World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 350 - Isa van Lier
World Fine Art Professionals and their Key-Pieces, 350 - Isa van Lier
Isa van Lier made it to the final round of the 2021 Piket Prize for Visual Arts. I visit her in her studio in the HEM in Amsterdam. “Walk all the way to the left when you get to HEM and then look for the red car,” she had said when I arrived at the Hembrug site – a former ammunition factory.
I did, I saw the little red car. I called her again and she came down the stairs to open the door. In her studio I see through the window a water over a hundred meters wide, on which a ship now and then glides by. It is the North Sea Canal. Her colorful art hangs or stands everywhere, starting on the windowsill.
On a table are recent ceramic figures in all kinds of shapes, still unpainted. Behind it a colorful stone stack in various colors, where the stones keep each other in balance. Isa: “The cairn, the stoneman as I call it. All over the world - especially in mountainous regions - you see a ritual that people stack stones. My Cairn is made of baked clay that I glazed afterwards.”
On white pedestals next to it is a multitude of ceramic colored shapes. The pedestals are islands on which the many shapes stand in an exciting relationship with each other, says Isa. “It's a kind of pizza with different ingredients.” She and her father made the white pedestals, neither square nor rectangular, but with round, organic shapes.
I see hearts, crosses, flowers, fried eggs, igloo shapes, worm shapes, a sea sponge and a little further on, eyes and mouths on face shapes. “I give the figures character with those eyes and mouths. That's how they're going to live for me. I even talk to them. In Japan, where I spent six months at the Art Academy, I became acquainted with Shinto animism. In that view of things and the world, everything has a soul, a spirit. The same goes for what we would call inanimate things: an apple, a stone, a toothbrush.”
Kawaii, literally translated ‘cute’ or ‘sweet’, is a part of Japanese culture that revolves around cuteness. I had seen it before, girls who dress in doll clothes with big bows in their hair and protruding ears, animals that stare at the world with big eyes in wonder, the manga comics. Isa: ”It's not just about young girls in Japan, boys and even hard-working businessmen are under the spell of kawaii. These cute figures that pop up everywhere act as a kind of talisman, an image or symbol that brings good luck. Something that is missing in daily life is projected onto the dolls. They get something out of it, for example strength or a childlike optimism. That whole philosophy and the awareness that everything has an energy can give people a lot.”
Against the wall I see large format drawings. The largest, with blue/green/yellow colors and a sort of orange-yellow sun with a spur in the upper right corner, was – together with a tableau with dozens, if not hundreds of ceramic shapes – her graduation work at the Royal Academy (KABK) in The Hague in 2020 , 'ZEN SUPERMARKET'. “The intention is that the viewer also becomes part of it. He thoughtlessly enters a world that is a combination of the abundance and speed of a supermarket in 2020 and the age-old wisdom that lurks in the zen stone gardens that you can find in Japan.”
ZEN SUPERMARKET is one of her key works, she says. It is an art installation with both two-dimensional and three-dimensional work. “Everything came together. The idea came to me after my visit to several Zen Stone Gardens in Japan. This experience is very minimalistic and it took me a while to get to grips with it. But then it hit me. Due to the emptiness, tranquility and calculated balance that is present in these temples, a space is created 'to be there'. Compare that to our churches and cathedrals, which are very filled, especially to impress. A Zen temple is so simple in comparison. But it does give you space in your head and therefore room for much more.”
The other key work is the grab bag. A barrel with all packaged small works of art. It's kind of like the Happy Stones I wrote about earlier. The grab bag was part of her graduation exhibition at the Academy and in 2021 at ART Rotterdam. “Everyone was allowed to grab for 10 euros and take a small sculpture with them. Time and again I am amazed that everyone who hears that he / she is allowed to grab gets the same twinkle in the eye. The same kind of feeling as standing in front of a candy machine as a child or when opening a surprise egg. The idea arose because I wanted to make sculptures part of people's lives in an accessible way. Something changes when people actually have/own a sculpture or work of art, instead of just looking at it in an exhibition. This also creates a Talisman effect. I often get photos sent with my object in the midst of a collection of other objects, part of a new family!”
Where does this come from?
Isa: “Often the things I make are metaphors for things that I miss in my own daily life, as is the way of looking at the world that works more from a universal intuitive, physical, unconceptual way. It is a way of looking that I miss here in the Netherlands. Everyone is so in their head here. But life has other levels too. The head is only part of your body. The rest of your body also understands things. Children still experience that. At some point you will be taken out of your enchanted gaze and you will be taught that from now on you have to work with your head.”
We go to her work table. She shows sketchbooks in which she makes drawings almost every day since she was fifteen with a thin black Rotring pen. A small sketchbook with a brown cover measuring three by four centimeters and a slightly larger format with a red cover. Many faces, but also many objects. “The same line of my older pen drawings now lives on in my ceramic sculptures or in the shapes in my paintings. People who have known me longer and now see my work say: your world from your books has come to life!”
A dream world
She has been here, in the HEM, since October 1, 2021. In February, she will start a three-month residency at the EKWC, the European Ceramic Work Center in Oisterwijk. She can work, live and use the ovens there. She is very much looking forward to it. And in May she will participate, with 15 international artists, in a major exhibition in Oranjewoud, Friesland.
Things have been going well for her since she graduated. Exhibitions, assignments and other fun things came her way. “But it was also very hard work. You have to recharge yourself every time. Artists give everything, but I have learned how important it is to take a break too. I said no to a few assignments. As a result, I recently had the opportunity to experiment a bit, paint and read a book. And I finally went on vacation. I see it as the seasons: it can't always be spring and summer. It must also have been winter to allow something new to emerge.”
Finally, what is her philosophy in short? Isa: “Only do what you like. Much art is a reflection on what is not good in the world. I just want to show how the world can also be, and thus create a dream world.”
1) Grab bag sculptures, Art Rotterdam, 2021, 2) Lotus, 2021, 3) Kami, 1, Ode to Kami, Het HEM 2021, 4) Grab bag, Art Rotterdam, children 2021, 5) ZEN SUPERMARKET 2020 1, 6) Ei-Land, 2020, 7) Kami, 3 2021, 8) The stoneman, 9) Ode to Kami, mini sculptures, 2021, 10) Ode to Kami, Het HEM, portrait Isa