By Aliisa Hyslop
Painting with Size and Spirit
From Radiance Fall 1999
hen I was young, I knew I wanted to go make art. There has never been any other career I wanted to pursue. Making pictures became inseparable from myself. I used to carry my portfolio of drawings around in primary school, even if I didnt have an art lesson that day. One day, the headmaster stopped me and said hed love to know what in my folder was so precious. I said nothing: I just looked at him. What I should have said was, Its my identity.
At school, I had a very traditional art teacher. There, drawing realistically from life gave me a good grounding for the more imaginative work I do now. I attended college in Portsmouth, England, and in 1981, obtained a B. A. degree in fine arts with honors. Since then, I have lived and worked in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I took part-time work to sustain myself while I developed my particular style of figurative painting. Ive been lucky: the pictures that come out of my life seem to touch people with their particular mix of joy and melancholy. I now make my living painting full time and have one or two main exhibitions a year, as well as group shows abroad and throughout the United Kingdom.
My pictures are about feelings, moods, emotions. I dont use models. People often ask why my figures are so big (some people call them fat, but I think of them as big). Im not really sure myself.
Im a very solitary, very private person. At home, I get up, have my coffee, and sit down to paintusually early in the morning. I paint all day and often into the evening, usually not even stopping for lunch. Time passes quickly. I have several cigarettes throughout the day, a banana, a piece of cakewhatever comes to hand. Finishing a painting is all-important.
I first compose the picture in a small sketchbook and then draw it out onto a larger, primed board. I paint in acrylics. They dry quickly, which I like. Ive worked with oils and pastels, too, as well as some ceramics. I use a high-gloss varnish on the finished paintings.
My ideas for paintings come from everywhere! A feeling or a mood is somehow transformed into a visual context. Emotions are portrayed in poetic imagery, and in a dreamlike way are visual expressions of a deeper experience. I dont analyze my pictures, but I can usually see where theyve come from and what theyre about. But I dont feel a need to tell people the source. Its better for people to interpret them in a way that is more relevant to their own lives. Sometimes pictures, like music, express things that cant be expressed with words.
do a lot of moonlight pictures. These paintings are dreamlike, otherworldly. They are about the world between the physical and spiritual, where physical forms become as soft and intangible as drifting clouds, and feelings take on a physical form.
I have lists of titles of paintings Ive yet to do: I tick them off and add to them constantly. "There Are Angels in the Trees" is one such title. This one will be a picture of trees with angels in the branches and leaves, and maybe someone looking up at them, probably in the moonlight. The image came from something very simple: the plastic bags you often see stuck in the branches of trees. I saw this one day and gazed up at the tree, imagining the objects to be angels wings, caught in the tree as they flew past!
Another yet-to-be painting is "Angel in Waiting." I saw a very old woman carrying her shopping bags, almost doubled over, her stooping back a kind of hump. I imagined that inside the hump on her back, angel wings were forming: obviously near the end of her life, the woman was beginning to turn into an angel. This painting is still taking shape in my head.
"In the Symphony of Sorrowful Souls" will be a large painting of a group of peoplemen and womenmaybe fifteen or more, standing and sitting by the sea, in the moonlight, all playing various musical instruments. It will have a melancholy air, hence the title, which is a variation on "Symphony of Sorrowful Songs," Symphony No. 3 by Górecki.
In "But Can You See My Soul?," Ill paint a naked woman standing by the sea in the moonlight in front of a free-standing, full-length mirror. She has her back to the viewer and looks over her shoulder into the viewers eyes. Its as if shes asking the question in the title. Perhaps its about self-examination, or about the seen and unseen.
I suppose that my life might seem strange to anyone looking into it. Fortunately, I live with Michael McVeigh, who also makes his living from his art. I dont think that we consciously draw from or influence each others work, but there are certainly parallels in our work: his work is figurative and also largely imaginative. It is abundant with poetic imagery. There are people who have bought Michaels paintings and mine, quite separately, not realizing our connection to each other. Michael works in the front room of our old and crumbly tenement flat, which is small but full of character. Michael, too, is full of character, and has masses of curly red hair. Weve been together for thirteen years. There is a great affinity between our work and between us.
We dont have a pattern, or routine, but if weve both finished work for a day, well cook a meal, drink wine, and eat. There are no children: Ive never wanted any. Ive enough in my life.
I do have a family, though. My dear sister, Kya, writes and makes embroidered pictures. She recently married a lovely man, John, who grows vegetables and sells books. My mother, Aďti, comes from Finland and is a natural folk artist. When I was younger, I remember my mother using a red hot poker from the fire to burn patterns into our coffee table. Another time, she painted large gray cobwebs all over the walls of our house. She has her own very individual and impulsive creativity and is also full of stories: memories she carries of her own very rustic life and upbringing. There was the time she had to pull a cow out of a well, and the time Great Uncle Oski went berserk and had to be tied up in ropes and rowed across the lake to the village where he could confess his sins to a minister. Another time, my mother and her sisters knelt behind the hay barn and prayed for hats themselves. The very same day, her aunt arrived on a boat from the mainland with presents for the children: the exact hats each had imagined and described. My mothers stories are like fairy tales from the forests of Finland that have now become a part of me.
Looking back, our family life must have appeared eccentric to outsiders, but for us it was all quite normal. My father, who died some years ago, came from Scotland. I also have a brother, Toni, who suffers from schizophrenia and has spent most of the past twenty years in a hospital. Ten years ago, he hanged himself, but was resuscitated; as a consequence of the lack of oxygen to his brain, he is now physically disabled as well. Despite this desperately tragic condition, he is extremely intelligent and full of poetry. He spends all of his time composing poems. The resilience of the human spirit is astounding.
I visit Toni twice a week, and his experience has naturally become part of mine. Psychiatric hospitals are strange places, packed with emotions of every kind. They can tear your heart to pieces, but there are also moments of beauty. I remember one evening I went to visit: the long corridors were deserted; there was just the sound of my own footsteps. Then, out of nowhere, I heard the dreamy voice of a young man singing. I couldnt see him, but his song, "Why do the birds keep on singing? Dont they know its the end of the world?" floated past me and echoed through the emptiness. This, too, will become a picture one day.
Extreme experiences of sadness or tragedy can give you an insight and understanding of a world withina world beyond the physical. They teach you not to be judgmental and to value the smallest acts of kindness, to value humanity in all its shapes and forms. There is beauty in everything. Finding the beauty or goodness in even the worst of situations or the bleakest of moments is important. If positive and negative can be balanced, then love and compassion can become the fruits of suffering. Life is a mixture of misery and mirth, and my paintings are the fruits of my life.©
Aliisa Hyslops work will be part of a four-person exhibition October 29, 1999, to November 13, 1999, at Cambridge Contemporary Art, 6 Trinity Street, Cambridge, England (telephone: 0122-332-4222; fax: 0122-331-5606; web site: www.artcambridge.co.uk; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Aliisas work will be shown next year, in 2000, in May at Valvona and Crolla, Elm Row, Edinburgh, Scotland; in September at Cambridge Contemporary Art and the Leith Gallery, both in Edinburgh, Scotland; and in November at the Tolquhon Gallery in Aberdeenshire, Scotland.
She is now on-line at The Rostra Gallery, www.therostragallery.co.uk.
Hyslops note cards are published by Canns Down Press, Beaford, Devon, England, EX19 8LZ (telephone: 0180-560-3341; fax: 0180-560-3545; e-mail: email@example.com; web site: www.cannsdownpress.co.uk).
Hyslops paintings range from two inches square to forty inches square and from $200 to $2000 (at present).
Aliisa Hyslop can be reached at 0131-556-6896, or via the Blackadder Gallery, 5 Raeburn Place, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH4 1HU, 0131-332-4605.
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