Irina Ojovan © Adrienne Meister
Irina Ojovan © Adrienne Meister

After visiting Irina Ojovan during her art residency stay at Berlin’s Künstlerhaus Bethanien, we met up with her again to find out why the Moldova-born, Germany-based artist, known for being a versatile colourist, suddenly turned to black in her new series. Colours are more than just hues and shades in Ojovan’s paintings and sculptures.

They are the bridges to the artist’s “subconscious archive, her playground of expression”. Her matte black and full-bodied coloured surfaces bring about captivating effects, being completely light absorbing, with no gloss or reflections to adulterate the expression of pure pigment.

The paintings are an invitation to enter an in-between space, a space of becoming, where everything seems possible.

In the following interview, Ojovan reflects on her idea of space, the plurality of black and its ability for new beginnings.

Black is the chaos that precedes the beginning

Irina Ojovan, Diploma Exhibition view 2018:Meisterschülerausstellung
Irina Ojovan, Diploma Exhibition view 2018:Meisterschülerausstellung

„Because black for me:-has the latency of creation, of beginning.-is the chaos that precedes the beginning.-it is how I see the silence.-is a color that I would use to paint
the silence.-it express the idea of absence.-is a kind of emptiness that for me is an affirmation.-it is how I see the invisible.-is a statement for expressing subtraction.-it encloses the thoughts.-is the form of the memory.-it is an intimidator.-is all the things I think about.-tells me: Forget safety!“

-Irina Ojovan

Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa N 50, 2018, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82x71 cm_Sarmizegetusa N 61” 2019, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82x71 cm
Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa N 50, 2018, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82×71 cm_Sarmizegetusa N 61” 2019, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82×71 cm

Your previous series of works are very colourful. Suddenly you turn to black. What triggered your choice of black as the leading colour?

Yes, in my previous series of works I used a large range of colours. White – the white of the primed canvas – was always a starting point for those paintings. When I decided I wanted to build a new body of works, I was sure a big change needed to happen.

At that point it wasn’t enough for me for colour to be the key element.

I was not interested in becoming a pure colourists and I was aware that I didn’t want to use effects. This led me to think about drawing – the study of drawing not only as a line, but as geometry, perspective, anatomy, architecture, the study of light and of colours, not just the use of light and colours any more. Until the 17th century, drawing was intended as “the foundation of art“ and its “contour lines“ prevailed over the colours of painting.

All this reflection led me to the choice of not starting from the white of the canvas anymore, but from black. Seeing it as the presence of all colours allowed me to dig deeper. A matte and full-bodied colour surface, perfectly light-absorbing, with no gloss or reflections to adulterate the expression of pure pigment and of the pure idea. This invites me to get into the painting, also on a subconscious level, in a void open to possibilities.

Sarmizegetusa N 61”2019 oil and lacquer on canvas 82x71 cm

Invisible space and Imaginary depth

Which of these elements (space, air, fire, water, earth) would you choose in relation to your practice and yourself, and why?

I could find affinity with more elements – there is so much to say but for the moment I will talk about how I perceive the element of space in my practice. I have chosen space because even if we spontaneously associate it with emptiness and the invisible, for me it is the element that speaks to me the most.

It is an area that is available to be used and completed; it is wide, wild and unknown.

It is very present in the way I work on my sculptures and wall objects. At the beginning the invisible space around the found materials has the same value for me as the materials themselves, as it is there that my imagination can fly, can manifest itself, that it can make and take decisions. As a result, part of the invisible space that surrounds the object becomes visible, takes on shape and in the end completes the whole.

In my paintings space has another importance; it is imaginary depth.

When I visited you, we spoke a lot about the meaning of black, the underlying psychology of colours. Do you consider yourself spiritual and how does this feed into your work?

My world is structured in such a way that silence and stillness are a rule. I will not go into this subject further, but just give you this quote by Agnes Martin:

„You can’t be in an unconscious state and paint. Because whatever is in your mind, and not the subject matter, but the feelings that you have related to that subject matter, is what you’re going to paint. So, the beginning is not actually painting, you know. The beginning of painting is not you put down green, and then you like pink, and you put down pink. Painting’s not about that any more than music is about this sound and that sound … And it’s something that drives you to expression. And it’s irresistible. “

Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa N 60 2019 oil and lacquer on canvas 82x71 cm
Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa, N 60, 2019, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82×71 cm

We also spoke about the meaning of home. You grew up in Moldova and have lived in Italy and Germany. What does home mean to you?

At the moment I am arriving at the realisation that I associate the concept of home with the space that I call my studio. My Studio is my Home. Metaphorically speaking I see it as an imaginary ship that is still free to travel around the world, which can sometimes be compared to an island.

I hope it will become solid, as big as a continent in the near future.

Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa N 3637 2018 marmor
Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa, N 3637, 2018, marmor

Subconscious archives leading to future imprints

Is there a book or author you are reading or one in general that stimulates or inspires you?

In my practice I try to stay on the road of formal simplification and of creating restrictions in order to achieve a centered concentration. My intention is always to have a result that is a reality in itself and not a work about something or other. That is why I can say that concrete poetry inspires my world a lot – the beauty of a sentence conveyed in a single word, or longer statements represented by small groups of letters.

You were at Künstlerhaus Bethanien from April to October 2019. How did Berlin and the Bethanien artist residency as a surrounding environment influence your work?

I tried a lot to involve my subconscious archive that has a close connection with my memories, memories that with time become pure synthesis.

An idea for a new work, sometimes unconsciously, starts on the background of an experience but with the intention of creating a „real” experience that happens just when the work itself becomes an experience. Sometimes real-life observations serve as the backbone for my works, which manifest themselves as translations of the shapes, shadows, and other visual sensations I experience in the world around me.

That is why I believe that the real impact of the surrounding environment of Berlin and Bethanien on my practice will come out in the future, leaving an imprint in my next series.

Irina Ojovan, Sarmizegetusa N 5022 2018 oil on canvas 82x71 cm
Sarmizegetusa N 50 2018, oil on canvas, 82×71 cm1

Please tell us what you are currently working on and what you are looking forward to in terms of exhibitions this year?

At the moment I am fully immersed in new research, a new beginning of a new body of works. I am trying to construct, visualize and sketch the foundations of my next solo exhibition at Loock Galerie during the Berlin Gallery Weekend next spring.

My works are currently on view at a group exhibition at Galerie Russi Klenner alongside Paris Giachoustidis and Johannes Daniel in Berlin and I am taking part in the „Jahresgaben2019” exhibition at Kunstverein München opening on 6 December.

A solo presentation of my work will be starting at Sotheby’s München on 22 January.

Find out more about Irina´s work on her website or follow her on Instagram!

Header Photo: “Sarmizegetusa N 73” 2019, oil and lacquer on canvas, 82×71 cm / “Sarmizegetusa N 20” 2017, stone and epoxy, 5,5×31,8×2,8 cm. jpg

Photo credits: courtesy the artist

Author: Inga Nelli