Currently living in NYC and assisting painter Pat Lipsky in her studio, Berta Ivanow is one emerging talent to keep an eye on. She refuses to be categorized or tagged, and so does her work: her paintings, sculptures and video creations move between the figurative and the abstract. Her new upcoming exhibition in the centre of Barcelona is one of her most important projects right now, so we wanted to catch up with her and see what’s going on in her life.
To start: define yourself in one sentence.
A definition would be to get into categories. I try not to classify myself so that I can find more truths.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist? Was there a specific moment when you realized?
Am I an artist? I don’t like the connotation it has nowadays... I paint and sculpt, and the moment I decided I wanted to dedicate myself to this for life was when I went to visit Miquel Barceló at his studio in Paris two years ago now. I was studying women’s wear design in Central Saint Martins in London and, one weekend after emailing him, I took the Eurostar and in a few hours I felt transferred into another dimension, where I felt so at ease that I wanted to make it mine. And here I am.
Yesterday I was reading the book Il libro dell’arte by Cennino Cennini and I discovered this chapter: “While some people come in on Art for courtesy to the soul, others do it for earnings. Some are inclined to devote themselves to art that they like with an innate love”. This has always been within myself.
You are a multi disciplinary artist: you paint, you sculpt, and you make video art. How do you choose the medium to express yourself in every occasion? Do you like one discipline better than the others?
I’ve been painting and painting for the last months, and that’s what I find the most challenging. Sculpture is something physical, material and it completes what painting doesn’t give me: a place for dimensions, a tangible reality. Video is a very handy tool to capture those intimate moments I share with the works of art of great artists.
Your paintings are abstract while your sculptures are figurative. Why is that?
Uhm… I do not think of my sculptures being figurative. Besides, I consider this word very restrictive and confusing. My paintings are abstract because they exclusively come from my mind world, but it is recurring that people search in them figurative realities.
Have you ever thought of reversing that? Do you think it would work?
I first started with the human figure... When I was at school, my art teacher made me do blind drawings of my hands, which consisted of merely observing one hand and drawing with the other without seeing what I was doing on the paper. It was such a revealing thing to do, because I was recalling imagination and purely observing. It was more an unconscious and direct act free from mental judgements saying how a hand should look like. Maybe the result of these experiments on someone's eyes are figurative or maybe abstract, I don't really know the difference.
When I show my friends what I am currently working on, they comment making references to real things: birds, vaginas, seascapes... While many art historians would consider them abstract. I guess it is man's self-indulgent fascination with man and the world she/he has created.
The sculptures you make give a sensation of rawness: no polishing, no painting, no entire body or figure. Why? What is (are) the message(s) behind them?
It’s just the way they come up, they are a consequent series of notes from pure observation. When I sculpt I always have a model posing for me. I am immersed on its shapes and volumes, which are pure abstraction. From this interaction a third presence arises and it is at this point when I feel scared. I am convinced that it already has a meaning and it is then when I stop working. It has, in its own particular shape, some sort of living quality.
The series of paintings Abstractions are a celebration of colour, composition and texture. Tell us more about it.
It all started in New York. I am currently assisting the painter Pat Lipsky in her studio in Chelsea. She is part of the New York School and Color field painting of the late 40s, early 50s. She shared her passion for color and I started to experiment in my studio; here I started my first drawings on paper.
I am always being asked about my inspiration. Of course I have my masters in painting like Manet, Velazquez, Morris Louis, Rothko, Mattisse... But when I am in the act of painting they are all in me but at the same time I am there alone, full of life and emotions.
In your video art creations we can see pieces by Chillida, Joan Miró and Josep Llimona. What other artists inspire your work and life?
This past summer I went to the Prado to see the 10 Picassos from the Kunstmuseum Basel, I was especially moved by Les deux frères and Femme au chapeau assise dans un fauteuil. I am in love with Picasso, I think he painted all the history in art. I am also astonished by the spatial conception and dramatic dimension of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work. I admire Henry Moore because he made me discover that void is as necessary as matter; the sense of humour and silence of Aki Kaurismaki, and the endless beauty of the women in Ingmar Bergman’s movies. Also, the bulb’s inventor that did something I consider impossible to create.
If you had to be in the studio of an artist (with him/her teaching you) for six months, who would you choose and why? What would you expect to learn?
Definitely Miquel Barceló. It left me so eager to know much more about him and what surrounds him. I don’t expect anything from anybody but I know I would learn a lot.
In the video El desconsol, you are deliberately touching and caressing a sculpture inside a museum. Did you get in trouble for that? Do you consider yourself a rule breaker (both in art and in life)?
(Laughs) Rule Breaker. Uhm... I think there are too many rules and rules for everything. The other day I heard there is a law in Barcelona that forbids nudism, but it’s not forbidden to go naked ridding your bike. In the museums there are boards warning “Do not touch”, so instead I decided to caress. Where I can never skip rules is in the Neue Gallery in New York. They are very German...
You’re going to exhibit your work in Casa del Alcalde, a gorgeous space in the centre of Barcelona. How do you feel about it?
La Casa del Alcalde is a distinctive space that is opening with an exclusive exhibition of my work. I feel the owner has given me a brilliant opportunity. I am excited to see what people think. I have been told there is an economic crisis. I hope it isn’t a crisis of opinions or taste.
In what other projects are you currently working on?
Listening to what I’ve been told by the woman who gave birth to me: “Focaliza, Berta, focaliza” (focus, Berta, focus). That’s what I try to do: one thing at a time and well done. So now I am organizing the exhibition and, next month, who knows.
If they told you that you had the power and freedom (and resources) to create an exhibition with your artwork, how would it look like?
I feel I do have the power and freedom now to do whatever I want. But I think I need to spend more time developing my art. I never contemplate an unlikely future, I live in this moment.