Ieva Iltnere | Stranger's comfort
05.14.2019 by Kristiana Pinne
Photo: Karlīna Vītoliņa
In her works, Ieva Iltnere conjures up a world full of paradoxes and contrasts – clichés of consumer society in her paintings coexist with spiritual searches and delicate, sophisticated handwriting acquired in a well-known school of young artists with imprints of children’s hands. She reveals that one of the tasks of her work is to attract the viewers to apparently impeccable pictures and make them find the fault. It seems that this is the way Ieva Iltnere views the world – carrying in her a parallel life to the next exhibition, and enthusiastically finding a solution to the self-defined enigma or an interesting noncompliance. Philosopher Artis Svece used to say about her creation: “Everything is perfect, but nothing is in its place.”
When writing about your painting, critics often mention variability. In your opinion is there anything settled that permeates your creative work?
It could really be a problem for me, that I go several paths at the same time; in one exhibition there are often works from “different operas”. This happens when working over a longer period. I like the contrasts – soft to sharp, black to white, carbon to thick. Perhaps the constant factor in my creative work is this variability, although that might also be a false impression. Let’s assume that all my paintings are displayed in the restored Arsenal ... I think the viewers will recognize that this is me. Because the painter paints himself, the writer writes about himself, the actor plays himself ... To some extent, it is always like that. I have always been fascinated by imperfection. I want the viewer to be sucked into the picture – at first, he sees one picture, but then he wants to put his nose closer to see how it is made and then he notices something totally different.
In an interview in the “Diena” newspaper, you told Vilnis Vējš that your works almost always somehow “turn to irony” ...
I’m not a real joke teller, but irony appears quite often. For example, I used to have a painting titled A Happy Man Overcoming the Barrier. A funny paradox, isn’t it? I also like to think about the commonly used statements that often appear in the information space, such as “sensitive information”, “red lines”, “hybrid war” or “shell company”. Try to visualize it. Just great! (Laughing).
I have always been fascinated by an artist’s ability and courage to choose from all motives, themes, and compositional options.
You formulated it pretty well; it is exactly the most painful thing. At first, I like to create and collect a set of themes for myself; to develop a nucleus. If there is an idea, the materials compile automatically. I have folders where I put everything together. Once you have accumulated, you have to start discarding. It is not easy, I am in a thinking process with a brush in my mouth – a lot will only go away in the painting process. Sometimes sidesteps happen and I accept them to check whether it fits or not. Of course, the concept must always be considered (especially if, for example, you have submitted a project for getting funding for the exhibition) and the exhibition premises – on the one hand, it is limiting, on the other – it helps to stay accurate. It is like making a movie where everything has to be considered to the smallest detail – the artist is never absolutely free. When the exhibition is coming, I cannot sleep, my head at night is free after the day work, and finally, I have time to think, I use to change ideas at the last moment (Laughing). Of course, this process not only brings torment but also some joy. It is a game you play with yourself. It’s like a woman who is pregnant and no one else knows that she is carrying a whole world in her. That’s how I sometimes feel before exhibitions – you wash dishes or do the ironing, but in parallel, the other life is going on in your body. And I have always loved it.
So does that mean your works are created for exhibitions?
Yes, when I know what the exhibition premises are, I have ideas. It is important for every artist to know how the works will be exhibited – no matter whether it is Tracey Emin or Mark Rothko. When I finished painting for my previous exhibition “Sum” in gallery Art XO, I already had an idea for the next exhibition. But now I feel I have gone through it; it is like with unfulfilled love – the other person does not even know about it, and with catharsis and finals, it is over in one moment. I have an unusual feeling right now; maybe I should just jump over to another, more interesting idea. I always have some words in my head that I am thinking about. I remember, once on my way to the store I was thinking – should I put a comma in the title of the exhibition “Beautiful, fragile nature”. Maybe I am crazy, who cares about it! (Laughing).
And after the opening of the exhibition, you don’t want to put a comma?
Then, to a large extent, the pain has passed. It is important to me as an artist and person to see the dry residue. It is like seeing the result of plastic surgery when everything has finally healed and it can be assessed whether it has been successful. Of course, then you clearly see what you should have had and what not. After the last exhibition, I really had the feeling that there were too many directions. That’s the point when you are sitting at home and you can’t reach a conclusion. That’s why exhibitions are so important. Of course, it should also be kept in mind that the painting is a tangible and movable thing, that the context of space plays a role as well. I always think about how the paintings will play together. I can’t expose more than three or four pictures at the same time in the workshop.
You come from an artistic family, a lot of professionals around you. Do you share your creative considerations with them?
Not really. John (the painter’s husband Jānis Mitrēvics – ed.remark), of course, encourages me a lot, saying that everything is fine with me (Laughing). I need someone who says that. It is really helpful. Sometimes he tells me that the painting is ready, there is no use tampering with it anymore, he does not like me repainting. But I want to paint it more slowly, more carefully – if it’s shiny, then it really has to shine. It comes from art school (now – Riga Design and Art School – ed. note), where I learned patience.
And what has been your cooperation with curators?
In my younger years Ivars Runkovskis, of course, and also Inga Šteimane, was really important for me. Generally speaking, it is not easy to be a curator – they have to push and inspire the artist. For me, it’s easier to be a curator myself at my exhibition. When participating in a group exhibition, I always have doubts about whether I will disappoint the curator. It is not easy because the result has to be common, but I want to feel free like a fish in its own waters.
Do you need special conditions for the painting process?
We once lived together in our apartment, three sisters with two children each. Everyone had a room, a shared kitchen, a workshop as big as it was. John wondered how I could manage it– at one moment I was baking potatoes, the next I was painting. But there was no other option; otherwise, you wouldn’t have done it at all. There will never be an ideal life and ideal conditions where nobody disturbs you. When I turn on some music in the workshop I feel like I’m in a glass case, as if entering a different space where I can concentrate. When I start working, it gradually brings peace. I start slowly; first I do some tiny routines, then make some alterations in the painting. It’s in my character – to be doing something all the time.
Do you need to rest in a different environment, for example, in the countryside, after intense periods of work?
Yes, I definitely need to switch myself on to something else. I have had periods when I am at the point when everything seems worthless and then, regardless whether you like it or not, you are laid down on the couch; it is a disgusting feeling. But there are a lot of tiny ones (grandchildren – ed. note) who bring you back to reality. I also love being in nature, in the countryside. Halfway to the countryside, I have already switched myself on to other things; even if there have been some problems in Riga. In the car I start talking to my husband about the pond, whether it is frozen or not, and when we get there we find out with horror, oh madness, a big branch of the tree has fallen down (Laughing). In the countryside, you can relax – even if you are physically tired, in your head everything has changed.
You can definitely be called a Style Icon – with elegance, a subtle sense of style, and actually the continuation of art in self-image. You have said in interviews that you want to create a contrast from the really hard and dirty job of painting.
I love and I am interested in fashion as a phenomenon. In my paintings there are often themes about how people change their “packaging”. For example, from the works of Jan van Eyck, clothing could be sewn. I also sometimes imagine I could paint this shoe, a horseshoe, and after a thousand years someone would find it and wonder. (Laugh- ing). During the Soviet era, my mother worked in the Riga fabric factory, she read foreign fashion magazines. My Mum drew fabric patterns with gauche colours. It was an amaz- ing world! At that time everybody made their own clothes. I remember that my mother sewed me a blue dress that was not a school uniform. I made myself a winter coat with bat- ting and a fur collar. In Soviet times it was quite impossible to buy clothes and people had no money ... Now the world has changed – there are many new themes: overproduction of clothing, the fashion market, magazines, and shows.
You have said that nowadays the role of painting has changed. Is the valuation of art changing in relation to overproduction of images and due to a new media occupying their place?
I think the value of painting has remained. The proportion of media has changed. Many new media have appeared, even the virtual ones – for example, [Gints] Gabrāns’ work, which this year has been nominated for the Purvītis Prize. Such works, perhaps, may have the same impression as [Mark] Rothko’s paintings, but the instruments are different. I will stay with my instrument. Sometimes it seems that curators in Riga are afraid of painting in the old-fashioned media. In large exhibitions abroad paintings still have their place, they still have the effect of a cave drawing – it is the imprint you can’t repeat again tomorrow. A unique human world imprint. Who knows, maybe I will experience some changes. For example, my Dad (painter Edgars Iltners (1925–1983) –ed. note) in his youth could create a few paintings a year and lived well. The artist was like an influencer today – held in high status. Although the status has changed, art is still necessary – art and culture make it easier to live; it is like a comforter for a stranger. And when it comes to painting, it is materialistic. Nowadays, so much stuff is just in the mind or in a virtual cloud that people want to do something with their hands, feel things. The human being is not a robot yet.
You are a teacher at the Latvian Academy of Art. What are your observations about the interests of the new generation – art students?
Every generation is really different because the world is changing. But when we lived behind the Iron Curtain, actually we literally lived in the academy and were bohemians to a large extent. We were all in the same boat. My children’s generation is different; I think every next generation is smarter and better. I also see it in my grandchildren who seem to have been born with technological knowledge. As far as students are concerned, I feel they are quieter, calmer, more patient, and more restrained than we were. I often want to shake them up to get them to say something. [Imants] Lancmanis recently said in an interview, ‘the young generation is no longer drinking’ (Laughing). But young people inspire me and give me a feeling of what is going on at the moment. I am very introvert by nature, at the beginning I had difficulties to address a stranger in the academy.
Which painters have influenced you?
While studying at the Academy we looked at Giotto and other pre-Renaissance painters. I still love Van Eyck. I once used his images from the painting of Arnolfini family portrait– I included them in my work. I looked at the reproduction of the painting in a book of Soviet times, where Mr. Arnolfini had strange legs, like not completely painted. So I did the same in my painting. When I saw the original in London, his legs were perfect (Laughing). Actually, I also like to study something in the context of painting. I had a pack of dogs looking at Black Square. I learned at the Academy Library how many different Black Squares Malevich had actually created. Up to now, I sympathize with the Leipzig School, Neo Rauch, and others. The Germans had the nec- essary conditions for realism to flourish in painting. I have often thought that we could do the same here if there were such opportunities. The skills gained during the Soviet era would be suitable for this. But just realism is not enough, it has to be transformed a little; I am certainly inspired by photography, cinema, music, and architecture.
“I am excited by the painting of my dad Edgars Iltners My Latvia. Both then and now. It was painted a year before Dad’s death and it is both painful and beautiful at the same time. If we take this painting and The Earth’s landlords and put both paintings next to each other, we see the way passed by the artist. The man is no longer a landlord but has become a part of the divine world.”
Ieva Iltnere. Sum.- Catalogue (Curator, Editor of catalogue, Author – Ilze Zeivate). –
Riga: Maksla XO Gallery, 2018. – 44.p.
"Sum. It is about addends – the image is put together from pieces, which are today’s fragmented perception – both informative and visual. In the exhibition creating process, I turned aside to layers, and TIME became the main theme. It is like in life – we put layer over layer, and then time peels off some parts and uncovers the previous ones. Accidentally found embroideries are also time. I painted from the left side, and by chance came to a certain kind of pointillism. In the exhibition, there will also be one round painting, called “Point”, because a point is the beginning of everything" - Ieva Iltnere, 2018.
An equation with an unpredictable result
The title of Ieva Iltnere’s exhibition “Sum” is a provocation to divide her paintings into numbers. Indeed, anyone can see that the subjects of Iltnere’s paintings are composite: they can contain back to front embroidery into which a gnome with an axe has blundered from another piece of embroidery, a wall whose paint has begun to peel revealing the previous coat, a mirror reflecting a scene from a certain angle that for us viewers could be behind us and so on. The artist continues to create unexpected combinations of images as she did in her previous solo exhibition “Implant” at the Māksla XO gallery in May 2017. In a review at the time I wrote that “characteristic of Ieva Iltnere are motifs that appear in some works in a pure form but in others, they are woven into a more complex structure.” And such is the case here too where we will recognise some images from her earlier works: architects’ notions of a glamourous private house frozen in glass and concrete or a sculpture of a dog where the whole surroundings, including the glass roof of the artist’s studio, are reflected in the sculpture’s shiny metal surface. Of course, on every occasion Iltnere repeats something of what she has done before and that is why her style is immediately recognisable, at least to regular exhibition goers, and its special place in Latvian art of recent decades comes as no surprise. However, up to now we have only spoken about the subjects of the paintings; the exhibition could also be put together as the sum of the painter’s technical activities. In that case, the whole disintegrates into soft fields of paint layers and very fine touches of the brush, sometimes just dots. The whole is generated from how we read these details, joint them up in the subject and place them in the frames of already existing preconceptions. In this sense, Iltnere’s painting depends directly on images that we have already seen but in different combinations and execution. However, this does not restrict the viewer’s imagination but opens it up like a portal to an infinite world with all the moments of viewing experience linked together by + signs. Ieva Iltnere’s painting does not have to justify itself why it does not flow into the space, does not radiate light, move or emit sounds. The scenes contained in firm rectangular frames (more rarely in oval or composite form) resemble sentences that novels begin with. For talented writers these are never by chance or boring; in an instant they throw the reader into the current of the text that will continue for another couple of hundred pages and may possibly never end in the reader’s memory. Test this assumption with the first books you have to hand! In my case it was this: It might be most dramatically effective to begin the tale at the moment when Arnold Baffin rang me up and said, “Bradley, could you come round here please, I think that I have just killed my wife.” (Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince). Or this: The story of Zenia ought to begin when Zenia began. (Margaret Atwood, The Robber Bride). Of course, it is pure coincidence that these books were written by women! Just as writers don’t have to worry that their prose might already have been written, so the painter is not interested in whether the forms she has used might have been used by someone else. If someone wants to use them again – go ahead! Screen versions of novels usually create less of an impression than texts because they leave less to the imagination of the viewer. Painters have even less to worry about technical equipment creating images in their place – we know that no photofit can produce a portrait of the suspect just from a description or that no one but the child can distinguish its mother from a neighbour, and that the Google image search finds “similar” pictures from the most varied times, styles and content. Like writers always have sufficient letters at their disposal and mathematicians always have enough digits and other signs to express a full picture of the world, the painter always has enough to do on a simple, smooth surface in order to depict the world. The result we get from Ieva Iltnere’s exhibition is a little multiplied by infinity.
Vilnis Vejs, 2018.
Ieva Iltnere "IMPLANT"
“Implant” is Ieva Iltnere’s third exhibition at “Maksla XO” gallery and it is sort of a conclusion to a cycle of themes that were introduced and unfolded in the exhibitions “Not only, but also” (2014) and “Babel” (2015).
The main motive of the narrative remains unchanged – the diversity of people and the world around them, which in its essence is full of contrasts, however a desire of each individual is to find their place in it and survive, despite all the existing differences.
Comparison, the opposites between the stereotypes existing in the society, this game with contrasts – the dark against the light, the colourful against the black-and-white, the strange against the well-known, the entirety and a part, the habitual and the inconvenient, big and small, correct and incorrect, right and wrong, comprehensible and incomprehensible – it is a beloved way of expression for Ieva Iltnere. It manifests not only in subjects of the paintings, but also in their formal solutions, where the paintress continues to work in the direction of “false realism”, which opens up infinite possibilities to evolve and express her belief that “nothing is as it seems”.
In the latest paintings, sneaking in the narrative, the implant as a certain kind of patch blurs the direct perception of the painting and unleashes many possible interpretations of it. In this way, Ieva Iltnere opens us a door to these parallel universes, where the new message, embodied in the implant, contrasts with the main narrative of the painting or, by patching a part of it, disrupts the routine, thus creating a mystically secret sense.
Jana Jakobsone / Maksla XO gallery, 2017
Ieva Iltnere. Babel.- Exhibition Catalogue (Curator, Editor of catalogue, Author – Ilze Zeivate). –Riga: Maksla XO Gallery, 2016. – 41.p.
Ieva Iltnere. The same but different again
All artists create worlds each in his or her own way. The difference lies in whether the author is only a detached observing demiurge or a present creator who embodies his or her personal reflections and emotions in works of art. Ieva Iltnere definitely belongs to the second group because the sophisticated aesthetic of her paintings and paradoxical subjects not only constantly stimulate the viewer’s imagination but behind every work they allow us to sense the presence of the artist herself and her witty and joyful commentary. They are like images the artist has named in whispers and created in her studio through eye to eye conversations with the canvases. Now these canvases whisper what they have retained in their memory to us too.
Regardless of the serious title “Babel”, Ieva Iltnere’s latest works have neither a religious nor a moralising tone. Iltnere rather uses this word without its negative connotations as a metaphor for the world’s diversity and splendour. This exhibition is like a light and playful conversation about themes the artist herself is interested in – from politics to modern architecture, from fashion to anthropology and ethnography. We can see how the artist really enjoys the opportunity to mix together different visual codes, playing with associations, freely combining objects and images to create unique cultural fusions. Like with the letters of the alphabet – all mixed up in one text but every arrangement having its own meaning.
As always, Ieva Iltnere’s works radiate a cool charm and eternal elegance so befitting of their refined scales of grey. We can feel a delicate and careful approach in every line and colour field that results in a kind of dangerous attraction that high fashion has. Beauty is the most difficult substance to capture here because it can take on the most diverse shapes and forms. Beautiful are the exotic aborigines and fashion freaks with skin pigmentation problems. Beautiful in their wildness are the cheetahs grazing nightly in the city suburbs and a tragic beauty is radiated by the staged scenes around a pool that always smack of wealth and violent death. Everything in Iltnere’s works is so motley but at the same time so uniform; it is as if fantasy and reality are holding hands like two lovers.
However, it is important that alongside aestheticism, the artist always keeps a place for irony. This is not with a concrete direction or aim; it is not critical or provocative but rather the trait of a free thinking individual that leaves an impression on the canvas during the work process. At this point the title of the painting plays an essential role. It sets our sight at such an angle so that we can see the Last Supper as a buffet dinner behind the wire fencing of a ghetto or intuitively compare architect Oscar Niemeyer’s unrealised museum of modern art project with the situation in Latvia. Among the “Babel” subjects everyone can spot something they can relate to. It is important though not to attempt to compare these works as the artist’s stream of associations with the informative template of banal news. After all, it is not compulsory for a dark skinned person behind a fence to be a refugee. World events give Ieva Iltnere material for reflection but they will never become the theme of a painting in a direct way. If a work appears in the exhibition with the title of “Hybrid War” it does not mean the artist has taken a particular position; perhaps she simply likes this name.
Ieva Iltnere. Paintings.- Catalogue (Curator, Editor of catalogue, Author – Ilze Zeivate). –
Riga: Maksla XO Gallery, 2014. – 40.
The painter Ieva Iltnere’s art could be described as gently defiant. She has succeeded to retain her unique and recognisable style while transforming and experimenting at the same time. A couple exceptions dating from the 1990’s apart, Iltnere has been consistent in her preference of the centuries-old art medium that is painting, somehow managing to be always contemporary.
Since 2007 Ieva Iltnere’s paintings achieve their inimitable power by making supertemporal aestheticism, ornamentality and, to call things by their proper names, beauty to mix with documentation of the era, irony and even social commentary. The paintings are unique with their paradoxicality – not quite intellectual (in the sense that attempts of conceptualising makes us misunderstand the work) and yet vaguely stimulating the mind, never allowing to trust one’s senses completely (something will also probably be missed by a naively enthusiastic viewer). Feelings and sensibility are present, yet susceptible to displacement. Everything is perfect, yet nothing is in its proper place.
Artis Svece, 2014.