“The work has become a creature within me, something unborn that keeps evolving. It is a constant presence of shadows luring, something impaled to the very skin that I’m swept in”
AT: Where are you from and how/why did you start engaging with art?
LV: I was born in Denmark in a suburb of Copenhagen, and was introduced and encouraged by my parents to pursue whatever creative exploration I might felt the need to explore, since they quickly realized that art and theater had caught my attention. I was in my mother’s atelier, drawing with her, as well as attending her rehearsals for her scenography work, which mainly consisted of theater and contemporary dance. I started ballet classes around 6 years old, but a tragedy occurred and I was brought up in an orphanage, and then to foster care just after my 7th birthday, which was located on a tiny island with nothing but fields and reeds, that worked as a fortress from the mainland. That became the end of art and culture for me, and I first reconciled and started exploring drawing and costumes in my late teens, and first around 20, I started with painting and sculpture. Since childhood, I have always been creative engaging in several mediums, which I hold on to this day. The ‘why’ to do it, came first later. I expect when I was around 20 years of age I started taking a more serious look on my life as well with some involuntary melancholy made me aware that some issues required my attention, and from what became my distraction became my sorrowful loveliness. And my past became part of a larger story.
AT: When did it become serious?
LV: When first having been struck with the misery of Oizys, I felt as Orpheus being half in love with a dream that did not exist, entering the underworld in search of the dream, only to look back and see the repressed memories catching up to haunt me. That was the beginning of my creative journey, and from 20 – 25 years old I dwelled in purgatory. In the following years, I have been starting to learn from those years and have been gathering the stories, organizing them into categories. It was always serious but I suppose the vocabulary started to take shape during the last four years.
AT: Are there any person who has been significant in your breakthrough as an artist?
LV: My real family was very creative and my childhood home was filled with art, both of the creations of my parents as well from their collection. But since I didn’t grow up.
Leonardo Anker Vandal Atelier, Brescia (IT), 2020.
AT: What is your first approach to the work? How would you describe your practice?
LV: Most of my works are mirroring a memory, or the reconciliation and a revenant emotion that echoes in my future, or it is created from pure escapism often inspired from a dream-like state composed around a melody from the past. Too many thoughts have been an issue of mine, but now I just listen to the shadows and the works appear. I learned to listen and decode the murmurations of my thoughts. At times I will investigate further if my knowledge is not sufficient, but in the end, my work is quite visceral. The approach resembles those of an archeologist, excavating the repressed memories and carefully displaying them and putting them into categories in order to learn and understand from the past. The unknown, that is where my imagination yearns to venture. As Brahms, I have a fascination towards the past and playing tribute to a forgotten legacy, it has an ancient aura, a wisdom. I am assimilating the techniques and styles of the past, learning the traditional values in order to create my language and hope that people see how intimately connected the works are as well seeing the them in the light of day they are presented. Despite silence surrounds my work it echoes in music. And from “the War of Romatics” between Wagner, Liszt etc. against Brahm and others who played tribute to the past, we now see in the perspective of our past that they were both right, and it gives us priceless knowledge of perceiving our time we are given. I have found in the last couple of years that I’m very much working in projects, I find a title and work around the title, creating a tale, but still have the liberty to explore and have the freedom to create work of what I feel in that moment. The problem is that I have too many ideas and too little time and materials to tell it all, which is my greatest suffering. Sometimes it is all too overwhelming and I need to stop for a moment and evaluate, to prioritize what I want to continue with. Many artists go to their studios and draw, creating a schedule for their studio practice. My expectations have gotten too high which means that I have abandoned that medium often for several months at the times. I just think and if the thought is compelling enough I write it down, I can do that for months. Currently, my bucket list has grown so long that I’m trying to do a little of different projects to get a bigger picture as well to push my expression. However, if I’m working on an upcoming solo show, my attention becomes very focused. In my practice it’s not just of the inner that captivates me, it is as well the material itself and combining them that create a poem, the work reflects on the 4 elements and the contrast between them. In my installation, The Nine Muses, nine giant hollow iron spheres are displayed in the shape of a cube; just touching, yet even though they take up a lot of physical space, the point of contacts is of a fingers touch and the amount of darkness take half of the presence in the room. The work contemplates on more but those details intrigues me.
AT: What do you aim to reach with your work?
LV: The work has become a creature within me, something unborn that keeps evolving. It is a constant presence of shadows luring, something impaled to the very skin that I’m swept in. That process of giving birth to a creature is invigorating and nerve-wracking. I recognize and have accepted the pain that’s festering in my soul, and need to share. And through my actions of creations I feel a sense of celestial euphoria that consumes me. I need to express. Through literature and poetry, I experienced I kinship that I could not have or find with real human beings, to have something in common with these fictive characters felt like I was not so alone or lost. My work became my own little world that I could explore and seek sanctuary in. It became a cathartic experience. It raised answers to questions I didn’t know I had, and through time I learned that it was not only me who dealt with these emotions of suffering and feeling lost in the tunnel of despair and by coming to terms with this and being honest to oneself – to learn how to open up more. I don’t mean to make the work esoteric, but when speaking of the inner it can often be seen as a tabu, even banal some say, but we are learning a lot in these years and conversations of our mental health has become more relevant. I have received many responses from people who are not okay, but felt a connection to the work I had produced. When you feel lost and dwell in that void of despair, longing and you don’t see a way to continue. That there is no way out of that maze you’ve created yourself… It can be but a small gesture that can save you, and in that sense it can seem esoteric because it so difficult to connect with another person these days. To me art is that tool, it can be the first notes of Shostakovich Piano Concerto 2, second movement andante., or It can be those unspoken things that connect us and gives us purpose, even if it’s just for a moment. To be a butterfly for just a moment echoes in eternity. I want people to feel and want them to think and evaluate their actions. The work is but a small light in the darkness, as the circulating waves in a lake, no plunge no splash, just silence. My work is a medley of silence, the embroidery to the time I’m given, the elegy to our civilization.
AT: What are your favourite tools and materials for working?
LV: I find clay to be extremely soothing and forgiving, and since the last many years, water has been the medium I used the most. And then properly writing, it has taught me a lot over the years.
The Swan of Tuonela, 2018, Mordente on linen canvas with iron frame, 180×150 cm.
SECRET GARDEN (2016-2020).
AT: What do you feel while you work? Do you usually think about the final outcome beforehand?
LV: I’m working in the twilight of this question, I always have a vision beforehand but the outcome is often quite different from the original thought which can be exciting and leads to a path that you didn’t expect, and you are either devastated or it stimulates you intellectually, that the soul had other plans, and you start to question you own work, that you may suddenly not understand what you created. I haven’t figured out the equation yet of feelings towards my work. When first starting to create paintings, it was an escape from all the consuming thoughts and it gave me peace; I was a child playing. Now the thought a present at all times but I learned to have them around. At times I feel too much, but I love to work with my hands, it’s the bliss of a distraction.
AT: How do you understand that a work is finished?
LV: It is a difficult question and it depends on where you are in your carrier and how brave you are. Some of the bravest artists I met, whenever they finished what I would call a great work, they paint over it, keep pushing it to the next level, and through time they end up with several layers of paintings on one canvas, those works are very interesting to me. And I’ve taken that part to me in a conceptual form with my darker works. Yet through the exploration over 10 years you start to learn yourself well enough to know when to stop, yet I always ask myself: “should I stop”.
AT: Where does the inspiration for the work come from?
LV: Solitude and loneliness. I believe I felt sick with melancholy at a very early age and that seems to have stuck with me, often felt a feeling of being Sisifos in my own ever-expanding purgatory. I’m definitely attracted to the old master, particularly the Belgian masters as well as prehistoric art, I think my world view very much resemble those of Breugel or Bosch with monsters lurking amongst us, humans in disguise, or even their true nature. When listening to Wagner’s prelude from Lohengrin I feel the sensation of flying between the clouds, to his Romance from albumblatt wwv 94 for violin and piano, I feel the sensation of hope and a desire to dream myself away from this churlish reality. So everything that I collect of beautiful moments from my solitary confinement I try to convey to the viewer in my work. I incorporate a lot of classical tales and mythology, stories from Operas and Ballets that is swept in a cloth of my own story. The work is merely an escape and tales seemed ideal in a world that is forgetting language.
Studio view (2020).
AT: Are there any artists who influenced your works? Why?
LV: I have a library of artists who I am in awe of; they are often not visual artists. Wagner, Puccini, Mahler, Sibelius, Grieg, Bach, John Cage, Shostakovisj, Prokoviev, Rachmaninoff, and many more. I often use inspiration from fictive characters from novels and poetry such as artists like Rimbaud, Keats, Yeats, etc. to choreographers, Pina Baush, Benjamin Millepied, Akram Kahn, Wayne McGregor, Marius Petipa, Neumeier, etc. These are but a fragment of names that influence me on a daily basis. With music I’m able to create beautiful visions just for me, the brain is creating a cinema-like experience of dream sequences that often are presenting themselves in movements of dance and embrace. I find ballet and dance to be the highest art form or purest, there is something uniquely authentic purely devoted to the inner. I wish I had had the opportunity to have seen the Akram Kahn company with Sidi Larbi and Anthony Gormley’s Ballet – Sutra. Where the English sculptor was involved in the scenography, which looked absolutely stunning. But to name some visual artists: Rodin, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Rothko, Chiharu Shiota. These are just some names that I identify with that speak of the inner and visually have a strong appeal to me. But my fascination and inspiration is more connected to old masters such as Breugel and medieval folktales. And within the realm of surrealism, I’m very fascinated with Dorothea Tanning’s work to the performer Ragnar Kjartansson since they possess an element I want to show but never could do. But my greatest inspiration is always nature and prehistoric art.
AT: How important is the role of social media for you?
LV: Imagine you are living in an age where a pandemic is racing and you are then told you have terminal illness and that you have but a couple of months left. Would you sit back and start scrolling without interacting? woud that be enough for you? Can you remember a deep and emotional and intellectual stimulating conversation you had on a social media. Have our voices become a silent comment. In this scenarie, I would get out, I would travel, see nature and visit museums and have meaningful conversation. We contemplate on our own mortality yet it feel as we have been living with this other pandemic for too long, nd we are being hold back by our own imagination. We are experiencing expressionism 2.0, yet we have never been worse at communicating. Hundred years ago we learned to communicate in a new way that created a path in which we are still following today, now we are learning this new media, something that has given us the opportunity to connect and gather all of society, yet we are more divided than ever. Loneliness is one of the greatest sufferings known to us and I have found more loneliness using these medias, as looking at the world from our cell. We are visualizing so many images a day it creates a spiritual emptiness. There are many positive aspects to this tool of communication and I won’t deny that I’m sure the intentions were pure when these tools were invented, and it has given me the visibility and attention that would have been difficult to achieve elsewhere, but it has also lead to misconceptions. It does allow you to introduce yourself with out being too intrusive as an artist when approaching a gallery. I would like to share a beautiful story, approximately one year ago, I saw an Instagram post of a Nigerian young ballet dancer, Anthony Mmesoma Madu, dancing beautifully with the spirit of Billy Elliot, making Pirouettes in the mud, I was rather touched of his honesty and purity and shared the post, that also had a page in which you could donate to the small ballet school, and due too the many shares it offered him visibility that now have lead to a full scholarship with the prestigious New York Ballet, that makes be so happy that it brings tears to my eyes. Being positive about this makes me think of Patti Smith and how she mentions how beautiful it is to share to a large audience, directly and this platform allows that. And currently for poetry and photography, this media work very well. I saw John Oliver the day before the american election, where he mentions Mark Zuckerberg, ”created the downfall of society at age 19.” whereof I half smiled with lifted eyebrows and nodded complyingly. But we can’t be naïve, even though it may seem great and it can truly reach many people and we can connect with souls we never are going to meet, it’s an institution in itself and it could have great potential. I will try to comment on the importance of institution in the next question. There are also a lot of psychological issues which occurs; the addiction. I’m worried about the impact on a younger audience. However in regards to art, I have hundreds of works I can’t show since they lose the value to make a potential show, but when going through quarantine, you suddenly have the potential of showcasing works, yet you can’t go around the establishment and sell directly… Our waste of dopamine in our blissful escapism from “the every day” has become so unimaginative and hollow that we blatantly just follow as zombies. When first speaking of escapism it was often in according to seek shelter in another world through fairytales, art, and theater world. Freud considers a quota of escapist fantasy a necessary element in the life of humans: ”They cannot subsist on the scanty satisfaction they can extort from reality.” The German writer Theodor Fontane writes: ”We simply cannot do without auxiliary constructions.” And these pathological actions have proven them self harmful for our mind and have been the cause of depression, anxiety, and schizoid behavior. We curate our lives for social acceptance approval with no regard to how we feel, we are losing traditional manners and values and create this manner which can seem truthful yet it is a lie. We are trapped in a loop, a virtual purgatory we can’t escape because to be part of societies, art or otherwise there are the expectations from those around us. It’s not the revelation we are searching for. I find that I wouldn’t be afraid of; “not belonging”, but that I would lose that visibility that I’m told I need. To be honest, I feel a little brainwashed and manipulated and I’m a very anxious person and social media is causing me a great deal of stress and ill comfort. I spend a lot of means on having a Squarespace website which I don’t really use and I spend more energy on free media filled with all the world’s monstrosities. I hope that social media could turn into paid media, like a newspaper, and that the information you got would have more facts and that in it there could be different cultural sites. A member-based social media that actually could help promote your work. I don’t think we ever needed to upload this many 24 hours update of the nothingness of the everyday. From those feelings of being misunderstood and the prejudice of the constellations of society that have been wrongfully raised from ignorance, naturally, escapism has become my one of my main subjects in my works, and social media is a doesn’t scratch the surface of the delight of true escapism, it’s more a state of coma. I’m still rather skeptical with it all and my personal opinion is that I would rather be without it, however, it has been a tool that has been proven useful to some measures, yet also at times given worse grievings. I only use Instagram myself and I deleted it for while but was encouraged with collaborators whom I was working with since they saw as a need to have. I haven’t grown accustomed to it, and find there is still much miscommunication. We are still adapting to this technology as when learning a new instrument, we are creating a new form of communication but we still haven’t learned how to play this new instrument. I find the addictive aspect of it very worrying. I was asked last year while having a studio visit if I had Instagram, the person said: ”Now I have a much better understanding”, and felt that perception was wrong since I was in the room with my works. But of course, I see the value of communicating directly with people whom I am living far away from. Had this dream the other night which seem a fun metaphor for the reality How we lose imagination with the cell phones How I left my phone and went on an adventure in the search of a forgotten sea monster, and by the time I discovered the creature I had no means to document my findings and asked a Chinese mother and her son if I could borrow her phone to document this find (she was the only one with a phone of the entire population) she denied because she wanted the news for herself despite it was my discovery, in the distraction of this stupid argument the animal attacked me and with green slimy tentacles and bit my leg off. The slime was so poisonous that it killed me slowly and all the population too since it spread to the whole world. Social media and our obsession with our phone. The defeat of our imagination. It is a new drug and we are the guinea pigs put on trial. My denial – my confession of my own addiction.
AT: As an artist, what is your point of view about the contemporary art system?
LV: It’s a rather complex and political question that varies from each country, I find many positive things about the art system, how privileged we are in the vestern world, that we have such great possibility to visit museums and other cultural institutions, knowing that other parts of the world is completely robbed from that luxury. But mostly I’m worried and feel a companionship of worrying between my fellow piers, the never ending uncertainty and the never ending fight, the patience required despite hunger suddenly becomes an issue since there is suddenly no means for food. The romanctic idea from the view of collectors and gallerists or maybe more society, of the pain many artists have to endure in order to be accepted. There are many misconceptions of the modern artist and we see a downfall of a failing system that need strenuous upgrade and evaluation for our future to succed, in every aspect and regard to our future and civilization and we see art is commenting on these important issues in regards to our climate and racial and mental situation. This year I heard from two gallerist about their artists, how they felt the artist didn’t spend enough time in their studio, when seeing how the gallerist are unable to sell during this time and how the artists have no income and have to obtain work outside the studio simply to survive, that is if there are any jobs to take, since lockdown stretched up to six months and all shows has been cancelled one to two years out in the future. This is here we also se how the contemporary art system is very dependent on our collective society and that it does not offer any support in these times and how the collective system don’t’ have the means to help artists, and that other people in the working sector will receive financial aid from the government, there is none for the artists, this is where capitalism has its fall. Not accepting art as essential work is as denying air, everyone that has endured lockdown has surrounded themselves with art. We are now in our second round of lockdown here in Italy and many other countries in Europe and it is devastating. As an artist you have to be amphibious in order to survive. In these trying and weary times of 2020 with more unemployment due to this pandemic we see It’s a fragile system and we see how in many countries they simply didn’t want or had the means to support many working people as well as artist during this pandemic. And that it was mainly established or dead artists works that was sold and how the future generation was neclected. The art society is not strong enough by itself and has to lean against our common society, but when a tragedy occurs such as this pandemic and it’s a field that is not receiving support to continue, those in it will naturally feel like an outcast, so we have this pyramid of outcast in which we need to become more democratic and find a better solution and new rules for both societies The art world is a parallel universe that at times reflects on our common society, but as in any society we fight to find our place within in it. The contemporary art system is an establishment that strives on tradition and some certain rules, an unspoken law, in which those rules cannot be bend, and for that it can reflect an amount of unhealtlhy nostalgia and seclude many great artists. The artist first and foremost have a resposbility if they have been given the opportunity to influence the story of our timeline, but that also goes for the gallerists and curators which are the most important link for the artist, the artist is the lowest in the hieraki of the establishment. Which makes the question at times of the serenity of the artwork. I feel that during the quarantine that people was having a sensation of togetherness, at least in Europe, and that we saw how art had a higher purpose of connecting us, and that was really beautiful to me. Art have saved my life. However the art society have borders and each country have their own society, I find myself very blessed to be part of an institution, Palazzo Monti, an artists residency located in Brescia and have found a great support not only in regards to myself but to young and emerging artist in Italy within contemporary art, in comparisment to Denmark where I’m from. Here in Italy there are many residencies, project spaces and museums, as well an art academy in almost every city. But in general it’s a overbooked restaurant only reserved for the diserning people. I thought it was a beautiful idea when Thaddaus Ropac took the inititive to invite smaller galleries to their spaces and show emerging artists in time of great difficulties. My hope is that the collected society through our educational system would learn more about art and the effect it has on us and how languages was invented from art, from the primitive cave drawings to what we know today, the curiosity that gave us the opportunity to communicate and how we never seems to lose that exploration. So for us as a society to grow we have to collaborate between the different worlds, and find a solution to open more institution, such as museums and more available art schools. Having been one of the artist who have chosen a different direction and felt I would learn more from my practice by not being part of the educational system, have given me different light on the situation, I found it very educational, but in the art society I have felt misunderstood and found hostility such as in the real world. There can occur an intellectual ignorance, an accused judgement. I find the art world extremely important and I am mesmerized with the achievements of our ancestors that have been recorded and are exhibited in institutions for us to learn from. I do think it is a world that is too closed and wish it would be possible to incorporate more people in the conversation and that there would be better collaboration between our collective society and the art society to grow together, to create more institutions both in form of education and museums. We’ve seen through time how important art is and how it influence a generation to come, and it is huge responsibility as an artist and institutions, gallerists and curators and we have to realise that art has that power to transport one to the inner as well to put a light to an otherwise unseen or unnoticed situation. In order to grow many more has to be involved. As we see with cities with high population, New York, London, Tokyo, there are so many people that there are more extremes, and I think the evolution in art and humanity is that we need to have more institutions and availability to education that can connect us more and we could regain some empathy as well creating new subcultures that not only echoes the past. The past is always hard and the future is weiry, but the past is always our friend and prepares us for the future. And seeing how we keep repeating our prier mistakes is rather mindboggling, and it worries me to see how we are deleting our past by removing monuments and important artist work from streets and institutions because we are afraid of peoples emotions, we can’t delete history just because we do not like the appearance of it, it should also be a reminder of how far we come, hopefully… Seeing how institutions are now very hurt causing the effect by this pandemic and how museums are deaccessioning works from their collections, is very sad to me in many aspects, and the priorities of deciding which works are most important right now seems very short sighted. To be an artist in our time is rather confusing, the act it self of creating should have no rules, yet I found it contrary, there are many rules. The approach to how to get a gallery… How you preferably have to be only a one medium artist. wether you attended the most expensive school or not. It’s a confusing industry and the artist is always in some grey zone, regarding job security, there is not much action you can take for you self since there is a hieraki which is impossible to break, there are no guidelines within salary, or retirement plan. And you told if you don’t have success before 35 years old, there is no chance. The world is so simple, there is no good no bad, everything has become a relative truth. We are discussing truth as it was feeling and we decide our own truth, a delusion can seem very real but it doensn’t make it true. Vladimir Jurowski: ”If we are to have a future, we have to have a culture and also got to have cultural institutions, and we need to produce the art which is not only easily diagestible and exiting but also that is challenging and provocative and opera espicially modern opera is part of this, We got to take leave of the idea that art is something that makes a profit and that it is just for the elite”.
Studio views (2020).
AT: What do you find to be the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art? What is the most rewarding part of working as an artist?
LV: Puccini Manon Lescaut intermezzo, sheet notes ‘My Passion is so strong that I feel myself the most unfortunate creature that lives’ We all seek something, an answer, why are we here? By creating maybe we find some answers that saves us from the loneliness and gives hope and comfort, a sense of togetherness. The most daunting thing must be the uncertainty and stress I feel every day. There are more days with heartache than smile in your heart and jump in your step, but the most rewarding part is to work on a painting, sculpture or an entire show, obviously the process can be challenging as well, but if the work is to your own satisfaction that is surely a great achievement. When I first started to paint it was not to think, that is the best part, when it’s just your body doing the work and you become an instrument of the soul. I heard Wayne Thiebaud say: You probably won’t be able to make a living, but you can make a life. The creation of an idea. It’s as I’m dwelling, half a float in the undulation of the waves that is about to crash on the tides, with my face towards the bottom, learning from the ripples on the sand below, to discover a world below the sea that was otherwise unknown to me, the darkness was scary at first, but I was consumed and felt at ease with darkness and learned to listen to the soothing waves. Art is the most rewarding thing a human can obtain, it’s not fleeing as love can be, it’s more profound. Every emerging artist struggles on a daily basis, or rather every human being. What give me hope is old people. The floral composer Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, and how it was written in the aftermath of the First World War and it was first recognized in the 1960’s, and now seen as his best work. It’s a lament not to be in fashion but I’m infatuated with that he wrote his masterpiece when he had past 60, first then did he have enough life experience to tell this story. I give me a sense of hope, that there are more things to come, but grieves that so much more pain have to be endured before reaching something, maybe, divine.
AT: What do you do besides art?
LV: I’ve been privileged enough to submerge with my entirety into art and it all go together, my dreams, when I exercise, having a walk, am in the train. Which is also my greatest suffering; there are always too many thoughts and too little time. I have strong desire to travel more, particular Asia, I would love to go to the Himalayas one day.
AT: What are your goals and expectations for the future?
LV: The question vexes me and excites me. I keep my prayers to the goddess of hope with outmost humility, I have high expectations for my work to grow and I hope that I’m be able to share the work and there will be more opportunities, I have a strong desire to create collaborations in the future across mediums. It would be my dream to be involved with Ballet, Opera and theatre. I hope to create more installation-based works.
Leonardo Anker Vandal Atelier, Brescia (IT), 2020.
Leonardo Christian Anker Amadeus Vandal (b. 1988) is a Danish visual artist currently living and working in Brescia, Italy. Vandal is a multidisciplinary artist with prolific works and is known to work across different mediums, often integrating performance and texts into his installations. In his own words he explains that he wants to create a language of his own and he does through the mediums that seem most fitting to tell the story as precisely as possibile. Every work should be seen as a star and collectively they create a constellation, comparative to the instruments in an orchestra.