Issue 231
May/June 2024

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Jun 17, 2024

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Live it! Paint it! – and go and see it!

Lys Hansen has a major retrospective in her native Falkirk

Interview: Tessa Williams

Lys Hansen in 1990 ©Photograph George Suthertland

IT'S BEEN a long road for Lys Hansen, and what's uniquely satisfying, one might imagine, for her, is that one of her biggest exhibitions to date – Live it Paint it currently at Callendar House Gallery in Callendar Park is only a few miles from where she was born in Falkirk, so the road has come full circle as it were.

Live it Paint it has the hallmarks of the work of a modern day art maverick with its use of neon to display in bright pink the word 'mummy' a reference to her much loved mother who was often away from her in childhood.

Also a cool leather biker jacket encased in glass adds to the vibrant youthful energy of the show. And many large expressionist paintings that show visions of war and those who suffered from it.

Meeting her at her fairy tale like home in Blair Logie at the foot of the Ochil hills, Hansen comes across like a faded movie star with all the glamour and poise, beautiful posture, amazing teeth, hair and skin – she belies her 87 years.

Dressed in black slacks a long red cardigan and a geometric print black and white scarf, she looks every bit the star, with her perfectly made up face and coiffed hair.

She reveals later that putting on her make-up every day is part of her morning routine, and that is the first 'painting' she does of the day.

Her son, Giles, an esteemed author and academic in his own right, meets me at the nearby Sainsburys in Stirling and chaperones me along the road to the lair of Lys. And there we have some lunch, along with her ginger tabby cat who sits quietly on a chair behind us.

Lys Hansen – Visitation at the Blocks 2010-2011

Lys explains she goes a walk with the cat daily. You can see that living here is a truly inspiring beautiful place. Yet for Lys, beauty has never been easily advantageous. Like anything in a commercial business world, being good looking is not always an easy route to success.

"Because you're perhaps glamourous and pay attention to your looks people think you're not serious. Other women hate you, men are often jealous" she concludes.

"I always preferred to work with museums, as once you get tied into a commercial gallery they have to make a living out of you.

"That's the path I took, a lot of people have been very supportive and a lot of men very critical. Having to break it down a lot. Art has always been dominated by male painters", she said, matter of factly.

Lys's work has taken her around the world. She was painting in Berlin at the time when the Berlin Wall came down and her work often expresses themes of war and tragedy.

"I'm very interested in people, conflict, what concerns us and the sad and tragic truth that we have to have wars, and how we deal with them" she said.

"My own childhood was blighted by the Second World War. I don't remember it being a bright and happy time, The stories I learned at four and five – Dick and Dora – that just didn't happen. It was black-outs and bombings", she explained.

"I often think of the children being affected by war today, and the tragedy of it. Since I have grown up, as a child I could do nothing about it.

"As I grew up and as I did my training, I realised I did have an artistic skill", she added.

Lys is inspired by many artists. "I have always loved Edvard Munch. As a student I went to Norway, I hitched up the fjords and stayed in youth hostels. I adored to see the museum of his work in Oslo.Also I love Matisse and learned a great deal about colour from him and Picasso too. Fascinating to see how you can change and distort the body. These have been my masters" she said.

Lys feels content at this point in life. "I feel I've done my journey. Although I don't paint landscapes I live here and have these beautiful mountains of home that echo my life, and I'm happy to be in this cradle", she said of her home life.

"I enjoy walking every day. I'm also having fun with pieces of wood – found pieces of wood. The idea came from a large chestnut tree that used to fill this house with a golden light and then was felled. When it got chopped down I was very sad, but I am using the pieces as sculptures", she said.

Live it Paint it has been curated by Glasgow School of Art's Dr Marianne Greated and is Lys's second time at the Park Gallery, having previously shown in 2005.

The exhibition continues into August. Go and get a bit of glamorous inspiration!

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