The nude female form has always been a symbol of sensuality, inspiring artists with its softness and strength. Yet our relationship with our most stripped down self goes much deeper than just skin, and there is something rare and refreshing about an artist who uses nudity to embody the naked vulnerability of our emotions, reveling in the fears and flaws that arise on our journey to feel comfortable in our own skin. London based artist Ellen von Wiegand’s linocut prints lay bare what it means to be a modern woman, digging into the expansive landscape of emotion that hums at the core of our most vulnerable selves, each painstakingly detailed self portrait acting as a vessel for self reflection, growth, and ultimately, acceptance.
Fragility and strength intertwine in her achingly intimate prints, which feature the female form defiant and unposed, serene in its freedom of the male gaze. Her work brings up something different for everyone who witnesses it, evoking the fears and insecurities that act as the heartbeat of humanity and embracing them in order to release ourselves from them, while creating something aesthetically and authentically beautiful in the process. We chatted with Ellen about the importance of listening to your creative desires, why her flaws are her ultimate inspiration, and how her art has shaped her concept of self-love. Stay up to date with her work here.
Live FAST: Hi Ellen! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do. How did you get your start as an artist?
Ellen von Wiegand: I’m a linocut printmaker and California transplant based in South London. I’ve struggled my whole life with being shy and the anxiety that comes with that, and I use my printmaking to explore this aspect of myself. For a long time my shyness stood in the way of me fully committing to art. I loved to draw and paint but I would do it off and on as a hobby, meanwhile filled to the brim with envy whenever I met those who were making work and identifying as artists. I soothed the pain of my jealousy by telling myself that I wasn’t the kind of person that would want to be in the spotlight anyway, that I didn’t have anything to say. But there came a moment when I couldn’t suppress my desire to make art any longer. For a number of years I had been longing to learn linocut. I got my hands on a set of tools and I never looked back.
LF: What drew you to focus specifically on linocut prints?
EVW: During my Master’s program in Contemporary Art, we were required to learn how to catalogue artworks. We spent a great deal of time identifying the indicators that a work was created using a particular technique, and I became fascinated with the craftsmanship involved in the various types of printmaking. During this time I set my sights on linocut. I decided that one day I would make my own prints.
LF: Who or what inspires you?
EVW: First of all, my flaws inspire me. I’m interested in the universality of the experiences of fear and insecurity, and I hope somehow, by using these unwanted pieces of myself to make art, it helps to transform them into something beautiful. In terms of other artists I’m inspired by people like Kiki Smith, Agnes Martin, and Louise Bourgeois, who work from a really intuitive place. Their art comes directly from the heart and tells you something about humanity outside of the realm of the critical mind. Finally, I have to say that almost all art inspires me. I find that whenever I go to an exhibition I leave with a new way of seeing some element of my work.
LF: What is your creative process?
EVW: I’m someone that believes simultaneously that you should sit down to create even if you don’t have an idea, and meanwhile that you shouldn’t push up too hard against an idea that isn’t flowing to you. This can make things a bit complicated at times. However, I’ve noticed a combination of activities that really helps get the creative juices flowing:
1.) Relax and let go of what you’ve done before.
2.) Visit exhibitions and look at a lot of art.
3.) Meditate to let new ideas form.
When I’ve followed this formula I’ve had more ideas than I’ve had time to execute.
LF: You often describe yourself as a “shy introvert,” yet your work speaks to a certain degree of openness and vulnerability. What inspired you to explore that juxtaposition within yourself?
EVW: It is precisely this juxtaposition that interests me. I’m constantly working on releasing these more cautious aspects of myself, and my art has been the catalyst for this. When looking at my work, I hope that people recognize their own struggle or journey towards growth, whatever it may be.
LF: It’s refreshing to see the female body, which is often highly politicized, stripped of the male gaze. What does the nudity in your work represent to you?
EVW: I was the kid in high school that went to the bathroom to change for gym instead of being naked in front of my peers. I still don’t like to be naked in front of other people. I’m highly guarded in my life and always striving to be less so. The nude is a way to present myself, or perhaps the self more generally, at its most vulnerable. It’s a way of opening up more fully when, in my real life, I struggle to be this free.
LF: You’re open about your insecurities and struggles with anxiety. How has your work shaped your concept of self-love?
EVW: Oh man, learning to love yourself is a never ending process. I think it’s not so much about feeling great about yourself at all times, but being gentle with yourself when discomfort arises. So much anxiety or self-loathing comes from the tendency to resist our emotions. On top of that, making art and running a business requires a great deal of self-love when things don’t go to plan or ideas aren’t coming. But I find that if I sit with the pain of those moments, the heaviness lifts and a softness returns to my body.
LF: What does self-care look like or feel like to you?
EVW: Self care for me involves eating healthy, exercising, meditating, and also being kind to myself when I fail to do these things. It’s a practice of recognizing what serves me and when, and being willing to take a break from work if I feel like I’m struggling. A good nap often does the trick.
LF: Your work is modeled after your own body, yet you see it as “embodiments of emotional states of being” rather than self-portraits. How do you tap into that emotional mindset while creating?
EVW: I’m always in the emotional mindset. Sometimes I wish I could just switch it off. I’m keenly aware of my emotions at any given moment and always attempting to understand them. If I’m upset I’m eager to arrive at the root of the issue, if I’m happy I question what has allowed me to feel this way so I can repeat it. The truth is that I lose control over my emotions most of the time, and I have to be soft and let them pass through me. Much of my work is inspired by what’s circulating in my mind and body at the moment.
EVW: My only wish is that I started committing to my art sooner. So I suppose my advice would be to listen to your desires no matter what. You can’t convince yourself that you don’t want something when you do, and the itch only grows the longer you suppress it.
LF: Tell us a little about your print of the month subscription club and the idea behind it.
EVW: The monthly print club was born out of a giveaway that I did of 30 mini prints. I realized how many people were excited to receive a small print, and it was something I could ship anywhere in the world for the price of a letter. That way I could send my prints far and wide without charging for shipping. I thought creating a club around it would make it something special since it’s fun to receive exciting mail each month. I also include a little inspirational note in each parcel.
LF: Do you have any hidden talents?
EVW: My one little trick is that I can stop my hiccups through concentration. Is that a talent?
LF: Definitely. How fast do you live?
EVW: I am not a fast person. I live slow because it’s important to me to listen to my intuition. If I move too fast I get swept up in what other people want from me and I lose my voice. Besides, all the beautiful things in life deserve to be savored.