Chantal Linssen about Zoning-out: 'A defence mechanism of the mind'

TUA: In your artistic statement you mention that you study how the individual relates to the crowd and stimuli. How do you explore this topic in your paintings?

Chantal: I paint people in different situations - the moments when they are surrounded by lots of stimuli and/or other people but nonetheless seem to be disconnected from their surroundings. I try to imagine what they are seeing during those moments. I think we all know this kind of situation when you are staring at something or someone without realizing it and everything around it becomes blurry. I try to capture this by zooming in on random things or things that immediately catch my eye (like bright lights, reflections, and such).

TUA: The topic “the individual in a crowd” sounds very interesting, and something that we all relate to. Why does it fascinate you? Do you think we feel more lonely than ever in a crowd?

Chantal: Well, nowadays it’s hardly even possible to be in a big crowd... but what fascinates me is that together we can form a crowd, but we can still be very alone within it. We move in the same ways, wait for traffic lights together, walk the stairs together, get in line together, but in our heads, we’re alone. Alone with our own thoughts, that no-one can hear. The thing that fascinates me the most is that we are able to wander off when we’re in such a crowd and are surrounded by so many stimuli. I’m not sure if we feel more lonely than ever in a crowd, that really depends on the kind of crowd you’re in. But when I think of the last time I was in a crowded place (city center), people were wearing masks and trying to keep distance, I really felt more separated but actually more focussed than in other times, because I tried hard to keep the mandatory distance (because so many people weren’t paying attention to it). It is really exhausting if your mind has to be so alert all the time.

TUA: Is ‘wandering off’ a beautiful feeling for you? Where do you think people go when they wander off?

Chantal: It really can be, in the sense of daydreaming. But when noises and all the other external stimuli become too much, the wandering off part becomes a necessary thing to me, like I need it to prevent overstimulation. It becomes mind wandering without awareness: ‘zoning out’. This kind of wandering off fascinates me the most. So where do they go you ask, I’m not sure. When you’re really zoning out I guess you land in your own universe where time slows down and everything outside that universe is standing still and you’re not able to register what’s happening around you.

TUA: Do you think humans always used to wander off with their thoughts? Did it increase because our world nowadays becomes faster and faster?

Chantal: Yes I do think humans always used to wander off, but I’m also convinced that the time we live in, with the amount of fast information we are consuming, the high workloads, and things such as overpopulation, really contribute to people zoning out faster. I actually consider it as a defence mechanism of the mind. A sign that it’s all too much.

TUA: When I look at your works, it seems like you have a set colour palette that you use. Why do you choose these specific colours? What do they represent?

Chantal: Stimuli originating from artificial lights, such as their reflections on cars, windows or water are perceived better in the dark (because of the contrast), which makes these stimuli more present and overwhelming. That’s why I mostly paint night scenes of everyday city life with dark and vibrant colours. The palette consists of warm but also cool colours, the cool colours representing the solitude in the big city. I discovered my paintings have a narrative quality, which can be enhanced by the way it is displayed, but also by using the same kind of colours. As a viewer you can shuffle them, combine different paintings and form your own story, and by doing so, give it a personal meaning.

TUA: The scenes that you portray, are they scenes made up in your head, experienced by yourself, observations, or stories told by others?

Chantal: I use reference pictures for my paintings. My archive consists of pictures from the internet, my own pictures, or pictures taken by acquaintances. Most of the time I photoshop these pictures, I rearrange them, crop them (zoom in), change the colours etc. That way they become my own. Finally, the act of painting adds a new dimension to the image. It’s not always possible to take pictures of people when they’re unaware. Sometimes I recreate scenes, then I give the model directions. The absent look in the eyes is very important to me, I make the models focus on something before the camera for a while, before I take the picture, to get this zoned out ‘look’.

TUA: How did you learn to ‘do art’?

Chantal: Ever since I was a little girl I was busy with drawing and painting. To develop my skills, and because I wanted to spend more time doing what I love, I went to the art academy in Utrecht (HKU).

TUA: Are you a full time artist? Do you think people take being an artist as a job seriously?

Chantal: I’m also a teacher at a creative school, where I work part time so I can spend ‘enough’ time (but it’s never enough haha) on my art. But in these times it’s not easy, we all have to work so hard to keep education going, it’s still mostly online. When I tell people that I also paint, a lot of them think that it’s a hobby. But I see it as my other job and of course my passion.

TUA: What is the most memorable moment that you experienced as an artist? What was the most challenging part?

Chantal: My first solo exhibition felt very special! It’s great when people show their interest in your work and to have interesting conversations about it. The most challenging part is to keep going when times are hard and my other job demands so much extra time. Finding a balance between the two is the actual challenge.

If you want to stay up to date on Chantal's artistic journey, follow her on Instagram and check out her website here.