In today’s 48 Minutes, Chantal Van Houten, a specialist in contemporary figurative artwork, opens up about her recent series of evocative paintings depicting the faces of people crying. What’s striking about these paintings is that the subjects are almost expressionless.  Take away the stream of tears and their faces give little away about their states of mind. They are not contorted in agony, despair or sorrow. There are no grimaces or frowns. That is the strength of Van Houten’s work. The power is in the interplay between the muted color palettes and still faces contrasted with the opaque, oily black lines of tears.  It’s the subtleness against the stark that makes us react to her haunting work. Below, Van Houten gives us her view on the importance of crying in society and shares the inspiration behind her painting, Desolation.

“The world is crying, and everyone, at some point in their lives, cries for something. Whatever the situation, the reason for the tears is always personal and always about a difference we would like to see.”

I have been thinking a lot about this today and I really felt the need to express myself and share my perspective on crying so that people realize and understand the significance. In some countries and in certain cultures, crying is discouraged and repressed. It’s seen as losing face. That makes me sad because being prevented from crying or stoping yourself crying is not human. Being able to cry and let the world see your tears makes you the most real, the most pure person that you can ever be. In our tears, there is no hiding and it’s the most intimate moment you can have with another living being. Crying brings people together, it gives us a sense of solidarity and makes us touchable, even cuddly. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to express yourself in this way and to connect to another person so deeply when you cry.

Perfect Environment 1
Perfect Environment 1 (2015). Acrylic on panel, 23.6″ x 23.6″

Recently, I have been working on a collection of paintings that show people crying. I wanted to give each piece a political or cultural message as well as making a general statement that when you see someone crying, there is always an emotional message being communicated through their tears. Being able to show your emotions is a good thing. It’s a way for people to get closer to each other, to (re)connect, to care again and to rethink certain situations. When we feel each other’s emotions and care about another person, that’s an interaction. Reminding ourselves and pointing out that we are emotional human beings that can connect and care for all kinds of people could save the world. Black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Catholic, Jewish, whatever. It’s just not important. Important is being able to show, share and care about our own and others’ emotions.

Desolation by Chantal Van Houten

Desolation (2015). Acrylic on panel, 19.7” x 15.7”

I wanted this piece to be about religion. I’m an atheist but sometimes I wish I could be a believer because it makes life more endurable when we experience certain events, like death for instance. If you believe that you will meet your loved ones again, that everything will be beautiful and you will meet God or some other such deity, what a comfort and relief that would be. Unfortunately not for me, I’m just not that kind of a believer but I think it’s beautiful that people are and that it gives them something to hold on to; a foundation.

Today there are some religions that are experiencing heavy weather. It is so sad when people make terrible misuse of their religion. It affects those being true to their faith and they become the victims of the religious misusers.

Desolation is about a Muslim man who is going to desolate his beliefs because his beliefs, which are good and pure, are being wrongly associated with all the horrific acts happening in the world, carried out in the so-called name of religion. For him, his religion is his grounding, his foundation and only a good thing. That’s why he is crying for it. Through this painting, I want people to think about this matter, care about the people who are true and honorable to their beliefs and feel his emotion.