Interview with Mie Rygh Reianes

Mie was born during the first few hours of the Norwegian morning. Now she resides in Florence, Italy and creates art around the clock. This interview includes thoughts on her own art, inspiration, challenges and experience moving from one country to a vastly different culture with just her suitcase and the creativity that flows through her veins. 

Mie has icy-blue eyes, a warm smile and a passion for art and examining gender roles. We met up with her at 5pm at a local café. Christmas music was playing in the background and it was frosty and dark outside. When we arrived she was already sitting by a wooden table, doing coursework. She was just finishing her cappuccino and made a comment on how expensive coffee is in Norway compared to Florence.

Quick fire


19 years old.

What are you studying at the moment?

I am taking a one year introductory art course in Florence, at the SRISA college.

If you could trade lives with anyone for a day, who would it be?

Hmmm... This is a hard question, as I haven’t really thought about trading lives with anyone. I always figured that I don’t have a choice, I just have to make the most out of my own life. Maybe… I don’t know - I think it would be interesting to switch lives with something non-human, like a sheep. This is something I have given a bit of thought especially when reflecting on religion and rebirth. Animals are controlled by their instincts. That is why it would be interesting to be an animal for a day, because that way you can understand what it’s like to live completely free of norms and roles created by society.

Frida Kahlo or Andy Warhol?
Frida Kahlo, without a doubt. She combines both the masculine and feminine in a way that is really fascinating. She died in the 1950’s, but at that point she had already created a series of self-portraits that were challenging gender roles and the way women are represented. At this time in history women were supposed to be housewives and were looked upon as sexulized objects. She was so ahead of her time, considering that the feminist movement didn’t truly start until the 1960s. In fact, I am currently writing a paper where Kahlo is one of my subjects. This is for one of my classes where I get to study art that focuses on gender and later create my own artwork based on the same topic.

Paris or Tokyo?

I haven’t been to either of the cities, but I believe I would have felt more at home in Paris, than in the chaotic city that I imagine Tokyo is. Besides, I have fallen in love with old european cities.

Minimalist or maximalist?

Probably a combination. Or… I am a very messy person, both personality-wise and when it comes to clutter. I often find it hard to let go of materialistic objects that I don’t need.

Life & studies

Why did you decide to study in Florence?

After highschool I knew that I had to give art a go. It’s always been a passion of mine, so I figured that I at least had to give it a shot. I felt trapped in Stavanger, so I decided that at the same time as I was studying, I also wanted to have fun and explore another country. And Florence is the city that has the highest amount of art, by square meters, in the entire world - and it is often described as a Mecca for those who love art. To me, it was the Italian language, the city itself and the Italian culture, that was appealing. I was also lucky to find a school that pedagogically speaking matched my interests, as they tend to focus on each individual, and not too much on the technicalities, which fits modern art very well.

Did you experience culture shock when moving to a different country?

In many ways, my whole life has turned upside down. Both the city and the culture is vastly different when comparing Florence and Stavanger. Florence is a tiny, buzzing centre, whilst Stavanger is more slow paced and quiet. At the same time, I have discovered that Italy has a culture based on the appreciation of pleasure. Which means that in Florence, you will find a nice combination of both chaos and tranquility. People in Florence just know how to take it slow, enjoy themselves and take the time to do things like going out to drink aperitifs with friends and family after work.

At the same time it was difficult for me to move away from home, as I had no friends in Florence when first moving there. I remember one week where I just could not stop crying. I experienced a form of shock when I realized that I was actually totally on my own. What made it harder to adjust was the language barrier. Not a lot of people spoke english, but luckily I go to an american school. Now, I find it easier to communicate as I know a bit more Italian myself. Eventually, I also got to know two norwegian girls. I wouldn't say that I ever experienced isolation, but rather that I stood out. Norwegians are usually introverted, shy and soft-spoken, while the Italian culture is much more expressive.
Another difficulty which I’ve faced was that I expected that my life in Firenze would be pretty chill, as I would finally be able to do what I love most. But here I am with school from 9 in the morning until 11pm, always working around the clock. It does not bother me though, because every day is interesting and rewarding. The biggest way that my life has changed the past year is probably how hectic it has become, at the same time as I’ve never enjoyed myself as much as I do now.

How is it to work creatively, now that you have to take grades and deadlines into account?

This year is all about building a portfolio and your resume, which means that the pressure and stress when it comes to grades, isn't as dominating as it was in high school. Getting professional guidance has been very helpful to me. Now, I can see much more clearly what my mistakes are and what I do right. I am tested and given different types of feedback depending on the class. For instance, I’m learning Italian, and in this class in particular you are either right or wrong. I also take a painting class which solely focuses on technique. You are taught how to paint in layers and how to work with lines etc. Therefore, I am evaluated on my technical skills. Furthermore, I have a class which is called “Drawing in the expanded field”, where we are given a theme like “Discuss the difference between what is permanent and the temporary”. Here you are evaluated based on how you manage to convey the meaning and thoughts behind your art, as the piece will lose some of its “power”, if you fail to convey your message. This type of evaluation makes me feel most comfortable, because it is based on my own ideas and perspectives.

What does a normal day in your life look like?

I only go to school four times a week which is from Monday to Thursday. My school days start early in the morning and continues until late at night. Either I get coursework done, or work on my current art projects. When it comes to my weekends I have to say that they vary, but I have started to develop certain routines and habits. For instance, I usually go to a café to smoke and drink coffee while working on essays for school, and I spend a lot of time with my boyfriend and my friend Ylva. I also tend to spend hours of my weeked at school working on my current art projects. One of my rituals that I stick to every Sunday, is to go to a local market to hunt for new vintage pieces. Right outside my doorstep it is also possible to run up a hill and you’ll get a view of the entire city, which is so beautiful. I would love to make that a weekly habit too. When it comes to the evenings, I find myself either making food with my friends in my apartment, or going out to eat at a restaurant, then head to a bar. I have to admit that since moving to another country, I often think I’m just on an extended holiday, which makes me spend a lot more money on food and drinks than I should.



Can you describe your artwork only using three words?

Colorful! ...And I think I can call it emotional.. and intuitive. Colors are my main focus and I don’t have any interest in painting the reality exactly as it is.

Do you have a muse or have a favorite artist to look to?

One of my absolute favorites is definitely Rothko. He creates expressionist paintings and use very large canvases. I could look at them for hours and hours. Each one is so interesting and beautiful, exactly because they’re so intuitive. I love him.

I’m also very fond of Jenny Saville. Her work is usually grotesque, but magnificent. It is not beautiful or fulfilling any beauty-standards, but at the same time I can’t help but think that it’s beautiful. I want to make paintings like her, focusing on topics like gender-roles, at the same time as using Rothko‘s colors.

When did you first get interested in art?

In kindergarten you would either find me climbing trees, or sitting down drawing. My passion continued throughout elementary school, and I even participated in a drawing class for adults. (Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t because I was particularly good, I just did it because I wanted to ahah). Both my parents are very creative, which probably have influenced me. You could say that I never fully committed to art, because I never made it a priority. However, it has always been something that I would like to explore further.

Do you have a message you would like to spread through your work?

Personally, I’m very fascinated by art that focus on gender-roles. The last semester we’ve mostly studied techniques and were given certain topics to work with, but this year I will be able to make an independent art project. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of research and the following year I will get the opportunity to create the art that explore the expectations created by society when it comes to gender, although we aren’t very different from each other, biologically speaking.

What inspires you?

For me, it was a good thing to start studying right after high school. In high school you always had to do this and that, which is a contrast to my life now, where my studies are based on individuality and freedom. I believe that is why I constantly find myself inspired. When starting out on an art project, I don’t always have the best ideas, but I’m passionate and committed because I love art and I love my life. Something that also helps me staying inspired is that I’m given tasks that are motivating. Especially the fact that I’m allowed to do an independent project and work with topics that I personally find interesting. I believe there is a driving force in both me and my school. I’m always learning something new, whether it is how to cast or how to make figures out of wood. The past semester I’ve discovered how much it is that I want to learn. For that reason, I’ll probably end up studying art for the next 20 years haha.

Are there times where you feel unmotivated? How do you work through that and keep yourself inspired?

Yes, I’ve definitely experienced that. Sometimes I feel like what I’m trying to create is simply horrible. But with time I might realize that it’s the best work I’ve ever done.  For example, I once made a series of paintings which there was plants growing out of. When the plants wouldn’t grow like I wanted them to, I didn’t want to show it to anybody. I got very emotional and irritable. This piece was supposed to represent the relationship between me and my father, and I think that is why I got very emotionally attached to it.

While you are working you might also experience that a teacher says that your work was perfect until you did that. That can be frustrating to hear, but they do it so that we can figure out how to work ourselves and understand what should feel right and wrong. It can also be challenging when you’ve spent 14 hours at school, are tired, didn’t really believe in what you were making, and shed some tears when you get home. But the next day you receive constructive criticism and guidance that makes you realize that this is supposed to be a process of learning.

I believe that I haven’t been too hard on myself, which is important in this kind of process. My mindset had been like this: “You do the best that you can. You are doing great, considering that you’ve never studied art before. Believe in yourself and what the teachers tell you. Absorb everything you learn. You are here to learn, not to be the best.” I’ve never felt like I had to be the best, but it can be rough when you’re not satisfied with something you created and then you know you will be assessed. This is the case for many things but now I take it more personal because art is something I deeply care about. Sometimes I doubt myself but I always manage to remind myself that I’m here to learn and that I’m not supposed to be the best after only a few months. It’s okay, not the end of the world.

Is the environment at school competitive?

To be honest I do not experience that there is much competition between the students. People come here to build a portfolio or take a gap year, and I believe that creates a more relaxed atmosphere. As a result of this, teachers also try to make our learning experience as varied and fun as possible. The teachers are also make sure to assess each student individually and not compare students’ work against each other. This in return has made the majority of students more focused on their own work instead of putting pressure on themselves to be the best. I’m grateful for that.

What medium of art do you prefer to work with?

Although I have an affinity for painting, I don’t really have one specific medium of art I prefer to work with. Instead I like to choose the medium depending on which one I think will best represent my idea and message. Different techniques appeals to various of the viewer’s senses. A sculpture reflects space as it is often three dimensional, while a recorded clip will influence other senses.

Have you ever done performance?

Yes! In fact, I recently got the opportunity to be a part of a project that involved the best art schools in the city. Marina Abramovic recently had an exhibition in Florence and we were invited to be inspired by it and create our own performance art. We were supposed to focus on the relationship between photography and performance. I don’t have much experience with photography, but it is an interesting art form, as it can both document and be the art itself. There was made a magazine that will be published in January, where each student was given four pages each to showcase their work. When I first learned that I would be a part of this I was so excited and I just couldn’t believe it really.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In five years I like to see myself living in Denmark, having a BA and/ or a Master in arts, be a famous artist. I want to have figured out exactly who I am as an artist and use various of techniques, mediums and colors. However five years is a long time, and only time will tell....

Art related photos are credited to Mie Rygh Reianes

Photos of Mie are credited to Martine Aamodt Hess