OTP studio visit: Cecilia Fiona
An interview with the Danish artist at her studio in Copenhagen.
We talk Picasso, public-transport and paintings that 'irritate the eye'.
I arrive at Cecilia Fiona’s studio in Nordvest (The northwest region of Copenhagen) on an overcast Thursday afternoon. It’s quiet, even for the capital where the majority cycle and sirens rarely sound. Standing next to a huge brickwork façade, that reflects the cold wind, I take in my surroundings; across the road is a park full of fir trees. I ring the buzzer and watch a group of boys guarding their bikes, as they smoke a joint in a clearing by the park gate.
A window swings open above my head and Cecilia Fiona leans out shouting. ‘Oscar? Hej!’. The door buzzes, and shortly afterwards I’m welcomed into a warm apartment. There are hardwood floors, the smell of coffee sits in the air, and Ahmad Jamal’s ‘Stomping at the Savoy’ plays through a large hifi system, sprawled in the middle of the room. We position ourselves on a pair of mustard-yellow chairs surrounded by new and half-finished works.
Combining a fauvist palette with primitivist style, Cecilia Fiona's paintings are nostalgic and disarming.
OTP Do you always paint to music?
CF Yes. Not always Jazz, it changes. If I don’t know what to listen to, Leonard Cohen is a go-to. I really enjoy his music when painting. It’s beautiful and poetic. That atmosphere of melancholy, I think its very inspiring. You like him right?
OTP I don’t know his music very well, but I like what I’ve heard.
CF Ok good. Just checking.
OTP Would you describe your paintings as melancholic?
CF Sometimes. What I’m interested in, in my paintings, is human relations and conflicts more generally. I’m trying to show the moments where people are most vulnerable, where they have to make decisions. This point where things can go one of two ways, and in either case that person’s world is about to change. And they know it.
OTP There seem to be some figures who appear more than once in your work, are there recurring ‘characters’?
CF Umm yeah, I think that’s fair to say. The woman with a child and the elderly man with the hat for example. I have to say it’s not on purpose that they keep popping up, its more their relationship that I’m trying to figure out. With each other and the space they’re in in. Somehow that’s also what I’m doing in my paintings, creating a space or a room for them to occupy or react to. Relationships change in different environments. I am interested in the theme of entrapment, especially in relationships and how rooms can mirror that. That’s what I was focusing on in the paintings I did for the exhibition at Virum.
OTP When was that?
CF At the end of last summer, September 2018.
OTP How long have you been painting for?
CF Since 2016. That’s when I started painting - before then I did a lot of drawing - I illustrated some children’s books, and a novel. All my paintings are trying to frame some sort of story, in a way words aren’t able to.
OTP Is that why you started painting? Instead of writing and illustrating?
CF It was more a question of having time and space to paint. My drawings were always closer to painting than drawing somehow, there were a lot of layers and colours, and a lot of blending. I started painting when I finished high school because I had more time, and I moved out of my parents’ house.
OTP How do you decide when you’re going to paint, now that you have more time? Is it a spontaneous thing or do you plan in advance?
CF I wish that I could just wake up in the morning and be like ‘I want to paint today!’ And just start painting! But unfortunately that’s not possible, I have a job and I study art history as well. To be able to paint you have to plan your time to make it happen. You have to decide ‘today I’m going to paint.’ And whether you want to do it or not, you have to. Some days it's a mess and you shouldn’t have done anything today, but other days you force yourself to do it and you create something exciting. Even though you started out with a mindset saying you didn’t want to do anything.
OTP I notice you have quite a lot of sketchbooks around. Do you sketch every work before you paint it?
CF Oh yeah my sketching books, yes I do that. Often the sketches are made on public transport - to do them I just have to sit and be really bored and then my imagination starts to drive. It clicks and then I’ll sketch something down. A lot of the sketches I don’t use and most of the ones I paint, I sketch a long time before the paintings are made. After they’re done I look at the sketches and picture how the painting would be structured and the colours would look, and then if I can feel it in my body, I know that’s the one. It’s not just a mental process its about body feeling too.
OTP And do the paintings always follow the sketches when it comes to putting paint on canvas?
CF No, sometimes they’re quite different. Sometimes I finish a painting, or not finish, but finish the ‘first-round’ of painting. That usually takes around a week. And then sometimes I’ll look at it again after a month and I’ll love it even more and sometimes I’ll hate it and paint over it. Not the whole thing, usually just a section. How you feel about a painting really changes over time. You’re not able to decide if it’s good when you’ve just finished it.
OTP Why do you think that is?
CF Because you are so mixed in to the painting, you’re part of it when you’re making it and either you’re too self-critical or you are too generous and you can’t accept your mistakes. You need time so you can look at it with a clear mind. Time gives you new eyes.
OTP You mentioned earlier that you are studying History of Art. Does it effect your work at all coming from that theoretical background?
CF I wouldn’t say that I come from a theoretical background. I’m self taught and then the theory comes second, like an after-thought. Its been very important for me to look at other people’s art and to visit exhibitions, I think that’s what really made me grow as an artist, surrounding myself with other artist’s work.
OTP Are there any exhibitions you have seen recently that have had a particularly strong effect?
CF Yes sure, last month I went to an exhibition at V1 in Kødbyen (Meatpacking District) of Emma Kohlmann’s work. I was definitely inspired by it afterwards. Sometimes when you paint, you think there are certain things you’re not allowed to do in the painting. Formal rules with figuration or colours that you have to follow. It can be unconscious! But you’re marked by it. After seeing her exhibition I felt more free in my style, she creates these fantastic dream-like figures, they’re original.
When you’re on instagram or you go to exhibitions at galleries you can feel pressured to follow the style that everyone is showing. You have to do it your own way instead. That’s what people really appreciate. When I was a child I got so bored visiting galleries and I think that was lucky. My parents took me to see Picasso at Louisiana when I was seven but I hated it. I wanted to make my own. I don’t want that to sound arrogant, I really enjoy Picasso today.
OTP Do you think you inherited that? Are your parents creative too?
CF I think I did yes, they’re both writers. My Dad used to do satirical illustrations for the newspapers. He did cartoons when he was younger. Humour is important in my work too, it’s not so obvious but there’s definitely an ironic element. It was more pronounced in my early paintings, they were really sarcastic. In my new paintings there’s not so much humour but there is definitely irony. The paintings have got darker, more serious.
OTP Do you think this trend will continue with your paintings into the future?
CF The most important thing for me is not get stuck - in the process or the style. What I’m trying to do all the time when I paint is to develop, the ideas and the relationships and the narrative. I think its easy for the artist, when they’ve found their style or way of painting, its easy to just make the same painting again and again. Copying yourself, its just as bad as copying someone else. When I look on social media, as soon as an artist becomes known for a style they just replicate it over and over again. Of course some themes or ideas recur in my work but it’s important for me not to stagnate. To get trapped in a routine. It get’s boring.
Every time I look at some older paintings I did, I feel like I can do better, or I can do something else. That’s what I want to do with my paintings. I want you to find something new every time you look at them, for something else to irritate the eye. I don’t know if you can say that I want to get closer to some kind of truth, because I don’t want to talk about truth, but I want my paintings to get closer, maybe to some kind of essence. It’s difficult to explain. Look at the paintings.
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All works featured are available to purchase internationally.
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