Anne Van der Linden comes from a middle-class French family who allowed her to launch into an artistic adventure at an early age, but she has never returned from it ever since. She was born in England, in 1959, but then, she was raised in France. She started drawing in the stream of consciousness manner age seventeen, only to transfer her interest to other genres while studying at the French Academy of Beaux-Arts. Perhaps it was this negative experience of the art school that prompted her to work in her studio all alone. She understood that the joy of contemplation and a challenging emotion could also serve the language of figuration and that these could be equally expressed through an expressionist drawing. Her drawings thus became both serious and crafty, reminiscent somewhat of the ancient etchings of Dürer and Bosch, but also critically charged and merciless like the caricatures of Otto Dix or those of Max Beckmann. The artist’s drawings challenge those ‘dangerous’ or socially (un)acceptable topics– she often asks questions whether all our relationships, including family, sexual ones and those at work – represent only a simple exercise in delusional power-struggle?
The artist always answers this question in a brave and humorous manner as she reaches for the heritage of her own spiritual ancestors, notably authors such as de Sade, Bataille and Frida Kahlo who, in their turn, refused all social norms that threatened their creativity. The drawings of Van der Linden are not only provocative– they are often laden with the ‘erotic’ symbols, as exemplified by the beautiful females resembling the top models who were placed on the torture table of the Great Inquisitor.
NZ: What made you draw and paint in your life to begin with? Do you remember your earliest stages of interest?
AVDL: As a child I had access to art books and art pieces as my mother ruled a small art gallery in Paris, she sold contemporary prints. My first drawing experiments happened in the 70’s. At that time everybody smoked pot and I did the same, in that context I started drawing sort of improvisations, freely associating figures, objects and shapes, all very far away from academy, very spontaneous. Then I went to art school and lost that manner, but in a way I kept the “free association” mood until now.
NZ: I almost called you “female Durer”… what draws you towards drawing and etching as medium, and do you prefer that medium to painting, oil painting or not?
AVDL: In the beginning drawings and etchings were the skeleton on which I built my paintings (classic!), the place where the idea materialized, nothing more, then a friend suggested that I could show the drawings for themselves as he thought they were good, and I followed his advice. But I still privilege painting (mix of oil and acrylic )…
painting is really the cult object for me…maybe because the material makes the object more like a corpse, it smells, shines, sometimes repulsive sometimes attractive, more ambiguous, varying according to lightning etc…
NZ: What are its advantages and what are the limitations of that medium?
AVDL: Drawing is easy to be reproduced, you hardly get bad surprises, also you can draw everywhere, don’t need much room. Drawing is the place of research, through the line you try to bring out ideas, and you can throw the sheet if you are not satisfied, things that you cannot do so easily with painting, because it is so sticky and wet it becomes quickly confused, saturated….plus you don’t want to through the canvas too quickly because of the high price of the material!
But drawing the way I do is a very austere technique, I sit at my table for hours and get sometimes hand cramps, and it can take me such a long time to fill the space and kill the paper sheet, when with painting a few brush strokes and that’s it, the space of the canvas is mine.
NZ: How do you choose your subject , themes in painting? Do you search for them or they come to you?
AVDL: It comes from varied sources, images I saw and that influenced me, or ideas that come to me from the back room… most of the time things appear to my mind as choreographs, and then the action becomes more precise from one study to another…the idea develops together with the shape, and after some attempts it reaches a point of harmony, I mean when the image “talks” to me. Sometimes I take back subject from one image to another, developing it in small variations.
NZ: Given the fact that your subject is often political (social commentary etc), would you call yourself an engagé? A committed artist and/or a feminist? How do you see your work?
AVDL: My art talks about mankind and doesn’t avoid any aspect of humanity. I use obscenity, violence, sexuality and all our orifices as means of expression, and that makes automatically of me a committed artist, as I have to give account of my choices. Feminist, it is delicate, sometimes I can adopt a feminine point of view ,some subjects that has been unexplored because they belong specifically to women’s working and because women have not expressed much of it until now, so it is interesting to use those paths. But in general my artist position is “transgender”, beyond sexual determination, just like an animal, in that space I feel more free. Also I happened to be rejected by so-called feminists, who considered that I gave a degrading image of women, I thought it was so unfair and boring! such a mental sclerosis!
NZ: What’s the situation like in French contemporary scene? Closed, open? Likable, dislikable?
AVDL: Well, from my experience, the French scene is quite shy, complexed and conservative, looking at foreign countries’ art scenes in order to decide themselves as to what is good or not, and the result is disastrous as we all know. Also the institutions have for decades decided that they would promote old conceptual art, and all of us painters, sculptors etc…were better dead than.. (according to these authorities). But in another way here in France I can make and broadcast pieces of Art that could put me in trouble if I ‘d show them in other parts of the world. That IS good!
NZ: What’s your experience with film, video? Do you like working with that media?
AVDL: I have made 3 short films some time ago (2000-2001), I used to develop the themes of my paintings to make actions, it was interesting, the films were closer to performances, with a more material, everyday life aspect than my images. But I had conflicts with the technicians I was working with and this problem has been blocking me until recently now …
NZ: Why are men , in general, afraid of the so called intelligent women?
AVDL: It’s the question of having power over someone, but there are those luckily , who are not afraid. It gets complicated when you look for a gallery, especially for young women.. but there is a question of power between women, too sexuality is something that belongs to all of us and who comes to ask for dominance is often a delicate issue. My paintings do not represent this sort of violence, I haven’t had such an incident in my family, not the problem of rape certainly.
NZ: However there is a certain rivalry of different powers in your paintings…Certainly there is always the dialogue with the great masters of the preceding eras in your work, painters such as Goya, Honoré Daumier- they seem to be present in your last show entitled “ZOO”.
AVDL: Yes, absolutely, when I was a child, there were lots of art books around me and I would devour them, then they would re-emerge from my consciousness..This last show was the first one where I had to work around a very precise theme and the time to do it was really short- so this short crystallization reflected perhaps in my choice of color or the themes which followed one another naturally.
NZ: If you remember, all the great masters would always go back to the Bestiary in difficult times, like the ones we live now, the times would endow their animals with the political connotation.
AVDL: Yes, the animals would stop being the creatures that they were and they would move to a sort of allegory.
At any rate, the humans and the animals all started from one common ground, and subsequently, the humans gained power and turned animals into their slaves, they imposed their rules of behavior on them and turned this relationship into something apocalyptic.
In the 18th century their relationship turned into a certain religious, symbolic imagery, you would see a lion with the head of a dragon for instance, and this beast would carry a sword. I tried to appropriate this kind of imagery as well, and then finally it appeared to me that they were certain archetypes which transcend history, I don’t even remember which historical period they came from.
From this cycle I have traversed into the cycle of the cult of Death and the vampires. I did a residence in Romania, and that’s a strange country, the cult of death is everywhere. Their last recorded case of vampirism dates in 2004, there was someone who would devour human hearts.
NZ: I always find you with a lot of politically oriented, committed people- do you belong to any group or political associations such as the Anarchists, etc?
AVDL: No, not really, but true, I frequented the anarchists a lot, in the beginning of the 1980s; at that time I lived in a squat which was extremely politically-oriented. I was not really welcomed because of my family background but there was something phoney about them as they would steal food in order to sustain themselves, but they had all sort of diplomas. was a traumatic experience to me. However, I met two poets who had an Australian gallery and bookstore with a lot of interesting books, which helped me develop my interests in the subjects of sexuality, difference in sexes, etc.
At that time also, I started working with Jean-Louis Costes in performance; he, like myself, was interested in a very crude corporeal expression. We met in high school and started living together, working but also travelling together, we travelled through Africa together, then returned, our lives took different turn at a certain moment- he went to the U.S. where he worked with a psycho-drama theater…then he returned and I participated as an actress in his theatrical performances but that was not exclusively a world of my own.
NZ: If I understand correctly- your world is above all the world of painting, acrylic, and then the etchings, drawings in ink?
AVDL: Yes, I love ink, it gives me something close to painting but there’s also a graphic aspect to it which I love to explore. I also make short films but in them I tend to develop the themes which I treat in my painting.
NZ: To sum it up, Anne, I would like to hear what has been the best experience for you in this contemporary Parisian art-milieu, and then, if you don’t mind telling us, what was the worst?
AVDL: Oh, la la, the best has been the experience of living among the classically-trained artists and gallery-owners who did not mind my presence among them, they just let me be the way I am…and the unpleasant experience has been my work with certain galleries..
NZ: You mean, commercially-oriented ones?
AVDL: Oh, you see- the gallery is always a commercial space, whether they define it like that or not; some of them organize workshops or try to move to yet another level of thinking art, and also they are some brave merchants like Frederic Roulette, they try to sell art which is almost impossible to sell
Poet, essayist, fiction writer, playwright, art critic, translator and contributing editor to NY ARTS magazine from Paris, Serbian-born Nina Zivancevic published 12 books of poetry. She has also written three books of short stories, two novels and books of essays, on artists, on Milosh Crnjanski (her doctoral thesis), and on recent anthropology( published in Paris, New York and Belgrade). The recipient of 3 literary awards, a former assistant and secretary to Allen Ginsberg, she has also edited and participated in numerous anthologies of contemporary world poetry.
As editor and correspondent she has contributed to New York Arts Magazine, Modern Painters, American Book Review, East Village Eye, Republique de lettres. She has lectured at Naropa University, New York University, the Harriman Institute and St.John’s University in the U.S., she has taught English language and literature at La Sorbonne ( Paris I and V) and the History of Avant-garde Theatre at Paris 8 University in France and at numerous universities and colleges in Europe.
Author portrait by David Maunoury