Lynnea Holland-Weiss is a nomadic painting prodigy who swam with dolphins as a baby and can't help but paint all the time, whether traveling or at home. Her figures are unusual as she plays with color and light to convey raw emotion and reveal the inner dialogue that creates body language. She's very intuitive to the nuance of human experience and internal landscapes, as well as being very in touch with the environments she explores. I met Lynnea last summer and she had the vibe of an oracle, so I wanted to catch up and learn more about her magical process and lifestyle.
Kristin Farr: How did your childhood foster the artist you’ve become? I remember seeing a video of a dolphin documentary your parents made, and you were swimming with dolphins as a tiny kid.
Lynnea Holland-Weiss: Yes, I was swimming with wild dolphins before the age of one! My parents were total hippies. My mom has a deep love and fascination with dolphins and my dad is filmmaker, so they decided to go live on the beach in Hawaii and make a documentary about dolphins called Quest for the Dolphin Spirit with their newborn baby. So the first year of my life was spent living in a tent and out of van, and floating in the ocean with my parents and wild dolphins. I would say this definitely influenced my adventurous desire for travel and even more so to have my work be the guiding force that takes me to new places for projects. All my parental influences have taken on creative and entrepreneurial approaches to their lives. My mom is a graphic/industrial/jewelry designer. My dad is a filmmaker. And my step dad is an architect/building contractor. So I think I have the creative hustler mentality in my blood. I was always super focused and driven as young child. I was drawing and painting since forever. I was also pursuing dance pre-professionally up through high school, so that background definitely influenced the way I approach figurative painting, the body, form and movement.
Who are the people you paint?
The people around me definitely make their way into my paintings, but I usually change some of their features because it’s less important to me that they are seen as portraits of specific people. I’d like for any viewer to instinctively put themselves inside the shoes of the painted figures. I am hyper-aware of people’s body language in general and am always taking notice of even the most common and seemingly insignificant moments and interactions every day on the street, subway, restaurants, park etc. These observations then make their way into my paintings, but instead of looking at the specifics of a scene or situation, my eye strips all of that away and tends to focus solely on reading the body language.
Do you explore narratives in your paintings, and if so, what are some common threads you work with?
My paintings are narrative in nature, but rather then explicitly tell or present a story or a scenario, I very intentionally leave the narrative and scenes incredibly open-ended. The who, when, where is completely for the viewer to decide, but the ability to provoke the sensitive body and an empathetic response is what I am after. That being said, some common threads in my work are feelings such as desire, longing, waiting, pondering mysteries and the unknown, physicality and human touch, time lapsing and movement, and the individual versus the collective. In general, I’d say the figures I paint often are deep in thought themselves, and in this way, act as mirror for the viewers own contemplation.
Why do you like to render humans in unexpected colors? Is it about the light?
Color excites me so much and is so poignant and intuitive for me. It definitely is about light. It is also immensely about mood and conveying emotion. I’m always interested in making the internal psychological experience visible. So, while the gesture and the expression on someone face is incredibly telling, I use color and texture within the body in unexpected ways to evoke one's senses that much more. Our experience of a color is completely dictated by all of the other colors surrounding it, so this reactionary play is very important to my process. I also am interested in ambiguity, androgyny and dissolving our ability to identify and therefore perhaps disassociate ourselves from one another. I feel that unusual color combinations within the human form help with this.
What kinds of colors or images are you most focused on right now?
Recently, I have been most interested in red and blue and playing with this hot and cold relationship within my paintings. This push and pull of the eye and gut has been really exciting me. I also have been exploring different ways to portray an energetic spirit body in relation to our corporeal experience. And, in general, I am always investigating body language and body proximity. I am interested in the way people and their limbs relate, ignore and/or react to each other.
I noticed you use Flashe paint. What do you like about it?
Yes! I just very recently started exploring this material, and I really love how it has such a matte and almost velvety quality to it. I am originally an oil painter, but I quit oils and switched to acrylic after having thyroid cancer. Healthwise, I’m so much better off since making the switch, but I often still miss the buttery quality of oil, especially when painting fleshy human bodies. But I have been experimenting with acrylic and other water-based mediums to get the textures that I’m after. And Flashe is a new discovery that I’m stoked about.
Tell me about your most recent residency experience.
The last residency I did was Residencia Gorila in Tulum, Mexico with Tulum Art Club. I got to do the residency with Dan Bortz, my partner and love of my life, so that was awesome! We took the opportunity to make collaborative pieces, both in the studio and with murals throughout the Yucatan. It is incredibly beautiful there. I don’t really know how to have a vacation because I can’t help but want to be working on a project of some sort at all times, hence why traveling for projects or residencies is the best. But since this was such a paradise location, it felt as close to a vacation as any, getting to paint all day with quick breaks in between to take a dip into the ocean. Pretty perfect. The environment and culture definitely had an influence on the work we made there. We also did a project with some local kids that were the coolest. We painted a mural for them that was on their route from their school to their after-school hangout spot.
What are you working on right now and where are you?
At this moment, I am deeply involved in a huge transition. I’ve been living and working in a nomadic fashion for about five years or so, with stints of having a base in places such as Oakland (where I am originally from), Philly, New Orleans, Cleveland and New Mexico, and always traveling for projects a lot in between. Dan and I have driven across the country, living out of a truck, too many times to keep track of at this point. But currently we are in the process of taking on a new and super exciting endeavor by laying down some roots in Cleveland, Ohio. We are building our epic dream studio here that will be our new homebase. While we will continue to still travel often for projects and have many lined up, I’m excited to now have a very spacious, affordable and centrally located studio base that I can always come back to and will be able to settle into in a way that really grows with me and my work. And Dan is building a large-scale textile screen printing operation in our studio. So, in addition to having enough space for our own studio practices, we want to also have space for visiting artists. After traveling so much, I’m really thrilled to be the one that is able to host others and offer artist friends that are making incredible work an opportunity to have space to do exciting projects! Once we are fully set up, the idea is to have a residency program of sorts in the space, as well as just our own studios.
What else is coming up for you this year?
I have a couple two-person shows that I’ll be working on this year. In July is a show with Dan at Elephant Gallery in Nashville, Tennessee, which is a new space with really awesome people that are doing a killer job curating. We will also be painting a mural with this gallery around the same time. Then, towards the end of the year, I have a two-person exhibition with Emma Webster in Oakland, which I am also really excited about because I love her work. And I will be working toward a solo exhibition at Sienna Heights University in Michigan in November. Also a group show at Field Projects in Chelsea, NYC in August. So I’m pretty excited to just hunker down in the studio this year with some quick visits to NYC and the West Coast, but mostly quieting the travel bug down for a little. Also, Cleveland this summer is going to be popping! The Front Triennial is happening for the first time this year, bringing really great international artists here. Also the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, Infinity Mirrors, is coming to the Cleveland Museum of Art, which I’m really stoked to see.
What’s the last song you became obsessed with?
Gah, there’s too many... One of my heavy repeaters lately has been this Nicolas Jaar song called “Time for Us.” I’ve also been listening to the new Cardi B album and Chicha Libre a lot. And one of my all-time favorite songs that will instantly put me in a good mood is Roy Ayers “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.” Also, also! Everyone who knows me knows that I will forever be obsessed with Erykah Badu, Prince, Outkast and Missy Elliot.