Up Close and personal I went to Lena Viddo in her Bushwick Studio on a brisk winter morning. New York City-based artist, mother, and martial artist is the definition of a kick-ass woman. The daughter of multi-ethnic parents, Viddo’s work upholds an ethic and practice of blending worlds and commentaries. Viddo is a storyteller; her paintings are cryptograms inlaid with hidden meanings meant for the viewer to decipher. “Her paintings touch on a romanticized realm of nature; ancient laws of the jungle introduced to present modern-day consciousness with the help of modern muses and contemporary social issues.” (Raimondo 2017) This interview constructs a brief, yet intimate portrait of Lena Viddo, the woman and the artist, as she contemplates inspiration and the meaning of life, art, and love.
Name : Lena Viddo
Birthplace : I am half Colombian Half Swedish… a dichotomy from the beginning and surely to the end. Pushed and pulled between opposites. Cold and hot, wild and reserved, disciplined and unchained, very good and very bad all in the same package.
Métier : I don’t like labels, and I don’t limit myself to one. I think people are multidimensional and capable of wearing many hats. Of course, I consider myself, first and foremost, an artist, yet I am simultaneously a curator, designer of immersive experiences, mother, athlete and art fair producer.
For me, these titles inform each other. Instead of being limited by my roles, I choose to transcend them by creating new meanings for them. My passion as an artist is constantly at odds with the expectations of me as a woman, mother, and wife. I like my cake, and I definitely want to eat it too! My daughter once described me as a natural feminist, someone who chooses not to give up any of these roles, but instead has become a minister of sorts, marrying them daily, choosing to prioritize myself, my needs, passions, and dreams not as an act of compromise, but instead as one of innovation.
Sources of inspiration : I am first and foremost inspired by my love for humanity and nature. I draw inspiration from almost everywhere and almost anywhere. The smallest detail can move me. I always look to the great Masters, but not only the great painters but also those of literature, film, music, and other art forms. I find mythology to be a wellspring from which to reinvent from. Lately, I have been rewriting history and mythologies. I like this idea, but like most things, it has a dark side. The winners always write history. Its documentation by historians and artists has always leaned towards the winners. For example, the whitewashing of Art with the depiction of whiteness as beautiful and holy–– painting everyone as fair as possible, barely a brown person to be seen. I just finished a piece on Helen of Troy––the face that launched a thousand ships and the most beautiful woman on Earth. I fashioned her after Lupita Nyong’o, who for me is one of the most beautiful women on Earth right now. So I have been rewriting some of these stories and changing the outcome of typical patriarchal mythologies towards more equitable endings that suit the underdog which of course continues to be minorities––women, LGBTQ+ community, and people of color.
Sources of motivation : What motivates me is the notion that daily life is a work of art in and of itself. Like Cezanne, I am comforted by routine and also inspired and humbled by daily life and its schedules. Whatever I do, I regard even the banal chores as art; whether it is in making tea, a meal, or in the studio working – I prefer this option to contending with the drudgery of cleaning or cooking. Creativity can be explored everywhere. The role of the artist, my role, isn’t just to express myself. It is also to find a different spin on things and then to reveal those new perspectives and show them from that alternate angle. If possible to turn the world upside down in order to offer a glimmer into new possibilities and perspectives for contemplation and inspiration. I love and believe in hard work. I have faith that through discipline and grit, I will continue to grow as an artist, delve deeper into my subject matter, and continue to improve my technique along the way. Where some women regard aging as something to fight against, as an artist, I feel it is an asset.
Favorite reads : I have so many. I consider myself a grandmaster reader. I listen to unabridged books during painting sessions. Painting is a lonely game. I spend endless hours in the studio alone with audiobooks and music as my companions. I just finished The Children’s Bible and thought that it was brilliant ~ a social critique hitting a little too close to home. It was incredible. Some of my favorite novels are Middlesex by Eugenides, American Pastoral by Philip Roth, The Red and The Black by Stendhal. The Idiot by Dostoevsky, Americannah by Chimamanda Ngozi everything by fellow compatriot, Garcia Marquez, especially A Hundred Years of Solitude. I love the Victorian classics – especially Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Hardy. The Russians, especially Tolstoy, blew my mind. I guess I am a classical girl at heart. Lately, however, I have been more leaning towards non-fiction Barbarian Days, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind, Stealing Fire by Wheal, Winner’s Take All ~ The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Giridaras, and Beyond Words by Safina are among few of my most notable recent reads.
Favorite tunes : I host experiential art events that feature electronic music under the brand name Love Medicine. These happenings are meant to be liberating experiences. They offer a space where guests can release, rejoice and abandon inhibitions often connecting with their flow state and love. I feel the service offered is much needed. It would be impossible to choose a favorite tune within this genre because it is so fluid and intangible –– much easier would be to name my favorite DJ’s and music producers of the moment i.e. CONCRET aka Diego Angelico Escobar, DRAMIAN aka Damian Romero, Kerala Dust, Koste (the best of the best underground DJ) Jake The Rapper, Eli Light and Carlita aka Carla Frayman, a young rising Turkish star that I proudly first debuted in New York City at my art opening “Moonage Daydream” in the late David Bowie’s apartment.
A great part of my repertoire of inspiration does include music from all genres – Latin Music –– Salsa, Son, and Cumbia are at the top of the list with so many greats including Toto La Momposina, Hector Lavoe, Celina Gonzalez and Fruko and I could go on and on. I am deeply inspired by many of the great lyricists and poets of music –– Leonard Cohen, Cat Stephens, with Nick Cave being my all-time favorite. Much of my work can be understood as visual translations of his words, if only partially, as they can also be seen as my response. Rock and Roll runs deep through my veins with Led Zeppelin having formed me in many of my wild ways as a young girl. Above all, David Bowie has been my biggest musical inspiration. His lyrics have accompanied me on many road trips, in the studio, on long runs, and almost everywhere. I am familiar with his entire repertoire of music. I am most inspired by the man as an evolving metamorphic artist –– I had the good fortune of seeing him in concert numerous times over the years. I even took long journeys just to catch him on tour. His stage animal presence never waned as he aged, setting a high bar and standard for all of us to follow leading the way on so many levels as a pioneer artist.
Favorite foods : I am an insatiable and love so many– Again it goes back to daily life as art… Setting and ambiance are important. The hands by which the food was made also figures in, yet the quality and love by which the food is grown are sometimes more important. Recently, my favorite meals in Ecuador would be considered street food. Chicken Skewers and Corn on the cob with chimichurri on a desolate beach. In Colombia, it’s Pargo frito y arroz con coco with patacones. Mexican street food ranks high on the list when in Mexico, but even in New York it’s so damn good. I also love a good ribeye and everything with lots of grains and veggies.
Beauty tips : Laughs*. I’ve never been one for makeup… but beauty tips. Sleep, processing our negative emotions, and staying active with lots of movement; martial arts, running, swimming, yoga, and moving the body to get the blood flowing and circulating. When I come in from a run or after my martial arts practice I always look more youthful and vital. It’s quick, but sometimes not so easy, fix, but worth it!
Favorite ways to unwind : It seems like a contradiction, but my favorite ways to unwind are things that involve moving my body––like practicing martial arts and getting outside. Walking is my favorite. I can walk for hours. I’ve been doing martial arts for 26 years and currently hold a 4th-degree black belt at World Martial Arts Center where I am a senior instructor. I can honestly say that this practice has kept me growing and pushing myself to expand my horizons on so many levels including and especially maintaining inner peace and harmony. Another good practice for me is surfing. I love to surf. While I am not a great surfer and don’t have any aspiration to become one. I love to be in the water. It’s so relaxing. Paddling is my favorite part. I love the metaphor of paddling out and being pushed back by the coming surf, yet with each wave, I advance until finally, I am in peaceful waters and ready to catch a big one only to do it all over again. I enjoy cycling both road riding and off-road mountain biking. When in Vermont, I love breaking trail cross country in the backwoods. Horseback riding has also been a major passion of mine formerly having trained in Hunter––Jumper and dressage. I am a fire horse in Chinese Astrology, and unsurprisingly I have an affinity for horses. Whenever the opportunity presents itself, I never turn down getting on horseback. For me, there is nothing more romantic than being on a horse. All of these disciplines are in the end meditations for me. Ways in which I can connect to the universal field and connect with the flow state.
Favorite part of living in NYC : My favorite part of New York is the cultural mix. I am here for the people and the culture. I have to believe that it is the most integrated and diverse city in the world. I also love my anonymity here. If I so desire, I can disappear and easily go incognito. There is too much happening and so no one is really concerned with what any given person is up to. I love this. Yet, I also find it to be very provincial. After having been established here for over 25 years, it seems like I know everyone. I love my neighbors. I am often greeted by name at the delis and restaurants and know many of the shop owners in my neighborhood. The other thing I enjoy is that It feels rather small and navigable. Compared to other major sprawling cities like LA, London, Paris, I can access all of New York on my bike and sometimes by foot. I ride my bike to Fort Tilden beach to Prospect Park, Central Park and along the East and Hudson river banks all in under an hour.
What gets you in a working flow : Ritual in daily life gets me flowing. I am comforted by routine. After waking- it’s matcha, tea, or coffee. I like to mix it up. I get my son ready for school and put things in my house in order. I find the process of cleaning, tending to my plants, and organizing my house meditative and therapeutic. I practice Transcendental Meditation which includes 2 sessions of 20-minute meditation – one in the morning and one in the evening. The first session is then followed by a long walk to the studio with my dog. After a good vigorous walk, I usually arrive charged and ready for a full day in the studio.
What are you working on now : I am beginning a new series where I am attempting to blend a few of my differing styles and techniques into one. I intend to combine and merge a stream-of-consciousness approach with my narrative-driven referential style. My other aim with this work is to rewrite some of our current beliefs and mythologies that no longer work for us as a society.
Favorite quote : My favorite quote is hard for me to narrow down but I really resonate with “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” And also “The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.”
Photography : Olimpia Dior
Editor : Katya Bouazza Salva