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Asemics of Sylvia Van Nooten

Blaire Grady
featured art by Sylvia Van Nooten, all rights reserved

Sylvia Van Nooten is an artist and a writer living in western Colorado. She grew up in Berkeley before relocating to Milan. She lived in Italy for ten years. While there, she taught English as a foreign language, wrote a novel, and numerous short stories. It was there she found her passion for producing visual art. Her work has appeared in The South Florida Poetry Journal, Experiment-O, The Raw Art Review (and the book), and Women Asemic Artists.

Sylvia and I connected on Twitter in 2021. What drew me to her work were the blocks of unique and purposeful characters, resembling a foreign language, something of Sanskrit.

Creating Neural Pathways
watercolors, tempera, silver pen, on paper, 18″ x 24″

There was a painting she had posted that featured this technique and I wanted to know more, know its meaning, its purpose. I wasn’t sure in what capacity, but I knew I wanted to be a part of something and sent her a proposal to feature her work on Strangers & Karma. I decided to use the front page of the new publication as a promotional spot for artists whose works align with what we envisioned for the pub. Since then, Sylvia has graciously allowed us to feature several of her asemic paintings throughout 2021 and 2022 (no publishing for us in 2023). In fact, every Strangers & Karma cover has been of her work. Throughout these last few years, I’ve found Sylvia to have a unique warmth as well as respond wise and otherworldly in chats.

So, when our anthology started to take form, I asked if she would be open to an interview.

Blaire Grady: Sylvia, you’re one of the most prolific visual artists I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. In addition to your online portfolio, there are quite literally hundreds of works in this medium posted to your social networks (link at bottom), spanning a relatively small chunk of time. Do you work on these forms simultaneously or do you prefer to stick to one particular style and medium for long periods and perhaps move onto something new?

Sylvia Van Nooten: I seem to cycle through colors and styles. I don’t like to do more than one of one type as I get bored, so I’ll move on to another style. But right now my styles are pretty predictable. I hate to say this but it’s because I have to work my factory job so much. I need long hours of intense concentration to do my best art work. I had that during COVID and the two years I didn’t work. I feel I did some of my best work during that period. It was both terrible and blissful isolation.

I was an ESL teacher for 20+ years but it wiped me out. Factory work (wrapping high end fishing poles) does not cause me any stress!

Primordial Consciousness
watercolors, tempera, silver pen on paper, 18″ x 24″

I’d like to get back into more sculptural art work, but it too, takes a lot of focus and concentration that I don’t have time for now. I’ve even bought a couple large canvases because I’d love to try larger works, I need more time. I’m hoping to eventually downsize to a tiny house with separate art studio. I can live on very little and would happily do so if I had more time for art and music. I sometimes fall asleep with ideas for art going through my mind. I’m sure many creatives out there know what I’m talking about.

Alphabet Of The Feminine Warrior
dedicated to all the women in Ukraine, mixed media on paper, 11″ x 22″

BG: I share your belief that all available energy must be poured into visual work with intense focus. I had a boss who would say “Work smarter, not harder,” and I’d think, “What a drag. I enjoy working hard on my art, and there’s something smart about taking time and contemplating even the smallest of details.”

For the works that incorporate the asemic formations and characters, what is the process in choosing what goes where in order to relay the messages that come across within those pieces? Are the individual asemics meant to be more decorative than translative? So, you let the brush be your guide or are these choices completely intentional by the time you pick up the brush? For instance, do you sketch your work prior?

examples of Van Nooten’s asemics

SVN: Very little I do is intentional. My unconscious self is a much better artist than my “planning a piece” self. So even when I intentionally set out to do something specific, it will be hijacked, I’ll despair, then think it’s ruined, then fix it. Drama Queen art! 

The asemics are the constant. They bring in form where I need it. I wrote a novel in the nineties about a man who invented a computer that translated words into music because people can’t communicate with words.

Interplanetary Poetics
watercolors, tempera, silver pen, on paper, 19.5″ x 25.5″

Asemics seems like a nod to that, I want to write and speak and be understood but words don’t work anymore. Art is immediate, like a lot of poetry, it goes straight for emotion with maybe (depending on the viewer) analysis following.

I don’t sketch, I start with an object or a stroke of ink and see where it takes me. Everything develops from that first mark on the paper.

Writing Evolution
ink and watercolors on paper, 18″ x 24″ inches

BG: I’ve seen from your content that you also dabble in playing music as well as incorporate musical pieces within your visual works. Is your music on any platforms?

SVN: I should get on SoundCloud. My music is like my art, I don’t know where it comes from. I took lessons when I was a child and loved playing but not what the teachers wanted me to play. At heart I’m an improviser in all things. My music comes from a few notes that intrigue me and develops from there.

Memories That Are Not Mine
mixed media, collage on paper, 18″ x 24″

SVN: I started playing again after my divorce in my early forties. Suddenly, I was composing music. I have no idea how it happened, but I’m extremely grateful for it. In the end, if I can turn off my conscious self I can do a lot of things. I don’t really feel like the art and music are me, my stoic self, but rather the person underneath all the cultural programming who desperately wants to be heard and seen.

The Poetry of Feminine Anxiety
ink and watercolors on paper, 18″ x 24″

BG: I bought The Book of Clyde 🙂 It was told wonderfully and the illustrations are filled with asemics, all so beautifully weaved into a budding romance between its two main characters, Clyde and Fiona. The story takes on its own style that is a bit isolated from the other work you’ve posted, but the asemics absolutely tie the work to you. It’s very lovely!

Fiona And Clyde And Empty Meaninglessness

SVN: I love Clyde and Fiona. I need to work on the sequel, have started but lack energy. Perhaps you have just motivated me, which is a beautiful thing.

Most recently, a beautiful collection of Sylvia’s asemic paintings has been published by Diaphanous Press. To view more of her paintings, visit her website and Instagram. Additionally, her work has been published in an anthology that dives deeper into the practice of asemic art (book link below and available for purchase).