Eventually none of us can escape our biography. And sometimes it even becomes one of the things we get best at. Inside her drawings Christiane Spangsberg examines that which she's leisurely learning to understand the most: being alive, and being a woman. Encountering her portraits of bodies for the first time—mostly paintings, at times sparing pencil lines that informally swallow their peripheral spaces—there's the sedative pull of an aesthetic landscape that mostly ascribes itself through minimalism. An innate chemistry, between the works and their audience, perhaps mostly due to the artist's visible struggle to genuinely sense that what she's feeling at its very moment. Spangsberg's women don't offer everyday settings of societal desire—often defining itself through whatever tangible weaknesses—but rather give way to histories of defyingly beautiful chaoses and meaning that's just about meaning.
You predominantly seem to draw women; at least there's always the female presence, domineering. What attracts you to the female figure and entity?
I think I draw women because that's what I am, what I can relate to. I speak from my personal perspective as a woman. But when I first started to work with lines, I mostly drew men. I identified most with masculine attributes. I didn't feel feminine at that point. I couldn't find it in myself. Now it has begun as a process to explore women. Not that I consciously think about it, but I think I'll work around the female figure as long as there's something for me to explore further.
I experienced a similar situation when I first began to seriously write. Somehow I thought I was only able to write from the male perspective, a female voice seemed strange, somehow impossible. It was only years after my studies that I began writing from the female perspective.
Sometimes I wonder what birthed this type of behavior, as I didn't grow up inside a exceedingly masculine home. My mother has always been the head of the family, despite my father's ongoing career. For many years, especially when my siblings and I were still young, there was a traditional setting of husband and wife, but I was raised to always voice my opinion, my feelings. Why did we intentionally hide our femininity within our artistic expression? Was it mostly about the avoidance of conforming to a type of cliche, a weakness?
It's really interesting. I tried to study it through theory, etc. and found out that one reason can be the way we're raised. What is pointed out as good behavior in our childhood: Being "strong," "hard working," "independent," "outspoken," etc.. Not the opposite: Being "weak," "depending," "quiet," etc.
We don't get wiser if we are praised for a certain behaviour, this is what we know as the "right thing to do." It eventually becomes so natural to us that we don't think about it. I believe for us to start exploring the female (our most natural attributes) so late in our lives has to do with the fact that it is new territory. Even though it is who we are.
You think it's about being new territory, or us merely becoming more comfortable with the fact that we are women, and that our so-to-speak weakness is actually a type of strength? I think it is as you said, we were raised with a certain kind of ideal strength, none of which would mirror itself within being vulnerable. The older I get, the more I realize how being open towards one's own vulnerability, as well as those of others, is such a vast ability. It allows for genuinity, which in many fields—including art—tends to get lost because people are terrified of feeling.
Perhaps making art that is vulnerable also implies a certain degree of accepting one's failure at the expectations of others. Life is too long to be impersonal.
I believe genuine art can only be created by being personal. I can't look at my work and say "this is art." I can only look at my work and say, "this is me." I don't think about whether I'm failing or not. I believe each good work I make entails some degree of failure.
If female form serves as some kind of grounding for your artistic practice, what subject-matter are most dire to you? Are there messages you want to within your audience?
My personal struggle I believe. The need for love, despite our imperfections. Our weakness. Our softness. Everything that our western society seems to want to cover up. Work harder, be stronger, be a perfect mother, and a perfect wife and have a beautiful body. Because I know what's right. For me at least. Be a perfect mother, but be a bad mother too. Eat healthy, but eat chocolate and burgers. Be weak but be strong. It's a balance, and one day I hope my mind will tell me the same.
The duality of things. It's interesting how women are supposed to be only one thing, but then many things too. And somehow never enough.
It's an interesting perspective. When you listen to men they often simplify things. Our brains are very different. Women tend to think of multiple things at once, men think of solely one. So what you're referring to by saying that we as women never will be enough, must only be something that's in our head.
You think this notion of never being enough is merely in our heads? I think large parts of it have been implemented within our DNA, generations and generations of it. Isn't this also what your struggle is about, this idea of being everything at once?
For a long time I have worked on my perception of my worth. I don't think I'm worth of love and belonging as much as others. This is the core of my struggle. My aim to be everything at once stems from my fear of being labeled as one single thing. I believe my aim for continuous perfection is a way for me to convince myself, and everyone around me, that I'm worthy.
There's a certain beauty within the minimalism of your lines, especially in terms of portraying female attributes, like breasts and genitals. Who are these women you draw?
Well, occasionally I have models. I often use statues or just draw from imagination. I never think of a particular woman. One line will guide the next. So even if I had an image I was drawing from, she'd end up looking very differently.
I would imagine some kind of emotionality would get lost by drawing a figure line by line. Why do you generally like to do follow your own lines? Is it about intuition?
Freedom of choice. Like a dance. One step guides the next. When I have made one line, I will know where the next one should be. It's about fluidity.
Do you think in order to draw something genuine, something inside of you must find these women in your paintings desireable? Better yet, what do you think is necessary in order to create a successful painting? Is there such thing as creating something successfully? Does art need to be successful in order to be art?
Good question. I've been drawing my whole life. In the beginning I was mostly copying objects, hence I knew what the image looked like. It was perfect, and my aim was then to reach its perfection. When it came close enough, very rarely, I would be satisfied and find it successful. But that was really a rare occasion and I mostly struggled. I thought of success as being perfect. And I went even further, because if what I drew wasn't perfect, then I wasn't perfect. This was the reason why I stopped drawing for a while. I was being a masochist to myself. My work was never good enough and I spend years and years perfecting and practicing my skills.
The break was what I needed and when I began to draw again, it wasn't with a focus to copy and depict objects, but to draw from a feeling within. From my intuition. From what I wanted. So to answer the question: No, I don't aim at anything being successful because now the term success only means "doing your best of which you are capable" and this what I do. And I work hard.
Drawing the female figure with an intention that is less about desire and more about the mere sense of being, you must be aware of how you contradict the typical depiction of women. Is it a conscious intention to make women less representative of sex, and depict their actual existence aside their erotized image?
Never thought of this before. Tell me about the typical depiction of women. When I draw a woman, any intention is not what I think of. But I think of the woman. Not that I think, "Oh she must have big thighs or something like that." As mentioned before, one line guides the next. There was once somebody commenting on a painting I made of a woman asking if I could make her smaller. It was a joke, because I'm not trying to portray a certain body image. Rather I'm portraying attributes. Soft, strong, gentle, powerful, etc. Or at least that's what I see.
I hope that a nude woman will speak more than desire. I hope a nude woman will speak all sorts of attributes such as strength, weakness, soft, warm, imperfect etc. And I hope this will be the same story with the opposite sex.
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