Marit Fosse passionately plays with colors on canvas
“Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting … stop thinking!”
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
In an exclusive interview, Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall gets up close and personal with Marit Fosse, longtime contributor to The Norwegian American.
Fosse trained as an economist from the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen and then earned a doctorate in social sciences. Fosse is the editor of International Diplomat/Diva International in Geneva, a magazine set up 20 years ago for diplomats and persons working in the international organizations in Geneva and elsewhere. She is also the author of several books, and most recently, Nansen: Explorer and Humanitarian, co-authored with John Fox, received critical acclaim and was translated into Russian, Armenian, and French.
But Fosse’s interests do not stop there. In her free time, she is a passionate and accomplished painter.
Lori Ann Reinhall: Marit, when did you begin painting, and what motivated you to start?
Marit Fosse: I always wanted to learn to paint, but for some reason I never managed to get my act together and just do it. However, one tends to say that what is meant to be will be, and this was my case. On a lovely late summer day on the pedestrian bridge over the river Seine, St. Andre des Arts in Paris, my family and I all of a sudden found ourselves in the middle of a street fair, Le Fête de la Seine. That day, a painter’s association was holding an event where you could try, for free, different art forms. I tried oil painting for the first time in my life. It was like I had found the love of my life. The next day I bought canvas, brushes and oil paint, and started to paint in the kitchen.
Since that day I have continued to paint. To stop would be like tearing a part of me away from me.
LAR: Tell me a little about your overall background: where you grew up, where you studied, your professional life …
MF: My life is a long path of coincidences. In brief, I grew up in Holmestrand, a small city 43 miles south of Oslo, with my twin sister, a younger brother, and my parents. It was a good place to grow up, and I am very fortunate to have such a nice and supportive family. After [graduating from] Horten Gymnas, I went to Paris to study French, and then later, I moved to Bergen to study business and economics at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration.
Once graduated, I moved back to Paris, got married, and continued my studies in social and political science at Catholic University in Paris, in addition to being a mother of two lovely boys. After having worked in international organizations, to make a long story short, I ended up setting up a magazine for diplomats in Geneva, learning everything from scratch and writing articles from time to time for The Norwegian American, in addition to writing a couple of books. However, I have always found time to paint, either late at night or early morning, and weekends whenever I can.
LAR: Do you have any formal training in art?
MF: No, I do not any formal training in art apart from courses at the Art Students League of New York. The New Yorkers are lucky to have such an art institution. I simply love that place, and I have not found anything similar in Geneva or Paris. To sign up for more traditional classes is not really what I want. If you get a teacher, you are told what to do and not to do. The teacher imposes her/his way of thinking and perception, and you then just learn that way of doing art and not your own. Learn the basics principles and techniques yes, but for all the rest, you have to evolve and use your creativity.
LAR: You quote many different philosophers and painters on your website. Were they your principle influences?
MF: When you write, you play with words, when you paint you play with colors. In both cases, you are using your creativity, using different media, but the process is the same. If you exhibit your paintings somewhere, people will ask you, “What did you think about when you painted this one?” Some artists are very good at giving you all the details that you need and do not need, etc. I, on the other hand, cannot tell you anything. I think the quote of Jean Cocteau is very pertinent: “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.”
LAR: Could you encapsulate your own philosophy of art? How does it relate to your overall philosophy of life?
MF: You are asking difficult questions. Art is a subjective issue, and it is difficult to explain why you like this artist and not another one. We are all different and have different taste. It’s like the five fingers of your hand. They are different and have different functions. Together they form a whole. This is also what life is all about. We might be different, but we need everybody in a society, there is not one who is better than another. You might be better than me at some point, but we all have something to contribute with to the society for the common benefit of all. Today it’s you; tomorrow it’s my turn.
LAR: Are there any specific Norwegian influences on your work?
MF: I’m proud of being Norwegian, so I presume my background has had an influence on my art. My grandmother’s cousin, Kaj Fjell, was a very well known painter, so, perhaps I have got something from that branch of the family. What is certain is that my mother is better at mixing colors than I am, so if there is some specific influence, it comes from her. I would also take this opportunity to thank her, because without her and my father, I would not be here.
LAR: In what other ways to you gather inspiration for your art?
MF: When I start to paint, I often listen to music, mostly Anglo-American popular music, but I’m quite eclectic in this field too, so, it is not so much about the music itself but the emotion that the music creates that inspires me. So, there I am in front of my canvas, my brushes and oil tubes and some nice music. That’s all I need, and then it comes all by itself—the colors, the forms… I forget the rest of the world.
LAR: On the homepage of your website, you quote Wassily Kandinsky, “Lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking!” Why is this so important?
MF: For me, you should be able to feel a painting or feel the music, or simply art… We have so much stress in our daily lives that we do not necessarily take the time just to feel and let our feelings talk, so to follow Kandinsky’s advice is a good idea, I would say.
LAR: With your work with the United Nations, you have traveled all over the world. How has this shaped your experience, both as a person and as an artist?
MF: I do a magazine for diplomats, Diva International/International Diplomat. Through my work, I have been very fortunate to visit many interesting places and meet many lovely people all over the world. I think it’s important to understand that we are all the same at the end of the day, and we all have the same aspirations whether we come from Asia, Africa, or Europe. There are good and bad people in any country, and there is not one who is better than another. We all need to work together to shape the world of the 21st century. The COVID-19 health crisis has shown us all how fragile our world has become, and that nobody—rich or poor—is protected from this virus. It can hit anyone, so, why not join forces and work together for a better world rather than using it to divide people?
LAR: Are there any museums or galleries around the world that have made an impact on you or that you would recommend to other art lovers?
MF: Thanks for asking this question. There are so many nice places to see great art everywhere. In these COVID times, galleries are more and more online but if your readers have a chance, go out and visit exhibits. It’s always rewarding intellectually.
I have one museum that is very dear to my heart. In Uzbekistan, there is a small city called Nukus, and there you find a fantastic museum, the Savinsky Museum. It has a unique collection of avant-garde Russian art (1890-1930), and it was only when the Soviet Union broke down that we learned about this museum. When Stalin seized power after the death of Lenin, he started to persecute artists. Many were killed and others were imprisoned. You see it in the paintings when the living conditions became more and more difficult. Thanks to Savinsky, a lot of these paintings were smuggled out of Moscow and the other big cities to end up in this far away city in Uzbekistan. Because of this man and his efforts, modern art history had to be rewritten.
LAR: On your website, you group your paintings into four categories: Abstractions, Daydreams, Metamorphosis, and Pragmatism. Can you speak to this? What distinguishes the four sections of your gallery?
MF: I wanted to make a distinction between the different types of paintings I do. Sometimes I paint more figurative paintings, sometimes it’s more structured ones, and then real abstracts.
LAR: Do you foresee any new directions in your work?
MF: I will definitely continue to paint and to evolve in the visual art field. I am not a fan of digital art so this is definitely not something for me. I like the smell of oil paint, and to have the brushes and tubes with paint around.
Regarding upcoming art shows, there are some in the pipeline, but because of COVID-19, it’s a little complicated to organize art shows, but we will definitely find a solution soon or later.
LAR: Finally, with your busy schedule, when to you find time to paint? Does it function as a type of therapy for you?
MF: A friend of mine says, “Where there is a will, there is a way.” So I always find time to paint. I do not know if it’s a kind of therapy or not. I would rather say it’s a passion. During the confinement, when we were only allowed to go out one hour a day, I was very happy that I had this passion.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 9, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.