1-on-1: Iriée Zamblé

Skandl’s 1-on-1 series is where we speak with the artists, producers, designers, and other creatives, who are inspiring us and gifting us new ways to think. For this edition we spoke with painter and illustrator Iriée Zamblé about finding an original visual language and speaking about the being of people of colour.

Zamblé will be participating at the upcoming MERGE FEST on September 29, as part of the Centerpiece project.

Hi Iriée, can you remember when you first picked up a paintbrush, and what you were trying to achieve when you first started painting?

When I first started I just ran with it, with no clue to what I was doing, creating one big mess and chaos and trying to make all work. I can’t recall that I felt any restrictions of shapes and light. I looked at Basquiat’s work a lot. But sooner than later you have to figure out what your own style is and question yourself as to why it is you look up to a certain artist so much.

What felt as the first ”serious” attempt was really frustrating actually. When I started to look closer to textures and shapes of objects, I found it hard to learn technique. I am still in the act of learning. Learning about the right techniques and how to incorporate them with my own.

You started off with collage but have since been focusing on portraits, why the decision to change approaches?

The interest in people around me always shines a bit through my work. So when trying different techniques to those stories I want to tell, I’m looking for different ways to do so and that’s an ongoing process. I’m learning a new language, a visual one, which is getting new input constantly. You asking yourself a lot of questions while creating, and to me every artwork is answering one of those questions.

Just like a spoken language I think an artist’s style or technique is always evolving and changing until you have found the perfect voice to communicate what you’re trying to broadcast. Portraits to me are a very interesting language because it makes me question it’s function in this day and age and the content changes depending on the context. How is someone portrayed, and why, and how does someone want to be portrayed?

You have a really idiosyncratic painting style, how did this develop? Have you got any major artistic influences?

I am a big admirer of Henry Taylor’s work. I look at his work a lot. I think it is such a clever and beautiful way of expressing peoples charm along with their complexities. Each painted person deserves a different approach and I feel it is done brilliantly within his work.

In a painted piece of text you posted on Instagram earlier this year you mentioned a couple of major themes in your work. One was about creating power in order to affect change, is painting a way for you to generate power, do you think?

Definitely. If there is more visibility of quality art done by artists with different backgrounds and artists of color, I really do believe there is bigger chance of understanding one another. Art is a great and fun way to get informed about certain subjects.

Secondly, you wrote about “enjoying seeing”, specifically enjoying seeing people as people with all their complexities. Is this a reaction against a style or approach you see elsewhere that you dislike?

I wouldn’t say dislike… There are more and more artists of color that I see who are creating great work. Loads of important topics are finally getting the attention they deserve. But in order to be a good artists you have to stay close to who you are and what works best for you. To find the voice that you want to communicate with. And there are a lot of different approaches and voices in telling a ‘storyline within blackness’.

I like to put focus on the being of people of color. The fact that the people I paint, that I know personally, are there within the frame, in a quotidian setting to me, breaks from the expectations that I get a lot.

Do you personally know all of the people you paint, or do you work from photographs and memory as well?

When I started painting people I would use photographs that I collected from the internet and translate them into paintings. Now I collect my own snapshots and focus on the feel of the photograph and turn that feeling into a work.

In your paintings, peoples’ gazes also tend to be looking out of the frame, sometimes their eyes are not there at all. How do you think your work plays and/or comments on perspective(s)?

There have been loads of different remarks on these perspectives. One of the things I’m trying to focus on is how to give a positive representation of the black body in art. To do so I look at photography a lot, mostly at simple snapshots but also fashion photography. The intimacy of a (sometimes simple) photograph is what I am trying to portray in my paintings. This can also be a stone cold gaze, or a certain impression, or beauty I feel needs to be shared.

Headline image: Goldie Rose