Ivana de Vivanco: the cosmopolitan artist with an astonishing style

She is not afraid to put the spectator into an “uncomfortable” situation.
Ivana de Vivanco (personal website) is a half-Chilean, half-Peruvian young artist. She has the attention of many contemporary art experts. Her web-site includes  images of some of her most interesting paintings and tells us about her artistic path.

Face to face with Ivana de Vivanco

Q: 1) Ivana, you’re a young emerging artist, congratulations! You have already held numerous exhibitions in many parts of the world both solo (e.g. Santiago de Chile, Leipzig and Malaga) and collective (amongst others in Zurich, here in Switzerland). Let’s start from here: what are your next professional goals now? Do you particularly appreciate having exhibitions in other cities? 

Yes, sure. I’m always very happy to show my work in other cities and in other countries and to see how people with different cultural backgrounds react in front of the paintings. You know, exhibiting is an important part of the artist’s work. I have always thought that the viewer is the one who actually completes the painting by looking carefully at it. To be honest, it wouldn’t make any sense for me to paint just for myself… Exhibitions are a strange phenomenon though. They often generate contradictory feelings. At least I experience them that way. On the one hand, you want to desperately share what you’ve been doing for months in the loneliness of the studio. But on the other hand, one knows that the works shared are near failures, because one always has much greater ambitions. One ultimately abandons a painting in the end out of exhaustion to continue the fight on the same canvas, and wants to start a new battle. So yes, your question about exhibitions touches a sensitive fiber of the work of the artist! But to answer your question in a more direct way: there are periods with more exhibitions and others with less. As a young artist, one can knock on many doors or sometimes be surprised by an invitation to show something in a nice space, but all that is actually uncertain. The only thing that can be determined by the artist is hard work. I go every morning to the studio and keep persevering with strength in my pictorial research, and it’s precisely there, in the studio and in the exercise of painting, where I find my most important goals. The greatest artistic challenges are inside of the studio and not outside.

Ouvertüre Traurige Komödie

Q: Is it true that some of your works were inspired by the Bible? Why did you take this text (the Bible) as a reference in the creation of your works? And what provoked you to approach such a sacred text? Finally, regarding Philostratus, why did you choose his text as a reference?

Well, in the absence of external commissions, I have had to become my own patron since the very beginning and invent projects for myself, which are challenging enough to keep me busy and fighting in my studio. Exploring possible connections between image and word has been one of these challenges. I am particularly interested in investigating how painting is transformed in the contemporary context when confronted with other means of expression, such as those of a literary nature.
From 2011 until 2013 I worked for example with the book “Imagines” by Philostratus. This 2nd century Greek text contains eighty-two descriptions of paintings by various artists of antiquity. It is unknown if the paintings described by Philostratus actually existed and had not survived or if they were an invention of the philosopher himself. However, it was perhaps the physical absence of the described works that became one of the most important reasons for why this book acquired a prescriptive value, becoming a kind of manifesto for how the ancient mythological narratives should be represented pictorially. Throughout this three-year project I tried to reconstruct these paintings and to interpret them afresh.
And yes, currently I am working on paintings inspired by fragments from the Bible and studying classical representations of art history and religious iconography. I started this research in 2014 with a series of works about Adam and Eve. I really like the challenge of working with these difficult subject matters. Sometimes it takes an eternity to complete a painting. When working with these motifs that have been represented innumerable times throughout art history, it’s very hard to find a convincing form that accounts for a very old tradition, but simultaneously speaks of the here and now. Otherwise, there’s always a risk of landing in cringeworthy territory, especially for example when painting a virgin and child. The result can easily be horrendous and I’m actually confronted with this danger during the whole process. That difficulty, amonst others, makes the work in the studio much more stimulating.

Q:In many artworks you paint naked people, without a mask in their materiality. Is it correct? Materiality is important in painting. What technique do you use for bringing out bodies as real or consistent? And why are you so fascinated about nudity?

If we define materiality as a conscience about the sensibility and visual possibilities of the media, we can assert that this is important for every painter. Painting is a visual reflection and it cannot be separated from the material that constructs it. The material of a work of art, in this case oil and pigment, determines image and meaning. Constructing the human body and inventing a visual code to represent it through painting is particularly challenging. So, among other reasons, I’m fascinated about nudity because of the difficulty of giving a convincing, sensitive and authentic form to something that we know so well, such as our own bodies. That convincing form doesn’t have to be realistic though. The goal is verisimilitude rather than realism. What I paint, in this case a naked body, it has to conquer its own logic within the frame of the painting.

Das Doppelzimmer 6.000 Jahrhunderte nach der Erbsünde:The matrimonial chamber 6.000 centuries after the original sin

Q: In many artworks you create private spaces with strange things happening. You put the viewers into an “uncomfortable” situation; such as spying through the keyhole of a door… am I right?

Yes, sure. I have always thought that us painters behave a little bit like voyeurs. And maybe even like the paparazzi of our own invented characters, because after observing them in our imagination and giving them an external form on the canvas, we want to exhibit and divulge their pictures to the public. You can’t trust painters, really!

Q: You were born in Portugal and your parents are from Chile and Peru. What do you take from your father and mother, and from Santiago? And in general, what merits and defects does Leipzig have in your opinion, and in general, Germany for an artist… and in your case, as a woman?

To have an international life story has determined who I am and consequently also my work. I am who I am because I am Chilean, because I am Peruvian, because I was born in Portugal and because I moved around a lot in my childhood (I also partially grew up in Ecuador, for example). I don’t know if I can separate the individual elements of each country though. Everything is quite mixed: I supposed I’m a good cocktail! And I think Germany is a good place for cocktails nowadays. I feel well there. There’s a lot of space for art, and opportunities for artists, and the atmosphere in the realm of art and humanities is very stimulating.

Das Mädchen, die Zwerge, der Geist, die Maus und Nosferatu

Q: Have you ever been to Italy and Switzerland? What do you think about these nations? What cities do you like more, also in your life in general?

I have been in Switzerland just once. I went to Zurich, because of an exhibition and I had a great time there. People were very friendly and interested in the paintings. It was a pleasure to show my work there. I have been in Italy on numerous occasions and I even have family there. I have visited the north, and the capital several times, and I have been always fascinated by it. It is impressive how much art Italians have. Everywhere you go there is a little church with an ancient history and with treasures inside. Being there is very inspiring.

Q: Do you appreciate design? Have you had the chance to look at our project Nizza Paradise Residence in Lugano? What do you think about it? Your paints are perfect in a modern context, and in our opinion evocative for spectators. 

I checked the project on your website and it looks really nice! But regarding your comment about architecture, yes, it’s always exciting to show my paintings in different spaces: old buildings, but also modern, of course. Paintings change depending on the space in which they are exhibited and art also transforms spaces. The relation between space and a work of art is actually one of the most important challenges of exhibiting.


D: What programs do you have for the future of your beautiful work and your activity in general? What do you think will change the world of painting or contemporary art in next 10 years, if… in your opinion it will undergo further changes?

Wow, I’m not especially talented in the art of prediction! But I’m sure art will change because things in the world change. Art doesn’t have a separated path from reality. A good artist is always a sensitive person who observes what’s happening around and reacts through his work.

Photo credits: Lukasz Wisniewski, Uwe Walter.