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Sunday Story: Anya Janssen

Dutch painter Anya Janssen joined our Artist Talks series. Not only is her painting Double Predestination presented in the exhibition, she is also the creator of the official campaign image The Soft Forces.


The large scale painting is a portrait of two young identical twin girls. “It was in 2002 that I met them,” tells Anya. “I had this idea about painting people and to do something with duplications. One day on the street I saw a girl with snow white skin and red fiery hair. I was flabbergasted by her appearance and asked her if she would like to be a model. Then another girl joined, and it was as if I was seeing double because it was her twin sister. It was like heaven send them.”


The girls’ identities are largely shaped by the strong religious environment in which they were raised. Caught between these rules and values, and the modern, dynamic world of friends, school and media, the two have formed a strong bond in which they find solace and support in one another.



All of Anya’s projects start with a long term and intimate relationship with the people she paints. Often, they are in a transition or standing on a crossroad in life. Over time, Anya forms a strong relationship with them. “For me, painting is an ultimate attempt to get closer to somebody,” says Anya. “It’s an attempt to get closer, to touch the unknowable world that is hidden behind the mask of perception."


Sometimes leaving parts unfinished or painting fractions in motion, she represents the sense of life feeling unfinished at time to time. “Good and evil, bloom and decay, past and present are not opposites, that’s what people often try to see in my work. But they’re really manifestation of one and the same. Sometimes I say: I paint beauty with the charm of a razorblade.”


Anya worked closely together with the twins for the next five years, painting them many times, resulting in the series called Double Edged. Every work starts with the world double, reflecting the two sides of a coin or a double edged sword. The classical predestination relates to the Christian believe that all what will happen is ordained by something divine. The twins are standing together with a determined gaze, in front of a burning forest. This can be associated with burning in hell, or, as Anya mentions, a lyric by musician Curtis Mayfield (USA, 1942-1999): “if there is a hell below we’re all gonna go”. But Anya is not into explaining everything. “I want to paint things that for the spectator leave some room for doubt, for not knowing, for contemplation. Everybody is free to make their own story.”


As a special commission for Onward&Upward-Art in the Garden of Life, Anya created the campaign image The Soft Forces. It represents an ethereal image of a two eyes looking powerfully upwards, with a blossoming dandy flower in the middle.


The image is associative: the eyes remind of Medieval paintings of Saints and martyrs in which they look upwards to a new horizon, the dandelion suggest a third eye. It represents hope, resilience, and going on to better times. For Anya, this is what the phrase onward and upward is about. “In the exhibition it’s really empowering, okay, let’s do it together, let’s do it with nature.”


She gave it the title De Zachte Krachten (The Soft Forces), inspired by a poem by Dutch poet Henriette Roland Holst (1869-1952) (read here, in Dutch). “It is with the soft forces that we can survive the current crisis. When we open our hearts and minds and really listen to what’s inside us, really listen to others as well,” states Anya.


Anya Janssen graduated from the Akademie voor Beeldende Kunsten in Arnhem, The Netherlands. Her work has since been exhibited in numerous museums and exhibitions worldwide. She is best-known for her realistic, soft-focus portraits, in which she explores the processes that form our identity. Over a lengthy period, she researches her models extensively, and focuses on frictions between fantasy and reality, and between nature and nurture.


Currently, Anya is working on a new series called Cloud Dwellers, that is about the next generation getting ready for the future, preparing itself for the coming fall. Of the ecosystem, of capitalism, of an illusionary democracy, of humanity, of ethics. She is working on upcoming solo exhibitions in Torch Gallery in Amsterdam and Thomas Rehbein Galerie in Cologne.


Listen to the full Artist Talk here. | www.anyajanssen.com | instagram.com/anyajanssen