Charlotta Janssen’s work re-imagines discarded and archival photographs of working class Americans taken before, during and after the Great Depression. While at once cautionary, these images attempt to celebrate both the individual dignity and group solidarity of her subjects. Her paintings represent an exploration of the Great American “void”. Janssen’s primary medium is paint: acrylic, oil, iron oxide (rust), and collage; her colour spectrum is narrow. Once finished, a piece of work is “rusted”, a random process, which gives each story a patina, whether it is popular and ordinary, or obscure and imaginative. After the rusting process, collage is applied; it’s a way of bringing in sound bites, textures and colour into the composition.
Janssen studied at the University of Arts (HDK), Berlin, Germany. Her solo exhibitions include: Threads of a Story: History Inspiring Art, National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis, Tennessee, 2014, A Whole Lotta Charlotta, Spazio Bocciofila, Venice Biennale, 2013, Freedom Riders and Bus Boycotters, The George Washington Carver Museum, Dothan, Alabama, 2013 and The Day Bayard Rustin Came To Town, Memphis Public Library, Goodwyn Gallery, Tennessee 2012. She has also participated in numerous group shows in the USA and globally, and has undertaken commissions and collaborative design projects for, among others, The University of North Carolina, Long Island Spy Museum, and mural commissions across New York. Her work is held in numerous collections, including Oprah Winfrey’s.
What is it about Young Masters that you are most interested in?
I am an incurable figurative painter. This competition embraces this affliction and I feel comfortably connected to a long tradition of similarly afflicted.
Can you explain to us what your work is about?
I feel the centre of my work has shifted from European chaos into the great American void. I have always loved that place. I think my work is about slowing down time and giving the viewer space to breathe and feel. My work is personal; I want to truly depict this character and nobody else or this place and nowhere else. My colour spectrum consists of teal, white, black and ironoxide. To create a dialogue within my pieces I oxidize the work after I finish and collage as well as retro-collage it. Occasionally I un-void some of the void with collage, but I feel my centre remains in the great American void.
Which artist/s are you most inspired by?
I’m inspired by Romare Bearden for his great use of collage and composition, I’m humbled by Jacob Lawrence for his use of simple materials (cheap paints and lined pages) to make great work, Francis Bacon for his fearless exposure of the un-pretty human shape as well as Lucian Freud, Edward Hopper for his almost effortless depiction of the void and Norman Rockwell for his courageous depiction of kitsch. Photographers such as Ingrid Maier, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange inspire me for their stark light and strong composition of people in every day settings as well as Disfarmer for his awkward portraiture.
Can you tell us something about your background?
I am a shipbuilder’s daughter. I grew up in the States, the Middle East and in Europe. My home of choice is Brooklyn, NY. Since leaving the University or Art in Berlin due to boredom I have been a street musician, a model, a decorator, a restauranteur and innkeeper, but most of all I am a painter and now a very decisive one.
What inspired you to become an artist?
I realized at some point that art is my piano, my anchor and my constant companion. I’m never tired of expressing something seemingly threedimensional on a flat surface. Every day is a new beginning, a way to slip into anybody’s skin and attempt understanding the world a little better by really portraying a specific person or situation. Nothing repeats itself with painting and I dread repetition. I love painting my way to an incoherent place and after a long day of strokes, returning back into the world of noise where I need a minute to remember words and to speak them.
If you weren’t an artist what would you be?
I have been many things. I can’t imagine myself without art. I would probably be wearing a straight jacket.
What is your greatest achievement as an artist to date?
I have won prizes and they feel great – but I feel the constant achievement of truly weaving in my own experiences: to paint what I feel and not what I project, really getting to the work I see deep down in the bottom of my subconscience is the constant goal I am most happy to get closer and closer to.
What are your plans for the future?
I intend to do significant work. I want to be that significant American painter.