MUNTHE ART MONDAY: JANNI MAI LARSEN
Navn: Janni Mai Larsen
Please introduce yourself and tell us about what you do.
I am an artist educated from Funen Art Academy and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. I am 45 years old and live in Vestamager in Copenhagen.
I grew up in the 1980’s in an ordinary worker family in the countryside of Lolland, far away from the city lights. Since I was a child, I have always been very creative and full of imagination. Behind my childhood home there were fields and large, green areas where I played, built hide-outs, and often pretended I was in a fairy-tale world without borders between reality and imagination. My childhood universe has for sure shaped my art and I still draw threats back to the universe in the large wilderness in our back garden.
My primary media are painting and drawing. In my art practice I work in an exploratory manner in a figurative narrative universe. I often move between light/dark, decay/growth, life/death, aesthetic/ugly which permeates the mood and themes in my work. In this field of tension, I explore what is possible and not possible. I am interested in and inspired by nature, social criticism, natural science, psychology – the human psyche and spirituality – and different philosophical and esoteric movements.
I often draw out parallels between an inner and outer world and work with hidden metaphors, symbols, messages, and mystique which can both represent elements from the human subconscious and the real world. At the same time, I maintain a critical perspective on the outer world – the world we live in. I am interested in climate changes caused by large industries, CO2 emission, overconsumption etc. and how they affect our nature. Some growths disappear and new ones appear. The use of GMO, antibiotics and growth enhancers is on the rise. I am interested in the distortion, change and manipulation this causes on nature. The contrasts, the decay, the blossoming, and creation of The New Wild Manipulated Nature.
Could you explain more about how being a woman has affected your career?
I don’t know anything else than being a woman. But I don’t have the impression that my sex has affected my career as an artist. When I look back on my life, I have had different periods. In my 20’s and the time at the Academy I had a pretty devil-couldn’t-care-less energy. I went to bars and got drunk with the boys. I had a feminine exterior and a masculine interior. The masculine energy sort of helped me get ahead and I also got censured exhibitions, got into the Royal Academy, and debuted and Charlottenborg. I was occasionally told that – as it was something special – my paintings looked like they had been painted by a man. This lasted until I had my son when I was 31, my last year in the academy. Everything changed and life took a huge turn. My egocentric masculine action-taking and creating self was suddenly transformed to a compassionate, mild, caring woman.
For me there will as a female artist always be the time before I became a mother and the time after. To be a female artist and a mother is a paradox. For several years I yearned for freedom. Freedom to think my own thoughts, be myself again and be an artist. And on the other side I was so grateful to have had my child and feel such great love for another individual. The first time after I had my son, I experienced I went into a kind of artistic hiatus. I did not have space for the art. I have always been alone with my son, and he is the most important thing to me.
It took me some time to come back and now I have found the balance and am much more grounded. My son has also become older, and this has given me more freedom and energy to think creatively and create and work as I like.
Can you name some other female (artist) that inspires you and explain why they do so?
There are so many... I like and am inspired by women that have a powerful and wild energy in their works. I am often inspired by expressionistic art even though it is pretty far from my own work. I am crazy about the Danish artist Ursula Reuter Christiansen. I think she is wild and fantastic and a woman who has walked the true path. I am also inspired by a lot of the younger artists like Emma Kohlmann, Rusudan Khizanishvili, Rose Electra, Charlotte Keates and Emily Gernild.
What has been the most challenging aspect of being a female artist?
Becoming a mother. To me that was a huge change and transition from having all the time in the world for myself and my art to suddenly having to prioritise the needs of my son. In the beginning it was very hard but luckily, I have learned this now and also to prioritise my own needs again.
Another challenge is the risk no to be taken seriously as female artist if you look to feminine. I remember an episode at the Academy: I had a friend, that had long, blond hair like me and one day we were walking the hallway and met one of the male professors who said ‘ahhh, is that the longhaired women’s club approaching?’ in a stupid, quite disgusting manner. That was really uncomfortable. It’s like there is an unwritten rule that short hair is more appropriate for women in the art world. I chose to keep my long, blond hair in protest. I absolutely do not mind short hair, but it provokes me that people don’t think, you can both have long hair, pay attention to your looks and be a serious artist.
What would you like people to notice in your artwork?
I want to create wonder and, in that way, draw the onlooker into my universe. In my works, I attempt to create curiosity. At first glance you often meet a colourful and optimistic landscape, but up close you discover the strange and unsettling growths hiding throughout. Things are not what they seem to be. In the lonely and dystopic landscape, where everything is strange and unpredictable, there are still glimpses of light and growth from above and underneath, but the darkness lurks...
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