Christel Ibsen "Art Can Bring About Social Change"

Aqua Crunch painting
The painting Aqua Crunch painted with pigment, pastels, oil, acrylic and minerals on fresco prepared board, depicts, beautifully, the new style Ibsen discovered for herself and her audience. Photo: Christel Ibsen

Christel Ibsen is a creative and joyous force. There appears to be little she cannot accomplish, once she sets her mind to it. Looking back at her life, this appears to be a very realistic statement. From Ford model to photographer, to owner of a TV production and special events firm, White House consultant, mother, advocate for social causes, grandmother, painter, and loyal friend to many, Ibsen is driven by an insatiable curiosity to learn and experience the new, while maintaining and perfecting the skills she acquired, while living, working and caring.

Her life story could easily fill a book, but her development as a painter and creative, deserves particular attention. In 1988 at just 43 years of age, Ibsen suffers from a genetic hearing loss, which impacts her ability to continue her life, as she knew it. Within only two years of being diagnosed, she lost eighty eight percent of her hearing, making it impossible to attend meetings, travel or run her Paris-based firm Outrévisions the way she had successfully done for many years, providing fashion commentary for outlets such as People Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar and Marie Claire. Ibsen also created videos of shows all over the world for high profile designers. Among them were Christian Dior, Karl Lagerfeld and Yves-Saint-Laurent, to name only a few. During her extended period of time in fashion, she was able to develop a strong sense for aesthetics, beauty, and composition that she now so effortlessly integrates into her artwork. With the special events section of Outrévisions, she served prestigious clients such as the White House and the Élysée Palace. She worked successfully on President Ronald Reagan’s private- sector initiatives, and was honored in 1986 with a commendation for her “exemplary leadership”, by the President himself. “While involved in politics at that level earlier on in my career, I understood that not only do I want to make a change, but I actually can make a contribution through my art.”

In the late 1980’s, she was increasingly unable to experience and understand her environment by noticing and assigning appropriate sounds or words to everyday situations. As a result, Ibsen plunges into a world that required a new means of relating to the outside and herself. “While not being able to hear, painting saved my life,” she explains. And, “With the silence of deafness came peace and the blissful ability to concentrate on the senses still left.” In 1998, she starts a long and complicated process of bilateral, cochlear implantations that has nearly fully restored her hearing today.

When confronting yourself with Ibsen’s artwork, it becomes swiftly clear that no matter what motif she might have set her artistic focus upon at the point of creation, her artwork has a freeing, fundamentally soothing and healing effect on the viewer.

Having worked as a professional photographer, Ibsen started out as a realistic painter, depicting mostly young children. “Being a photographer, I would take hundreds of shots, and really use only one or two for my motif.” Ibsen explains how she is waiting for that moment, when the child is completely forgetting his or her surroundings, and then capturing the image she will subsequently turn into a painting.

“I am interested in discovering, who that child really is.” Applying this process, her portraits reach far beyond the depiction of “adorable.” Ibsen manages to poetically compose characters, by revealing personality traits with her brush on canvas.

The eternal magic of the sea and its pictographic representation has been one of the most educed art genres since many centuries ago. From the classic, sanguine seascapes by Fitz Hugh Lane to the contemporary depictions of Richard Diebenkorn, the audacious Japanese Painting or the incomparable Joseph Turner.

Ibsen’s beautiful, sometimes scenic, sometimes calming descriptions of the sea, mainly on the shores of the Cayman Islands are called “Liquid Hues.” “A sunset sky, or the turbulent waves of a storm often act as the inspiration for my seascapes by their sheer drama and power to enthrall. The ocean surges in contrasting aqua hues. The sunsets explode with vibrant and golden glows.”

No matter if portraying children or seascapes, Ibsen’s paintings carry weight by revealing the poetry of a moment, turning it into an eternal snapshot. Within the last year she started painting abstract. Inspired by her recent advocacy work, supporting a UN affiliated NGO that defends women’s rights globally she internalized the term “impunity.” “The impunity some men experience, while not only often breaking the law, but hurting women severely at the same time,” she explains.

Motivated by just one word of grave consequence for many, she translates her feelings and insights related to the stories and destinies of thousands of disadvantaged women all over the world in her latest work, through “color hues and textures.” The new layer of gained awareness, combined with a classicist education drives her to use materials and techniques as old as 1700 B.C. “I am now using pure pigments, minerals and stone such as crushed garnet, marble dust, charcoal, and gravel. Sometimes even spices and pollen, such as peppercorn, saffron, thyme and poppy seeds.”

For many artists, turning abstract, follows mastering the figurative school of painting. Absorbing Ibsen’s change of style, outside of returning to classic materials and the wish to incorporate women’s stories from all over the world, it appears as if she is also undergoing a process of personal liberation by shedding the limitations of defined form, shape or color scheme. Her “pure pigments” are still harmonious, not too daring, touching in their graceful beauty, and often borrowing from the old masters of the late 19, early 20 century. And in the end, they certainly awaken interest in the future work of this multifaceted painter.

Christel Ibsen’s current artwork can now be viewed at Leonard Tourné Gallery in New York City.
For more information about the artist, please go to: www.christelibsen.com
Please, also visit her profile on my W.o.W! (Women of the World) blog.