Maria Lynch speaks with her whole body. When she talks, you are struck by the movement of her hands—elegant and open. Lynch is not afraid to play with her hair, to smile, to laugh—all the while talking about deconstructionist philosophies. This freedom of the body, “of the flesh,” is the central tenant of Lynch’s work. When walking into her exhibition, Spaces and Spectacles, do not expect the semi-sterile, two-dimensional, alienating visage of the typical gallery show. Instead, you will find yourself in a room full of colorful, transparent beach balls, wall to wall, floor to ceiling.
The only way to see Lynch’s paintings is through the fully immersive, fantastically fun, nostalgic adult-sized ball pit. Instead of consuming art, which we so often find ourselves doing, Lynch’s art engages your whole body, invites you to be free. The same themes of the ballpit—childhood, whimsicality, memory, physicality, immersion—carry on throughout her work as well as how she carries herself as a person. Lynch and I sat down for tea at a café in Downtown L.A. to discuss the role of art, the intimacy of the self, and the joy of a matcha latte.
You grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Do you feel the landscapes of your childhood inform the landscapes of your paintings and sculptures?
For sure. I was able to have the experience of a culture that has the celebration of the meat, the flesh, Carnival, right? There is a fake representation of being open in Brazil. Everyone thinks Brazilians are so open and easygoing, but they are actually really conservative. It’s a weird contradiction. I started to analyze all of those things in the culture. At the same time that I studied art, I studied philosophy. The philosophers that really made sense to me were interested in the “line of difference.” They believe that rationalism is a trap. The more you think, the more educated people are, the less they will live; I started to parallel that in my work. I was always interested in this fantasy, this “let it be” of the unconscious, this primitive excellence.
I evoke allegories. I evoke the experience of the body. I want people to have that freedom to deconstruct themselves. I want them to see that everything is constructed—your personality, your culture—and to let that go, to experience different rhythms and forms of life. That’s the role of art, but conceptual art has taken over so much. People don’t interact with the work. They’re just standing there, not understanding.
What is the purpose of art for you?
You have the whole history of art to work with. But nowadays in society, we need people to engage with art. It’s political, in a sense. People need to engage with themselves. People need to engage with their happiness—not carefree happiness, but their strength and empowerment. For example, Deleuze had the whole history of French philosophy to work with, and he deconstructed all the metaphysics. In a humble way, I’m trying to do that with art. I’m trying to celebrate and exalt the experience of the body. Another thinker that I loved said, “The most profound is the skin.” I love that. I’m bringing to the surface something that is deep.
What were your first introductions to art? Did you always know you wanted to paint?
I started doing photography. That was my first artistic journey. I was fascinated by deconstructing reality. I would turn the realm of reality into something abstract, something that didn’t make sense. When I had the paintings, I realized I could do anything.
Your work deals with a lot of different mediums—drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, performance—but it feels cohesive. Is everything you make rooted in the same aesthetic or idea?
Every material has its own embodied physicality. I started painting, but I wanted something to translate it into reality. I wanted the fantastic aspect of the painting to have physicality. So I delved into sculptures made out of fabric. Fabric has so many metaphors that deal with my work—clothes, softness, the resemblance of teddy bears. All of a sudden, I discovered this whole other world outside of fabric. With the balloons for the show, I wanted something immersive, something that you played as a kid. It’s not something super elaborate. They are magical. They’re like bubbles. The thing that centers my work is the body, and the balloons are such a good metaphor for the abstraction and perspective of the body. In this installation, I want to fill the volume of an empty space. And you have to find the space out, like a labyrinth.
The figures of your paintings seem to be hidden or abstracted in the landscape. When you paint these figures, are you thinking about absence, concealment, camouflage? Or are they kind of like ghosts?
My work is feminine—I always paint a woman. In a different series I did, I painted negatives of female figures, and then left the canvas behind, so it looked very ghostly. For that, I used figures of women who were idealized, and I got a lot of comments about that. Now, I want to go to another place. Sometimes they appear; sometimes they don’t. When they appear, they appear halfway.
Your paintings are bright and colorful, but they don’t necessarily feel childish or whimsical. What would you say your relationship to color is?
I try to create something in between. That’s probably why you felt that. What’s childhood, first of all? I want to create another word for that. When you think about childhood, there is so much to that. The way I see it, it’s a person who doesn’t have too much memory. She is just beginning a life. She sees everything in the abstract form. She doesn’t really know what things are. I want the adult to go back to that. It’s hard. We are constructed by memories. It’s powerful to have that moment of “let it go,” to go back to that point and ask, “What is this?” Or maybe you aren’t thinking what things are at all.
Though these particular works are not explicitly erotic, they seem to be interested in corporeal intimacy and pleasure, especially with a piece like “Desires.” What are your thoughts?
Intimacy is this private place. In society, there is private and public, and I think it is very interesting to cross over. Eroticism is a place of the intimate, the desire, pleasure. It’s all tied together. I want to show that in my work. I want it to cut through into the public space.
I see aspects of Matisse and Jodorowsky in your work. Are these artists that you’re thinking about? Or are there others, like philosophers and writers, who inspire you?
I love Jodorowsky. Works have a relationship with you that you are affected by. Sometimes, it can be as simple as a poem, or just seeing something. I love painters like Cecily Brown. But it’s all together. It’s all what you are.
How was exhibiting in Los Angeles? Did it change the way you created the work?
I was inspired by L.A., but the work was built and readied in New York. Now that I’m here, I’m already thinking about new things. I’m experiencing new things, new spaces, new natures, new people. The people here are so free. That’s an interesting balance for this show. If I showed it in New York, people would be thinking about it before they experienced it. I want people to go into themselves and have an experience. So I think it was perfect to have it here.
How does the title Spaces and Spectacles relate to the show as a whole?
Two shows ago, in Brazil, I had a show where I covered the ground in popcorn. The idea for me centered around entertainment, but reversed. From there, I began thinking about cinema, but stopped. With Rodrigo [Amarante of Little Joy] making the sound, it’s creating a scene in four dimensions. That the “Spectacle.” And “Spaces,” because I’m creating an environment, spaces of interaction. You’re participating in the scene.
Maria Lynch's Spaces and Spectacles opens tomorrow at Wilding Cran Gallery