Posted by: Kevin Coyle
Bolatta Silis-Hoegh’s paintings will resonate long after soaking them in.
Her work is haunting and gorgeous. Inspired by the stark landscapes of her beloved homeland, Greenland. Through color and defined strokes Bolatta’s work evokes the fear and anger that the people of her homeland are experiencing through political dissension.
The part Greenlandic and part Latvian artist is now working in Copenhagen, but Greenland is ever present in her recent work. Her current exhibition, Lights On, Lights Off is inspired by Greenland’s decision to abolish its no-tolerance ban on uranium extraction.
As an American, I can honestly say news of Greenland’s issues with uranium extraction rarely if ever hits the airwaves. As you will see in the interview below, Bolatta’s work is reactionary. Her pace and process is built on her emotions, and the results are breath taking. As Bolatta notes, “making debates on difficult issues can sometimes be easier through art.”
You were born in Greenland, but now work in Copenhagen, Denmark. Did this change affect your process?
It did, but living in Copenhagen also made me get back to my roots.
At first, my years in Copenhagen made me strive for a European conceptual art look, and not showing my ethnical background. I thought I was in my right spot getting closer to what I saw as the “proper” artistic movement until I found a path to the inner me, and realized there is no right and wrong in art.
I then rediscovered painting a few years ago, and it felt as if I could breathe again, especially in the landscapes. I grew up in nature scenery like space on earth, so no wonder that large-scale space images appeal to me. My background is what makes me. I am very proud of that.
Your current exhibition: Lights On, Lights Off is inspired by the government of Greenland’s decision to abolish its no-tolerance ban on uranium extraction. How does your passion for the banning of uranium extraction come through in your most current exhibition?
In the anger. In the love. In the darkness. In the melancholy.
I had heavy days after the political decision, I felt we knew nothing about what we were getting into, and the people of Greenland stood divided. Soon after that the strongest urge to paint took over. I accepted my anger, my fear and disappointment instead of pushing them away, and the feelings awoke forgotten memories and opened up for the taboos in Greenland that I had to scream out on canvas.
So my rage against uranium mining sparked me to express most inner feelings. It is very Greenlandic somehow, when having a discussion then suddenly grab other subjects to win the argument, but I am not doing this to scare people, it is a wish for more openness. Making debates on difficult issues can sometimes be easier through art, learning to agree on disagreement.
The images may be dark but also life affirming because they come from love respect and hope for my home country and for Nature.
Your color choices are striking, organic and dark. How important is color choice in your paintings, and how do they reflect you as an artist and person?
I find my colors direct and honest. Also, very graphical – like telling a story in black and white, and that might be how I see myself.
I’ve had some years with playful rainbow tones, but when I really had something to say I had no need for colors anymore. I no longer disguised myself behind colors, and I had no need to hide behind humor to say something important. The images became more direct. It’s not that I miss the colors, but I look forward to reinvent the colors some day.
I noticed you have published two children’s books. Is there a major difference between creating art with political themes and creating art for children’s books?
There is a huge difference in my children’s books and my art, but they are equally difficult to create in their own ways.
There is a lot of speed and spontaneity in my painting process – I want to grab the moments of the specific feeling in me before the weather changes.
In my children book I calculate more and follow the story I’ve written. I want the images to be beautiful, colourful and funny, probably because I see the children as the toughest literature judges, and they should also be protected against tougher issues. But children can also decode dark images and lack of colours and images that are not served with a spoonful of sugar. This can help them to create their own images, colours and meaning.
During a workshop in Berlin for 8-year-olds, I showed photos of my work and we talked about them afterwards. A girl told me that the paint was crying, referring to the dripping I made, and another child said he saw light and hope in all my paintings. Pretty deep talk.
My own children actually find my bloody naked paintings hilarious, and it is great to peel the gravity off the themes. It is just art.
The images from your shows have your work in very interesting settings. How important is the “gallery” in connection to your art? – Especially your latest exhibition.
I am good at adapting to my surroundings. My art is strong enough on its own in a white cube, but it can also work with its surroundings. The decay in the settings I’ve chosen suits decay in my art, but it is a fine balance not to tip it to a theatrical side. I find decay in almost everything beautiful – you can often be blinded by new scents, bloom, sunshine and polished materials and that make me want to scratch at it to see what’s beneath the flawless surface.
What female artists inspire you?
I can’t just say one. I’ve met many female artists through my mother when travelling with her as a child. They all have an inspiring heart and nerve in their works and I think there is a glimpse of all their stories in me. Here are some of them:
My mother Aka Høegh, Doris Bloom, Bodil Kaalund, Anne Birthe Hove, Anne Tholstrup, Outi Heiskanen, Inge Westman and many more. And I just discovered Aviva Uri – pure female power!
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