Anita Thevissen: The Human Body and Minimal Surrealism

Anita Thevissen harnesses the versatility of water-based media to unravel themes of femininity, psychology, and social alienation.

Anita Thevissen, a Belgian painter, delves deep into the complexities of human psychology through her artistic expressions. Her artworks, notably showcased in Agora Gallery’s Outside the Box exhibition, serve as a medium to explore the boundaries set by individuals, societies, and cultures. She states, “My work captures facial expressions or isolated body parts, as a way to explore the psychology of the human experience; although I am particularly drawn to the sensuality of the female body.” Using a unique blend of watercolor, acrylic, and India ink, Thevissen delves into the subtleties of facial expressions and isolated body parts, particularly drawn to unraveling the complexities of the sensuality inherent in the female form.

Photo of Anita Thevissen taken at Agora Gallery’s reception of Outside the Box.

In the intricate process of creating her artworks, Thevissen employs a deliberate technique using a squirrel brush to merge acrylic and watercolor paints, refraining from pre-mixing pigments. This method allows her to layer different color combinations, intricately crafting the desired shades and tones while utilizing India ink for outlining and shadowing, adding depth and contrast to her pieces. Additionally, these paintings are all done on watercolor paper. Her style of raw and minimal lines combined with elements of surrealism is very unique as she depicts so much with so few materials. Her use of negative space zeroes into her subjects. These elements of minimalism invite the audience to focus and ponder more on the concepts themselves.

One of her notable works, Out of the Box portrays an androgynous nude figure seated in a hunched position, adorned with captivating hues reminiscent of sea creatures and ocean motifs–a blend of blues, greens, and reds. There are visible forms of algae and coral, as well as a tentacle-like creature. Despite the title suggesting liberation, the figure appears contained within the composition, encased by stark black lines. The contrast between light and dark suggests two alternate realities, one of which the figure refuses to face. This deliberate juxtaposition between the subject’s posture and the blend of human and anthropomorphic characteristics hints at a contemplation of existentialism within an abstract context. Alternatively, this piece may be regarded as a personified version of aquatic life, encased and arguably enslaved in aquariums for entertainment purposes.

Anita Thevissen
Anita Thevissen, Out of the Box, 2022, India ink and watercolor on Arches paper, 14.5″ x 11″
Anita Thevissen
Anita Thevissen, Living in a Box, 2022, India ink and watercolor on paper, 12″ x 8″

On the contrary, Living in a Box portrays a nude woman enclosing herself in a deformed box. Although the painting depicts the subject in a situation that looks deliberate, Thevissen alludes to the challenges women face in an oppressed society. Many females struggle to overcome societal norms as they are forced to meet unrealistic expectations, not only with physical appearance but also with their ability to perform. The feeling of defeat is conveyed through this work as the woman pieces together the remnants of a box to cover herself. The dark black shadows surrounding the subject are a stark contrast between the white negative space of the watercolor paper. The juxtaposition emphasizes the feeling of loneliness and defeat. Although Thevissen paints a fictive image, the message she conveys through it is real. This very somber image allows viewers to not only reflect on themselves but to also critique society’s toxic culture.

The piece titled Do I Seduce You stands out for its provocative nature, with the subject’s emphasis on accentuating their lower body in stance and hand position. The vibrant use of magenta and subdued wine red draws immediate attention, compelling viewers to engage. Contrary to traditional depictions of female sexuality, Thevissen’s focus here revolves around the posture and attire of the clothed woman, prompting observers to question whether the subject truly seduces them through form and color alone. The simplicity of her compositions also allows viewers to appreciate the beauty and aesthetics of minimalist style, as it gives space for a deeper understanding of the concept.

Anita Thevissen,
Anita Thevissen, Do I Seduce You, 2022, India ink and watercolor on paper, 8″ x 5″
Anita Thevissen
Anita Thevissen, Lifeline, 2023, Ink and watercolor work on watercolor paper, 30″ x 22″

In contrast, Lifeline presents a metaphorical scene where three nude women appear suspended by a string held by green dress shirts on a clothesline. Their crouched positions and flexed feet evoke a sense of struggle and discomfort, symbolizing the existential challenges one faces. Despite featuring multiple subjects, this composition, akin to Thevissen’s other works, emanates a feeling of isolation, portraying a lack of interaction or recognition between the female figures. These women feel all alone yet are united by the one string that has brought them together. This fantasy setting is merely a metaphorical depiction of life itself on many dimensions, be it gender norms, identity crises, or the transience of life, this painting can provoke an array of interpretations and conversations.

Though Thevissen’s repertoire predominantly reflects somber themes of isolation and existential crises, she encourages viewers to pause, reflect, and find solace in life’s beauty. Her psychological paintings aim to evoke emotions and move people, acknowledging art’s role in facilitating a deeper understanding of the world and the human experience.

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