Meeting the Jönsson-Langes
Lots of people are strolling around the park in Haga in Stockholm, despite the constant pandemic reports on the news. It’s a Saturday in April and the sun’s shining against the facade of the stately building in the park I’m headed towards, housing the shared studio of Eva Lange, Humlan Lange and Inez Jönsson. They are three generations of artists (grandmother, mother and daughter), currently presenting a group show together at Belenius; aptly named Generations. The initial plan was for C-print to meet all three artists together for a round-table-session, but due to the prevailing circumstances it was deemed best for Eva to stay at home. Hence, I call her up later on the phone the following day instead.
The studio premises inside are soothing and airy, with large windows facing both directions channeling in plenty of light, making for a studio scene which would surely be of envy for others. The first of a string of consecutive rooms I enter is crowded with the large, white sculptures that Eva Lange is famous for, grouping close together like a scarce army. I go further into the building, passing artworks by Inez Jönsson; works that appear to be seated in the intersection between painting, textile and sculpture. I lastly find my way into the studio of Humlan Lange and instantly recognize the girl-like figures who adorn most of her paintings. That’s where I meet them – Humlan Lange and Inez Jönsson. Despite the age difference, they look strikingly alike, both fashionably casually dressed in striped shirts and jeans. Inez has worked in this studio since she graduated from the Royal Institute of Art in 2017, and Humlan since years. Eva moved in as early back in 1962.
Eva Lange's studio space, Hagaparken. Photo: Corina Wahlin
C-P: What is it like, working so closely together in the studio? Surely there must be advantages as well as disadvantages?
Inez: Yes, of course there is. When I finished school, I needed a studio and went looking for some other studios. But then grandma asked if I wanted to rent a space here – and that felt fun, it's nice to be here. But at the same time, you want to be independent when you graduate, you wish to go out in life and stand on your own two feet. So being here felt a little like moving home to one’s parents again, having to meet my mom several days a week. It’s nice in many ways, but since you are my mom (turning to Humlan), I get annoyed with you sometimes, the way you do with your parents. Sometimes you just want to be by yourself.
Humlan: When I get that question, I usually say: Imagine yourself having completed an education and wanting to become your own person. And then you suddenly stand next to a parent. It may not be your greatest wish, but a good solution, when an opportunity presents itself this way, making it silly not to take it and adopt to it. But if you think of it purely psychologically, that’s not what any human being would choose in the first place. I am in between a mother and a daughter…
Inez: Yes, you have been in the same situation that I am in now, with grandma, and have been annoyed with her. And now I’ve come here and I get annoyed with you instead (Laughter ensues).
Humlan: Yes. A mother usually thinks it’s so much fun to meet her child; when the children move away from home, you are longing for them very much. I've sometimes been acting like a little kid who wants to be left alone, towards my mom, while my mom is always very happy to see me. At the same time, we know that this is the situation we’re in, so we just must handle it at the best of our abilities.
Inez: Having said all of this, things are going very well here. It’s very nice.
Inez Jönsson. Photo: Corina Wahlin
C-P: How does sharing the studio and being related affect the creative process?
Inez: It’s very nice to be in the same professional working situation as mom and grandma, here and outside the studio. Getting to share this – that's the fun part, getting to know each other in a different way and meeting in situations other than merely family-related. I noticed that I’ve looked at your paintings a bit lately. There is one on display at Belenius now, in which you have scratched out the colour, that I have been thinking about a lot. I've always liked it very much, and when I was working with a painting it came to mind– that’s the way I wanted my work to look. So, seeing grandma’s and your work every day leaves a mark.
Humlan: I've been working here so much by myself. Since Inez came in, there is suddenly someone watching and reflecting on what is seen. I've gotten a lot of use out of it, for me it has been super to have access to her reflections and thoughts. Especially because I feel that Inez understands what I do, so I don't have to explain it a whole lot. We are different, but we may have an understanding of each other's respective artistic language. It’s in the marrow. I have grown up with this constant reasoning; about form and sensibility and learning to always see the little detail that deviates from the greater whole. You (Inez) have heard these kinds of conversations from two different people. And if I go in here now (to Inez's studio) and see a colour or shape, then it just stays with me somehow, when I go back into my studio.
Inez: You can have artist friends or favourite artists whom you turn to and look at, but in a family, your art really becomes part of you. Since I grew up with it, your art is really a part of me too. Same thing with grandma, it’s inevitable to have the art inside you. I feel that I make my own things, but at some level they stem from both you and my dad. After all my work, is a sum of various impressions that I’ve acquired over time that have been boiled down to something.
Humlan Lange. Photo: Corina Wahlin
C-P: You have been photographed together for Hope, you have exhibited together previously at Konsthallen Hishult, and now you are exhibiting at Belenius. What’s the experience of exhibiting together like, as compared to exhibiting individually?
Inez: It's always a bit of a gamble with group exhibitions. But I think it has worked out very well and it’s been very nice. When we got the proposal the first time, it didn't seem obvious that it would work. When exhibiting separately, it’s only your own feelings and expectations that are put at risk. But when you are in a group, and in addition to that with family, you want the distribution of attention and space to be fairly even, so no one feels that they didn't get their due.
Humlan: The ego must not take over. It’s a test of collaboration and generosity. I also think you might feel a bit daunted about what the world outside might come to think; that people will be like: "Oh, it’s those three female artists who belong to the same family". It may become a bit too "cute" as a set-up. or whatever you could call it. For a while there was a lot of talking about "women's art". If you were a woman and an artist, it was labeled as women's art. Can't you just be an artist? Do you have to be put in a compartment and given a gender label?
Inez: Take being photographed for Hope; I don’t really like being photographed but it felt much nicer to do it together with you and grandma. I could really relax more because of it, being in my safest group. And it’s the same with the exhibition now. There’s always things to be worried about, but ultimately you are with the ones you know the best and like the most – it’s a safe context to be in, in the end.
Works by Humlan Lange in the studio. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
C-P: What has collaboration with Belenius been like?
Humlan: It was a lot of fun and it turned out great.
Inez: Absolutely. It felt good to do this with them, because they are always good at putting groups together. They were this time, too. It feels great.
C-P: What inspires you as artists?
Humlan: The funny thing is that I really just want to paint. Paint with colours. I don't actually want to do what I do, but still I always end up doing the same thing. It becomes figures. When I went to Mejan (The Royal Institute of Art), it wasn’t okay to do such things, to paint figures this way that I do. Back then I did them more secretly, while simultaneously doing this other things that I thought were more accepted. It’s natural to be more insecure at the beginning of your career. I got older and started doing more of what I wanted to do. For me, it's all about being incredibly curious about people and movements, and what's happening between people; the things that aren’t really visible before the eyes. That's what I intend to capture. I think it's incredibly fun to depict these little, or big, people.
Inez: For me, a lot is in the material. I am “painting”, but within the practice of painting exists a lot of crafting. I have worked a lot with textiles and wood, based on painterly practice. I’m interested in materials that are related to traditions of craft. But also, materials that I have my own invested feelings in, materials that are personal and in which I can see something of myself. So, choices are both practical and emotional; using a material in your work depends on both these realities. I’ve had trouble painting figuratively, because it just felt like I was painting to make a nice picture. I want there to be a practical motivation for what I do, and I have gotten that through materials and craft techniques. Through craft, I have started painting a little again as well.
Humlan: There might exist some overlap between us in so far what you say about material. I also think the material is incredibly important, and fun. I want to mix my colours. Colours end up describing something – in this way colours gets their meaning, because they must match the intention of what I want to convey. Therefore, it’s not possible to paint a portrait and just stop at that; the painting process must be carried out until the colours speak that specific language, which describes what lies in the space between the people or objects depicted.
Inez: But I would say that a similarity exists in the search for mood or feeling. After all, many of your characters are like symbols representing different emotions. They are these people, but they are also something else, something they experience or exist within. We both want to find a mood or an atmosphere, but we have different ways of approaching that.
Humlan: I think we both relate to a discourse about form. Anyone who is uninitiated or has not participated in conversations about form, might look at my mother's sculptures and say "this one is round", and then she would say "No, it's not round at all." And we know exactly what she means, because we can see that teeny tiny skew; that something which interferes with the shape in some way.
Works by Inez Jönsson. Photo: Corina Wahlin
C-P: Is there any specific artwork you’ve seen of each other, including Eva, that has left a long-lasting impression on you, or been of great significance?
Inez: God, it’s hard to pick just one. My mother has several works, her slightly older paintings, this wedding picture (points to a small painting sitting in the window frame) and two similar paintings I have at home. There is some kind of surface or pattern in front of the figures, which makes them hidden from the viewer, while you can still see them visibly. I think they are beautiful and atmospheric; when I look at art I want to feel the way I feel when I look at them. I also have a small sculpture by grandma. It’s in clay and I think is a tree, but it looks a lot like her, and like you too. The figure looks like it's standing and blowing in the wind, and it's a little skewed – it feels very typical for her way of working. It's just so much her.
Humlan: From my mother I have a small foot, an abstract little flat foot that I really like. She has also made small sculptures of babies which are only 5–6 cm, and one of them is me. She has worked both figuratively and with more abstract forms. I like the large open shapes in plaster, but it's hard to pick just one. They look very nice together.
Inez: The light plays such an important part in her sculptures. One of my favorites is The House, which is octagonal at the top and round at the bottom, so the light is caught up beautifully in the different shapes. There is something about how it’s so soft but at the same time super sharp, which I think I often want in my own work too.
Humlan: I also really like the works Little rain and Big rain, they are funny. In terms of Inez, I have several favourites, and that’s because I’m her mom and have been a part of her art since the beginning. There was a period when you made paper collages, which I would say became the basis for what you are doing now. It started out with a repetition of shapes in paper, which were glued in a way that became very tight and subtle, and in which the feeling of the material played an important role. That’s something I think can still be seen in your work now. Then you took a step away from that an embarked on this other current path. I also love all the works that have straws and weaves ... It's hard to pick just one, I want to mention so many.
Humlan Lange. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
C-P: You all seem to work consciously and consistently with certain materials. How do you decide which specific material to use?
Humlan: It should smell good! I think regular oil paints are great to work with, because they smell good. Then it’s about finding the right colors and the right canvas or sheet material – how it absorbs and interacts with the paint is important. How the surface turns out is also very important. And the brush strokes. So yes, the choice of material permeates the work.
Inez: The materials I look for should be linked to painting in some way. They don't have to be out-of-the ordinary – they can be simple materials that I bring to the studio and redo. Quite often, I choose materials that can accomplish the same effect albeit in different ways, as with the weaves. I started to create shapes with them that I had done before in some other material. Now I’ve painted some of the weaves instead, so it’s a bit interconnected.
C-P: Does the material hold an important symbolic meaning or is it rather the form and expression that determines the choice of material?
Inez: I think it has a symbolic quality as well. The material I choose represents a craft tradition, which I place myself in through the material. I also think the material ties painting together with other crafts. Painting is definitely a craft just like wood and textile, and I want that to be felt in what I do, even if it’s not always very evident. I don’t want to alter the material too much, rather I want it to appear in its own right as well. At the same time, I put my feelings and my own expression into it as I work with it. There has to be some kind of balance between both.
Humlan: It struck me now that even though I don’t work with textiles, I have worked a lot with mural techniques. It’s all about that practical work that is so wonderful. If you are going to work with mosaic for example, you need to knock down those pieces and you have to cast your plate. You need to have knowledge of the craft. If I had more time in the studio, I would like to do lots of other things, like weave and do mosaic, but there just isn’t enough time for everything.
Inez Jönsson. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
C-P: Would you say that different materials face different status?
Inez: It depends on how you handle them. I used to paint, then I reached a point where I just couldn't do it anymore. I started experimenting with the frame and the canvas instead and started to think of them as the picture; I wanted them to be seen. A painting is pretty much about a surface so it’s natural that the colors and the painted surface are given the highest status of the painting. But underneath there is a frame, a canvas, a base painting – a whole structure. There is no painting without these parts. So, in this way, there is a hierarchy within the materials.
Humlan: Now it’s completely accepted to work with textiles.
C-P: Humlan, tell me more about your experience about a differentiation in how materials have been regarded.
Humlan: We argued very much at Konstfack in my year, about the right to work with textiles instead of design. That's what we wanted to try doing, but there was no guidance. The textile works that existed were about depicting women, umbilical cords, uteruses and such in embroidery. I remember seeing giant textiles made by artists from Eastern Europe in an exhibition at Kulturhuset that I thought was wonderful. But back then we were expected to work with design.
Inez: Now you can move between these different techniques without anyone questioning it. You don't have to label yourself as any specific “type” of artist.
Humlan: Now it's more like the artistic work determines the technique ... You can mix painting and embroidery; everything can be part of everything. It’s more about how to solve one's work.
Inside the studio. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
C-P: In terms of labels, I think your works, Inez, which appear to overlap textile and sculpture, are very interesting . You still choose to call some of your work paintings.
Inez: Some works I would probably call weaves. But I don't really know what I would say if someone asked what I'm doing, I’d probably say that I paint. I work within the field of painting, but I don’t necessarily paint. Still, it’s difficult to claim that one of these weaves is a painting. When I worked with my master exhibition, I called all the works paintings, because they contained all the parts that constitute a painting: color, canvas and frame. They hung on a wall and there was a motif, and they related to the shape of a square. But I had not painted any of them; there was no painted surface. They were more about the painting as a form, an idea I still work with.
C-P: Given where we are in time, how has the current Corona-situation impacted you as working artists?
Inez: I have more time to be in the studio and can work entirely with my art now. But I have no prospects, and all my other jobs are basically canceled, so I’m nervous about my finances.
Humlan: I have my job as a teacher (Jakobsberg Folkhögskola) with a monthly salary. But since the exhibition at Belenius is not available to that many visitors, fewer works may be sold. In addition to that, as an artist you can’t be there as much in order to show your works. But for you (Inez), and others who don’t have access to unemployment insurance funds or hold a permanent job, this is a disaster; having to pay for a studio without being able to exhibit and sell your work.
Inez: No matter which situation you are in now, you also have no idea what situation you are coming back to. Which galleries remain, who can afford to buy art, and which of your other jobs will want to hire again? These are uncertain times for many artists alike.
Humlan Lange and Inez Jönsson. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
Checking in with Eva Lange per telephone the next day:
C-P: You are currently exhibiting in a group show with Humlan and Inez at Belenius, and you previously exhibited together in Hishult. What’s your experience with exhibiting together, compared to exhibiting separately?
Eva: I can’t deny that separate is always best. I usually say that I don’t exhibit with painters, I don’t really think it’s a good idea – there is always something in the way. But for us, it worked out fine. There were special circumstances that made it relevant in Hishult, then it became the same here. I think it worked out great.
C-P: Do you think you influence each other's artistic practice?
Eva: I've never thought of that. Although, I can see similarities that have arisen without us having seen each other's works. A grandmother, a mother and a grandchild have something in common, either to strive for or strive against. So, you can probably see that in our work. It's kind of like standing next to a sister and hearing everyone say you are alike, but obviously both sisters are thinking "I'm not at all like her". It comes down to an environment too; Humlan and Inez have grown up with the artistic problems and the struggles that come with it – how an artist succeeds and fails. I think that experience has given them some confidence in their lives, when it comes to dealing with difficulties. It has been part of my life and theirs, to see what it’s like to live with artists. Obviously, you talk – you have your perceptions and you give each other things without it being a lesson. It’s natural that the art and the artistic practice is constantly up-to-date.
C-P: What inspires or drives you as an artist?
Eva: What drives me today is probably what has always driven me. If I were to name artists who have inspired me I would have to mention Harriet Löwenhjelm, my mother’s cousin. She was an unusual person and an unusual artist in many ways, at least they thought so back then. The trust in her art and her writings gave me confidence. My great experience of art later in life was Matisse, when I was sixteen years old. His works gave me the experience of freedom – if I were to say what art means to me, then I would say freedom. Freedom is the most important thing you have and the most important thing to strive for. I had never seen that as clearly as in that moment, when I saw a sculpture by Matisse at Nationalmuseum. It was one of those cheering experiences of art. You get those experiences sometimes, and they give you a wonderful push forward. It often comes as a reminder of the opportunities and the freedom that one must try to keep alive.
The artist who has made the biggest impact on me in my mature life, is the great American artist James Turrell. I saw his work for the first time in an exhibition at Magasin III. I was sitting in a room with a big blue painting across the wall. I spent a very long time in that room, and the experience meant a lot to me.
Inside Eva Lange's studio space. Photo: Corina Wahlin.
C-P: What is the significance of the material in your work? How do you resonate when choosing a material?
Eva: First of all, it needs to be workable. I have a classical educational background since I started studying at Konstfack in 1953. Back then you worked with clay, you casted and worked with the classic materials. When you graduate as a young artist you don’t have all of these materials at hand, so you have to find something else to use. I started out by making terracotta sculptures because of the low cost of that material. Then I switched to frigolite and plaster, which is a great material for me. From the beginning, frigolite and plaster were replacement materials; you start with that and then you do something else with it. But for me it has become the endpoint, and I think that’s great and fun. I have also worked with alabaster. Plaster and frigolite are not very durable – sometimes when you get a commission, you need something that’s more enduring. I happened to be in an alabaster workshop once; I brought with me a little piece of that material, and I realized that it was very related to what I was doing. Since then I have also worked with alabaster, and a little with marble. Those materials are hard, but brittle and translucent. Plaster is not translucent, but it is brittle, so they share some of the characteristics which I develop in many of my sculptures.
C-P: Does the material have an important symbolic meaning? Or is it rather the form and expression that determines the choice of material?
Eva: It goes hand in hand. It’s a good symbol just being able to sculpt without it having to cost a lot, that is the prerequisite for me to be able to work the way I do. But plaster, frigolite and alabaster will lend themselves to anything, because I am the one who decides what it will look like. The material has its character, but I am the one who controls the material.
C-P: Is there any specific work by Inez and Humlan that has left a particularly strong impression on you?
Eva: I have Humlan's very best paintings at home. I feel a lot of happiness when I look at both Humlan's and Inez's paintings. We are related, after all.
Text and photos: Team C-print Journal.
The exhibition 'Generations – Eva Lange, Humlan Lange and Inez Jönsson' is on view currently by appointment at Belenius in Stockholm.