We caught up with Lyora Pissarro and talked to her about her life as an artist.
Born into a renowned family of artists, Lyora Pissarro has been immersed in a world of art from a young age.
Described as the ultimate young painter in GQ magazine, her work has been shown in galleries throughout the world, including London, Austin and New York.
When did you realise you wanted to paint?
I learned to paint when I was 4. My mother taught me how to choose what to depict, how to observe my subjects, and how to paint them. She was taught by her grandfather, Paul-Émile Pissarro, who she grew up with until the age of eleven. For years, my personal approach to art making was fairly traditional. By my mother’s side always, we would choose what to paint, prepare our pallets, and work slowly on copying our subjects ‘correctly’. But I didn’t have the patience for this technique so this approach became quite problematic to me. By the time I got into art school in New York, quite frankly, this technique had become quite boring to me.
My choice to study art came later for me. Although it was obvious that I would, it wasn’t obvious to me. I was awarded an art scholarship in school and spent all my time in the art department. At that point though, I highly discouraged myself from choosing this path. I felt I should try and study something unrelated ; anything but art. So I went for anthropology studies in undergrad at the University of Manchester. There again, my passion for creative endeavours kept percolating to the surface. I think it was just profoundly embedded in me.
My first exhibition took place years later at Russel Fine Art Gallery in Texas. It was the first ever Five generation Pissarro exhibition to take place and the first time I was included as an artist amongst the masters in my family. It was both an honour and huge pressure. I found it incredibly humbling and fascinating to see such unique individual styles and also a sense of genealogy, reflected through techniques passed on in a direct line. I think it’s something quite exceptional to witness.
From where do you draw inspiration?
Inspiration came from everywhere. I get it from my mother’s studio in the garden, to conversations around a dinner table or from the paintings that hang on every wall of my childhood home.
But there’s something about Paul-Émile Pissarro’s landscapes: I could stare at them forever. It’s in the stillness, the vibrant green, the crystal clear reflections. I would always try and hint at my parents that one of his paintings should hang in my room but that never worked. I really wanted to paint like him. I find tremendous beauty in his work and over the years I’ve noticed how is seeps into my own work. I always revert back to those landscapes, no matter how much my style develops.
That being said, I think I have many different styles. Sometimes I think of doing what H.Claude does and use different names to convey my varying ideas. I am currently quite obsessed with the work of George Henri Manzana Pissarro. His figurative, Arabian and patterned style sparked something in me. I was recently shown a copy of his hand painted edition of One Thousand and One Nights: on each page, he paints the words from the narrative using his own visual language. Everything from his use of gold, to his color schemes, to patterns and his flamboyant use of fabrics is just outstanding. I see a lot of his influence in my newer work.
Burden, in what way?
The Burden is mostly self-constructed. There are high levels of expectation and pressure when you have a name that has years of revered art making behind it. Painting with this heritage is a double edged-sword: you can either paint in its shadow or in light of it.
I used to worry that when people saw my work they would expect it to be better or to have a certain style. Or simpler yet, that painting in general was expected of me.
I want people to really see my work as it stands. As a young painter with a lot to learn, I hope for criticism and I distaste as much as I dream of appreciation. I know I have a long way to go.
Do you ever have painters block?
It’s common that the first layer of my oil paintings don’t go down the way I’d like them to. I think to myself “Oh dear… you can’t paint.” But as the layers goes on and as I work and rework my image, working through layers of colours, I find I am able - in my own way. I am not always good at painting realistically, or figures for that matter. At the start of every blank canvas I almost pretend to myself that I can absolutely do this. I find my way through all this by constantly trying. It is the only way to get better at anything we’re not confident at: you simply have to keep at it.
Failure is the only path to success.
Is your style confined to one medium?
I don’t feel I need to paint within any parameters. Whenever possible, I try to experiment with as many mediums as I can in order to move away from traditional landscape painting. I also like to teach myself new methods and play with new materials to portray the same idea. I really enjoyed the iPad and mirror series - both mediums felt very liberating. They allowed me to toy with painting from a totally different angle where there was no right or wrong.
I am working further on exploring exactly what are parameters like the concept of the border or frame as a confinement to a certain idea. Pushing beyond the frame and frameworks by combining styles and techniques is integral to my artistic voice.
Where can we see your work?
My work is mostly in Stern Pissarro Gallery in London, a family gallery that represents the five generations of Pissarro artists. I have also showed my work in Texas, Tel Aviv, San Francisco and New York. This summer (2018) I worked on a live painting performance show in London during Mayfair Art week at Stern Pissarro Gallery.
I have been working worldwide remotely from portable studios, carrying art materials across borders and trying to create as much wherever possible. Leaving creative footprints behind in each place, hoping to return with bigger ventures next time, this is well documented on my Instagram account.
Have you worked directly with any of your family?
I have been working with my sister Kalia in Israel for the past few months, she is an incredible designer, curator and tailor. Together we have been collaborating on the ideas ‘Beyond the frame,’ combing paintings and fabrics, and the 2 dimensional and 3 dimensional worlds.
I dream of working with my mother, Lélia Pissarro, on a series of paintings that we would exhibit together. The concept would be; to paint from the same subjects and observe how the works varies in style, colour and technique. How each one of us, would interpret the same image with our own experiences and understanding and visual language today. We both truly inspire each other constantly, and I think we are each other’s biggest fans. I believe this process would be fascinating to explore and the final product, side by side, could be outstanding.
A bigger dream would be to do a three generation show with my grandfather Hugues Pissarro, this would be an exhibition with the three living Pissarro artists across the five generations. We have talked about this idea a fair amount as it would be a very special project.
I hope to continue making art for the next few decades, but I also hope to be involved in different creative endeavours around the world.
I think our era allows, more than ever, for multiple identities. There are possibilities around every corner. I think it takes the pressure off as well, knowing that you don’t have to commit to one thing only and pin all your hopes on it. If you want to be creative and make art, it no longer means just making art. There are so many amazing organisations, charities and educational programs that need creative hands and ideas. The only dream I hope will materialise more than the rest is the exhibition with my mother, as this is concept is very dear to my heart.
In the meantime, I will continue to make, attempt, enjoy and learn.