The following is an edited text of a conversation that took place between Mia Enell and William Stover in the artist’s studio in December 2017
William Stover There are several ways we can begin to talk about your work; placing it in an art historical lineage or talking about various writers and texts you have read, but I am particularly interested in your way of working. How your drawings and paintings come into being. I am thinking about your artist statement – “I feel a thought flow down the arm, though the hand, pencil and onto the paper…” Though you are specifically referencing drawing, for me, this sums up what I think not only describes your process but also your philosophy on why your work exists.
Mia Enell This is hard to formulate in words. It can either be a very clear vision that comes to me. A vision of something that wants to be painted or drawn. It can be from a dream or even from a word that I hear. That word spins in my head and it takes a shape and I see something happening, so that is why I said vision. The other way is when I have a partial, not fully clear idea. Sometimes I sit, right where you are, and look and look and look at a canvas and I see a shape or color that should be there, so I get up and put it on the canvas. Then it says something else to me. I follow what the canvas tells me. It is a dialogue. With Walking on Clouds, I had almost finished the painting -the legs were there, the clouds were there, but it did not feel finished. So I sat and looked, and it came to me. I saw these two exclamation points that physically fit into the leg, with the ankle being the circle.
William Stover I am fascinated by the relationship you have with the canvas and the emergence of “what needs to be there.” Does this happen in an almost meditative process in the moment or is there any pre-meditation?
Mia Enell Yes, images and ideas flow through me in an almost meditative process, but I also make paintings that relate to certain drawings. I do not project the drawing on to the canvas, but I adapt and find a way for them to work in the larger size.
If I have a vision of some strange thing in a dream, I come into the studio and draw it. There are times I sit with a piece of paper and begin drawing and in that sense, they can also be automatic and from the moment. This drawing, Fly Past Past, is an example of how I just follow what I see. Something comes out of the paper. I did not think about this consciously, unconsciously maybe, but I don’t know where that line came from.
I studied drawing and painting in both Sweden and at the “Beaux-Arts” in Paris. Instead of making classically rendered still-lifes or figures I now draw things that are inside me. Occasionally I draw something that I have seen, but it is not the conventional way of drawing, it is much freer.
The way I prefer is when I have a very strong vision and I can just come to the studio and it comes out. The image is there, the colors are there, everything is there. This is great.
William Stover How often does that happen?
Mia Enell Not so often! More often, especially with drawing, part of an image or an idea will come to me. The drawing Shedding Skin, is a good example. I saw a snake skin on the ground and I thought about the idea of leaving something behind. This drawing came from a thought process. It came from something physical that I saw and then relating it to personal experience and feelings.
When I let go of the outside world, all feelings about this idea flowed out naturally. It is a mix of being in control and not in control. The drawing Now Now Now is me thinking about life and death. How time passes and how important it is to be present in the moment. This thought is very important to me. Some people realize they are not going to live forever and they are saddened and upset by this. I find it amazing that I am still alive today. We cannot take life for granted. We need to be in the now, as well as look forward and let the past be the past.
This also is how I feel about drawing and painting. I have worked in various mediums and materials – photography, video, sculpture – right now, this series needs to be created through painting and drawing.
William Stover For me, your practice is rooted in the here and now, but very much about the past and the future as well. Your work is very open.
Mia Enell Yes, what is life about? Being Swedish, we often think about these things. All those big questions go through my head all the time. A sense of humor helps when things get too heavy. I can be quite serious, and I know darkness and sadness. That is why I need lightness. For me, humor is a vector. This piece, Life Has Not Been Easy reflects that. Though we all go through difficult things, we still need to smile.
Flame in Hand was made after spending an evening with someone speaking about serious matters. The drawing reflects the energy of that conversation. Good Ideas, is me reflecting on the flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy. I thought about somebody holding a box of their possessions. Not only do our things get destroyed, but so do our positivity and energy. It is hard to think about the future when the present moment is being destroyed by water. Bird at 3,000m is me observing a bird high up on a mountain that was acting bizarrely. Is this drawing just about a crazy bird that I saw? I don’t think so.
William Stover You have always said that your work is “bigger than you.” Meaning, though the work is very personal as it comes from a place deep inside you, it is very open and giving to others. You present emotion and feeling that we all have, but are often afraid to deal with. Consider the saying, “What is most personal is most universal”?
Mia Enell I think that is true. I present my work with no walls up, unprotected. For me, this is how I must be to be an artist. It is very satisfying to see how very different people, respond to my work. They tell me things about my work that I have not seen in it.
It is said often that art should portray events in the world and yes, it should, but for me, I am interested in how people feel when they experience things. I want then to pay attention to what is inside. Those seemingly intangible things are just as important to paint as a bowl of fruit or something like that.
William Stover Again, going back to the idea of the universal, or in this case, the personal is the political. Let’s talk about Burrows. For you, is this piece related to what is going on in the world?
Mia Enell Possibly. The figures seem to all be women. Is that because I am a woman or because women are emerging from under something that has kept them down for a long time? I don’t know. But I do not want the work to be about one thing. If the work is understated and has a bit of humor, it can speak to larger questions and not just one idea. I have always strived to keep my work open. There is a choice of focusing in and closing the work down or to keep it open. I choose open.