ by herself. Clearly, this is not an exhibition to be missed. Below, I talk to her about her creative process.

Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
Yes and no. I’ve been creative with a somewhat left-field approach to life, so it seems it wasn’t a choice, but more or less a mind-set that comes naturally. Having been raised by a very conservative family, I tried to get a ‘real job’ that didn’t seem completely mind-numbing – I studied journalism and sociology, then became a fully-qualified occupational therapist. I now work as a mental health support worker. Whatever I do, I still seem to produce some creative output.

In what way has your style evolved over the years?
As a youngster, I used to draw scraggly, weird cartoons for the school newspaper, and in the toilets of my preferred club. I’ve always enjoyed developing patterns and ideas, and have never stopped looking for new ways to make living less mechanical. I still like to think that art should and could be more than self-involved than just “look what I can do”.

Your incorporate a lot of bright colours and psychedelic imagery into your work. Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My inspiration and drive is my craving for satisfying colour and intensity in general. I haven’t tried any hallucinogenic drugs, and never used to think of my artwork as ‘psychedelic’ until someone utilised this word to describe it. In all honesty, during my studies, I never dared to regard painting as my work. I played with concepts and ideas, put all my energy into making them into archives, pieces of writing, videos and amateur-forensic investigation and documentation that were presented as installations. Gradually, scribbles and painted bits became part of this.

Life and Death on the Beach 2
How would you describe your own style?
Psychedelic low-brow humour?

Who are your influences?
I still know very little about art and artists. I mostly love odd cartoons, but if I have to name heroes, it would probably be Yayoi Kusama and Jonathan Meese (check this man rambling on YouTube, it’s mesmerizing!). I like outsider art that was not in any case made as art, but as something that needs to be done, whatever that need may be. A good example of this would be Emery Blagdon’s ‘Healing Machines’.

What’s your creative process like?
It’s mostly like a game of paint-by-numbers, but you make up the numbers and rules as you go. Often I find my materials in skips – old notice boards and such. I choose colours that seem right, create chaos and natural lines by pouring thinned-up paint. My need for control and order takes over, and I start implementing outlines, colour-in by rule, picking out patterns  and things I see in it until it all becomes too structured – then I may pour paint again, or paint over whole areas in solid colour. This process of building structure from chaos and disrupting it can happen over and over, until I find the right moment to stop. To me, it is a battle to let subconscious narrative emerge, while giving the rational mind some leeway, too.

You mention you work with other materials too, including video. What is the creation process like for this?
Muchly, the same. The narratives of the videos are spun around a mythical persona, for instance, the woman that tries to strike up a relationship with a CCTV camera. This myth evolves through writing, sketching and research, but on the day of the actual filming, I just gather a load of props and toys and play around with them. The editing is usually rough, but structures it enough to make it accessible again.

Do you have a preferred mode of expression?
Humour and Language. In my head, it’s all language, but the main areas of interest are often outside of language’s reach, so my preferred mode of expression isn’t always the best. Colour affects us in a way more direct manner.

What’s the story behind your exhibition title, ‘Everybody Is a Crime Scene’?
I’m addicted to forensic and crime documentaries. I used to play scientist as a kid, take samples and write “documentations” of sorts. I think it’s the methodical approach that appeals to me. In my studies, I did some forensic examination on my own body, but ‘Everybody Is a Crime Scene’ is more psychological.
While trying to determine what ties my painting work together, I found that the subconscious input is laced with glitches and yearning, artefacts of one’s history, and sometimes it’s pain and trauma seeping through – old cans of worms being opened and metabolised into artistic expression. I asked on social media what was the most hurtful thing people have ever been called or told – things that are thrown at us all our lives. Some of it sticks, and I made it into badges that people can pick up from the “crime scene” in the exhibition, and wear them proudly if they so wish.
I think what the title wants is to encourage people to feel connected in the knowledge that most of us have been subject to horrid things. Like maggots feed on dead things, we can feed on our own little deaths, take control and use them as a toy – make them into a living.

You have chosen to make your exhibit interactive, with people being able to title your paintings. How did this idea come about?
Firstly, I feel very awkward in art exhibitions myself. There is only so much marvelling at stuff that you can do. I would like people to move past that, to play and engage – always! Secondly, friends of mine had an in-joke – a title for one painting they had come up with – ‘Mother Theresa with Blood on Her Face’. When I heard about it, it made me laugh so much that now, I want to know all of what people see in my artwork. I can’t wait.

Is there a particular subject that you return to?
Life, death and sexuality would be a very blunt way to outline it. Transformation and connection – that’s the bit that’s hard to put in words.

Crime scene 1

Is there a particular image that you return to?
I have reoccurring motives in my paintings. My partner often says, “Oh look, you painted another vagina!” Foetuses sometimes crop up – I guess they’re the ultimate symbol of innocence and safety to me. Skeletal bits and biological diagrams are a running theme, too. Make of it what you like.

How did you pick which pieces to include?
I didn’t pick much. I excluded a few that I am not 100% satisfied with, but other than that, I’m cramming that little gallery space with whatever output I produced in two years of painting. During my art studies, I only once (for my very last piece) dared to make a painting centre of my work. I never spent much time on painting, overall. But in the last two years, after I finished my degree, I painted during most of my days off work. Without the pressure of deadlines, I felt free to self-teach. Now, the public will be lumbered with the fallout from that.

In what way has your studying fine art affected your artwork today?
My tutors were brilliant in the sense that they gave me encouragement and hints, but at the same time, left me in control of my own development, and let me go as mad as I liked. Having studio space made me work bigger, bolder and harder. I got a kick out of building wild and silly things, and knowing people were actually getting something from it. This really helped me to come out of my little corner, and get some faith that I can do this artist thing.

What’s next for you?
I don’t like making specific plans of what to achieve. I guess, I will just keep on investigating new ways of applying art as a method and a game, and hope that people join in. Before this exhibition, my artistic output has often taken place in public spaces, and it is important to me not to lose connection with that.

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