Marianne Enhörning mixes her love of nature and the human figure with subtle architectural elements to create dreamlike paintings that establish her place in her family’s artistic heritage
Marianne Enhörning dances around her new Comox Avenue studio/gallery, adding brush strokes to multiple paintings she’s working on simultaneously, sometimes measuring herself up against a life-sized canvas as if she’s trying to connect with the figure of a woman in motion, sensing the image’s next movements.
Enhörning is preparing for an important exhibition in San Diego, one that might result in an American tour of her recent work, a series exploring the beauty and strength of women. She’s got a dozen new paintings on the go and divides her attention among them, moving gracefully around jars of brushes, paint cans, easels and paint-stained buckets. The stereotypically messy studio area strikes a sharp contrast to her gallery, where a clean, simple design reveals Enhörning’s Swedish heritage. The gallery would not look out of place in an IKEA showroom.
But it’s no accident that Enhörning’s gallery is well organized and attractive. She has a degree in architecture and worked in that field for 25 years designing houses and small commercial buildings. She spent 10 years in private practice in Vancouver before moving to the Comox Valley, where she continued to do architectural design. She also worked off and on for a few years with Comox architect John Chislett.
There’s a subtle architectural influence in much of Enhörning’s work that wouldn’t be obvious without knowing her background. Whether she’s painting women, dancers, landscapes or communities of people, they are often framed in vertical linear shapes — trunks of trees, lines of people, stems of flowers or herds of unicorns — and the human figures provide a sense of scale to the grandeur of nature.
“In architecture, I loved the design, and was always looking at the art aspect. The technical side is so unlike me. There are so many rules and bylaws and restrictions. And in the end, it’s not really your own work. You’ve been compromised by all the limitations,” she says. By contrast, Enhörning says that painting is “completely free.”
“When I’m painting there’s no client, no budget, no rules. I can do anything. Nothing is right or wrong, and nobody can say it’s wrong,” she says.
Art has always been a part of Enhörning’s life, but she didn’t always believe she was an artist.
She counts her grandmother, Louise Peyron, as her greatest influence. Peyron was a famous Swedish artist, who studied in Paris during the Lost Generation of Left Bank artists, writers and ex-pats around the 1920s, a community that included Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Hemingway.
But it was Enhörning’s older brother, Ulf, who their grandmother took under her wing. He became “the artist” in the family.
“So even though my parents had tons of art in the house, every room was like a gallery, and art was all I ever knew, my brother was ‘the artist.’ I didn’t think I could do it,” she says.
Still, Enhörning studied her grandmother’s work so intensely that those who know Peyron’s work can now see Peyron’s influence in Enhörning’s paintings. “She was my teacher, I feel it so strongly,” she says.
Enhörning only began painting seriously about five years ago. She was working exclusively with her own architectural clients, and doing some painting while juggling her role as a mother to two young children.
Then she was offered a chance to rent some studio space at Courtenay’s Art Alchemy by her friends Lucy Schappy and Helen Utsal. Enhörning thought she would try it out for a month.
“I painted for a month and I couldn’t stop,” she says. “It was so obvious that I had to paint.”
Yet, she still didn’t consider herself a full-time artist. Even when her work sold well at a small show at Art Alchemy with two other painters, who were also renting space there, she didn’t believe it.
“I thought that’s not real. That’s just my friends being nice to me, buying my painting because they felt sorry for me or something,” she says. So Enhorning kept doing architectural projects, even though she was selling more and more art work.
“Eventually, the counselor I was seeing told me to ‘just keep painting’ and not to come see her anymore,” she says. “Painting had become my therapy.”
So, she did. And now says that “even if a dream job in architecture came along today, I would say no.”
An emotional exercise
Enhörning describes her painting process as lying down in a grassy field looking up at the passing clouds on a summer day, seeing them change shapes and transition from one thing into something else. She turns her panels upside down and sideways, and looks at them from different angles, trying to discover where they are going to go next.
“I used to think that when authors said they don’t know where their characters are going until they write it, that was hokey. But it’s not. Now I understand it,” she says.
“The act of creating comes from the soul,” she says. “I get very emotional, I feel the experience of creating so deeply.”
For her series on women, Enhörning stands up close to the panels made by her husband at her exact height. She puts herself in the painting’s shape, trying to experience how the woman might feel, how her body might be moving. That often moves her to tears.
It’s so personal, and I feel fortunate to be able to do it,” she says.
Enhörning grew up with three older brothers, and she wanted to be a boy. She was a tomboy and thought girls were boring. They couldn’t match the thrill-seeking action of boys.
“But now, in my 50s, I realize the strength and beauty and power that women have. It’s taken me until now,” she says.
For Enhörning, the emotional process doesn’t end when a painting is finished.
“It’s hard to understand that people will spend money to have one of my paintings in their life. One client told me that my painting makes her feel so happy, so alive. It’s mind boggling,” she says.