In the studio with Iris Kojaman

In the studio with Austrian-based artist Iris Kojaman. We met with Iris to tell us more about the inspirations behind her practice, her ideal conditions for creating art, and what she hopes to explore further in the future.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

There were several times when I saw myself as an artist. As a child, a teenager, being accepted at the Art Uni and than again once after finding my artistic voice. It is a path and something I‘ve always been at the same time. 

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? 

I am from Vienna, Austria. A very historic place. My parents were raising me with the freedom to let me be. My mother was a teacher and my father an electric engineer. My mother also had a wool shop and my father an electric shop. I spent a lot of time  between the colours of all this wool and the workplace of an electrician. When I was bored I built things out of wood, nailed, hammered or filed  something. Or I painted, knit or arranged things new there. They even let me decorate the shop window according to my taste and style. I took the trust, the independence and urge to do what I want from my family/ from this time.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? 

My mother offered me a big variety to experience different materials. She offered me a glimpse into the art world that I really needed. We went to museums, theater plays and she read to me a lot. In came my love for music. And I became obsessed with learning to play my instrument properly. I even went to music schools most of my young life long. At the age of 17 my art teacher at school (at the music school) told me that I have to do something with my talent for painting. So she provided me with different colours, paints and books. After time I found out what the right material for me would be and that indeed was a game changer. It can unlock a lot of potential if someone believes in you.

What’s the message of your work? 

To be present. My themes come from everyday life. A certain beam of light, a colour combination, a movement of a person or the absence of it all can lead to the urge to paint it.  Big areas of colour that describe the pictured scenery dominate the impression but at the same time it is clear that these fields are just the ladder hold to let the  illusion of dimension collapse. The main character in my paintings is the unnatural flat aera of colour that brings back the attention to the surface of the painting. No story is told and everything is happening at the moment we are looking at it. As if that stops the illusion from being a 3 dimensional image to taking it back to it’s ‘now, to it’s presence and origin. My themes are sourced in nature, in indoor rooms or at places where the human figure is missing somehow. But lately I try to place its presence back into the painting. 

Who and what are your greatest influences? 

The British Painter Tom Hammick had a huge influence on my work. I found out about him a few years ago. And through his work I fell in love with painting again.  I just looked and reflected for weeks and months. The simplicity of the pictured image, the love for his family, the essence of colour and the vitality to keep on painting for decades gave me a reason to paint. 

My own figurative painting style felt like it has come to an end and I had the feeling that I did everything I wanted to do with figurative painting. I needed a rebirth and I found it in the essence of colour and love. And later on my path in shifting more and more to abstraction. I owe him my world.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

The flowers and the arrangement of a Parisien florist-shop. The colours, patterns and colour combinations are magnificently inspiring for me.  I knew straight away I have to remember them and probably work with their selection of structure and colour. Plus a pile of sketches I made about 2 years ago and I‘ve totally forgotten about. Now the time is ripe for them. 

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it?

I see the process of creating as a way of searching, researching you could say. And it is extremely positive to share these new ways of seeing with someone else. The paintings don’t work without people who can view them. Like sound that does not exist if nobody is receiving it.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise?

I come from the figurative aera of painting. Unexpectedly, I walked more and more into the field of abstraction recently . My paintings still originate in the real world but transform into something else now. This condition was and is a big change in my practice and aesthetic. It offers me a lot of space, room and freedom in front of me.  

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

Ideally I have a lot of time ahead. That gives me the freedom of mind to put myself into the process of creating. I need this condition usually when planing and drawing for a new piece of art work. I‘ve noticed that it works best for me if I break the process of creating down into pieces.

Usually a new idea for a painting needs some time to take shape. From the moment of having the  idea to the moment of knowing exactly how to do it some time has to go by. At the moment I have about 5 paintings planned ahead.

Tell us about the inspiration behind one of your  works?

Stroked by the Thistle is a very important painting for me. When I saw the scenery I knew straight away that I have to paint it. It was a certain beam of light, with unusuall big thistles growing out of a wild garden. 

It happened to me several times that I knew at that very moment that something about it is important for my work. That I wanted to remember and then paint. Very often these paintings are milestones in my artistic practice. And so is Stroked by the Thistle. This painting in particular led me into the abstract world.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I hope to find out which role the human figure should play in my paintings. This is often my blind spot. The rest I trust in to come naturally.

Describe your work in three words:

Light, intensive and detached.

What do you listen to while you work? Is music important to your art?

There are periods of time where I listen to the same album over and over again. As if nothing else makes sense for a certain painting. That goes on until I‘ve almost overdone it. Alternated by silence if I have to concentrate a lot. Or if I need a break from input while creating. So I would say music is actually as important as silence for my work.

What is your favorite read?

What I enjoy reading at the moment is Sally Rooney’s books, a Biography of David Hockney and Rick Rubin’s The Creative Act.

My all time reads are Peter Høeg, the Austrian Author Michael Köhlmaier and the classic Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Best piece of advice you’ve ever received (any quotes or mantras you particularly connect with)?

“Some days are like onion, some are like honey.”

It’s a saying my now husband sent me on a tough day I had while traveling the world alone, some years ago. Bed bugs, a difficult route and a broken camera are some of the things I still remember  from that day. He must have sensed that I sometimes forget that good and bad times take turns.

What makes you laugh ?

My best friend, pop candy and shouting out “hello” to sunflowers when driving by a sunflower field.

What makes you nervous?

Too many animals on one spot, some noises , a 2nd coffee a day and handling several things at the same time. 

Is there anything you wish you were asked more often?

I actually enjoy talking about my work and I like to picture my path from figurative to more and more abstract art. It is my personal liberation act and the window into my required craving to create art. An area where everything is possible and where intuition is key.

Is there anything you’ve recently tried for the first time? 

Allowing a pet for my daughters, which we will pick up in a few weeks. Plus a more watery painting technique.

Is there anything you’ve been hesitant to try in the past but you’d like to this year?

To work on two different bodies of work in my two studios. Usually I bring paintings from one studio to the other one. But to work simultaneously on two bodies of work is definitely new for me. I want to keep working on my bigger paintings and more comprehensive body of work at my main studio but also start working on small paintings/drawings at my small City Center Studio for an upcoming solo next year.

Do you have any superstitions?

Manifestation through picturing something in my mind.

Would you rather know what the future holds or be surprised?

I would rather be surprised. I think to know what the future holds would make anyone loose all their spirits and passion.

What place in your everyday environment do you go to for inspiration?

There is a walk nearby where I live, the local children call it the Rooster-Path since there is a rooster somewhere along the way. And if you turn off this path there is the most inspiring place I know. It is a former birch forest, with knee-high grass, lots of birds up in the air and a strange silence. It is the birthplace of my painting Wintery, Summery Daisy and I think I could make so many more originating there.

What are some things you’re most passionate about outside of your practice?

Astronomical discoveries in Physics. Since the JW Telescope is up in the orbit there is so many new discoveries that leave us stunning behind. Physics is my secret love. It gives me the feeling of understanding more about the meaning of life.

What is your relationship with social media?

For me it is most of the time very positive and inspiring. When I started painting some years ago, there were only books, word of mouth and visiting artists and exhibitions available as an input from the art world. Now we have the chance to learn about so many great artists around the world. See what they are working on, hear their thoughts and struggles. Since I am a curious person who needs a lot of input for my personal well-being, it is actually the perfect tool for me to learn, to grow and to stay awake in my mind.