The paintings of Lydia Janssen are studies in captured movement. A former dancer who trained with the legendary Merce Cunningham, Janssen turned her focus to painting after suffering career-ending knee injuries. As such, she paints with the dancer’s awareness of the body—and more recently with the added element of physical knowledge gained through motherhood.
“My art can be understood as an attempt to paint movement or, perhaps, move with the paint. There is dance in the content of my paintings and dance in the execution of them,” Janssen says in her artist statement. “More succinctly, my own body, its limitations, and the emotions associated with that charge my work.”
In her debut solo show in New York, “Lydia Janssen: A Course Change” at Susan Eley Fine Art, the Singapore-based artist presents nine large-scale works, each filled with silhouettes of animal forms, disembodied limbs, visual references to the Wild West, and scribbles of text—abstract compositions that simultaneously capture a sense of stillness and expansive movement.
Janssen begins each work with a gessoed canvas, on which she adds layers of organic forms in charcoal. Working quickly while paying rigorous attention to color—a technique she picked up while studying with Larry Poons at the Art Students League—she adds pastel and oil paint using a palette knife and paper towel to add and softly subtract pigment, never using a traditional paintbrush. The result is a surface filled with frozen action, as dreamlike forms appear and then recede into pleasant swathes of pattern.