Jenny van Sommers is an artist based in Ibiza. An award-winning still-life photographer for 20 years, Van Sommers has worked for Prada, Calvin Klein and Vogue before shifting her focus to painting. Her bold and bright, often humorous, paintings reduce ideas and objects to their basic form and celebrates them as they are. We discovered more about her transition from one medium to another, her life in Spain and her relationship with colour.
You started your career as a commercial photographer and only started painting in your fifties. What inspired that change?
I always wanted to be a painter. But it was only when I turned 50 that I realised I could finally stop taking photographs and start painting.
Do you have any formal training in painting?
No, but my father was a painter and so was my grandfather. I used to sit in my father’s studio and watch him paint.
You often paint fruit or vegetables, sometimes over and over again. What is it that fascinates you about these organic subjects?
I’m not interested in them as subjects, just as shapes. They are also great because, although they are a repeat subject for me, each one is a new shape.
How do you dress while working?
I am living in Spain so I don’t wear anything. I also have a collection of Judo suits from eBay which I wear when it’s colder.
How did the people in your life react when you started painting?
I got an enormous and surprising amount of support.
Your use of colour is very distinctive. How has your relationship with colour developed over time?
I love colour. I’m painting colours more than I’m painting subjects. Eventually the subject will disappear completely. That’s what I’m aiming for. I don’t want to be depicting objects. I did that with photography and in the end it was very restrictive. I don’t think my work is fully formed at all. I have a long way to go. I think I need to paint a lot — every day — to catch up and get somewhere. I consider myself an amateur.
Do you subscribe to any particular movements or theories within art? No. Do you keep your personal and professional lives separate?
No. I’ve always worked in the same place I live in, and I wouldn’t call painting my professional life yet. Photography was my professional life. My dad told me not to be an artist because in Australia in the early 80s, being a painter was not viable. My parents were both born in the Depression in Australia and they were keen for me not to pursue something wherein I would not be able to eat or pay my rent. When you grow up eating rabbits, you fear poverty.
A through line across both your photography and painting is a real sense of humour. What makes you laugh?
Everything. Everything in life is funny to me in some way. Except pain, death, and so on. But generally I apply a humorous approach to my whole life.
What is your relationship with the island of Ibiza? Does your creativity feel different when you’re there?
I’m living here because it’s a cheap place to paint and I can take my dog with me everywhere. Obviously the sea and the mountains are very beautiful and the Spanish are very friendly. I love being in the EU because I believe in it as the greatest peace project of our time.
How did lockdown change the way you relate to your community?
It cut me off, I got very lonesome. I left all my beloved friends in the UK and moved here. I miss them a lot. A lot. But I did learn how to be happy on my own with just my dog, which was liberating.
Do you listen to music while you work?
YES. I consume new music all the time… Brian Eno, EDM, FELT, OK Seke Bien, Der Wunsch Service, Audiobooks, Falle Nioke, A Certain Ratio.
Do you think of your painting and photography as one body of work or two?
Two separate things.
Finally, this year we are asking all of our Journal interviewees to complete the following phrase to help us celebrate 25 years of You Must Create (YMC): It can be a phrase or just a word. For us, You Must Create is both a mission statement and a call to action.
You Must Create… create you must.