From certain events, songs or pieces of art you remember exactly when you’ve seen it for the first time and how it made you feel. The very first work of Ingrid Baars I came across was Madonna, a wonderfully emotional portrait of a Saint-like lady with a thorned halo and cheeks stained with tears. It was love at first sight. I had to know who made the beautiful piece. Fortunately my search didn’t last long and I found the beautiful portfolio of Dutch artist Ingrid Baars. In this exclusive interview for the issue 017 of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine, Ingrid and I discuss her love for African art, the important role of women in her work, and her fascinating technique. Enjoy!
Hi Ingrid! You’ve been working on L’Afrique! since 2011 and have created a series where every new addition seems to complement the previous works and make the series as a whole even better. Do you think you will ever end the series, or is this life long fascination with the subject a life-long project as well?
Frankly… I don’t know. I just know that I still feel a drive to create more images within this series and would miss this theme so much when I would abandon it now. It would really feel like a premature end. I feel I could show so much more, still, and I’m so curious to see how far I can stretch my creativity… I don’t feel like I peaked yet. When I look at the first images I made in my ‘Afrique’ series I can clearly see my development. There are a few pieces from that early stage that are still strong and others that I’m not so happy with anymore. I wonder if I’m still getting better. Yes, I think this could easily turn into a life-long project… but maybe not planned. I think I will start a new series with white women too but will probably always work on my ‘Afrique’ series as well.
But I’m pretty sure my subject will always be women, women of all colors. Not men, but also not animals or nature, although these are important sources of inspiration for me, but I’m certain I will not make art of animals or nature for instance. It will always be human beings for me. Women.
There’s so much love for African art and culture showing in your work, many people will suspect you have African roots. Yet you mentioned in an earlier interview that you don’t, you’ve never even been to Africa! L’Afrique! has been the result of a lifelong fascination with the beauty of African women and classic sculptures. Can you tell a bit more about this fascination?
I cannot say that I have a lifelong fascination for classical African sculptures… I only became really aware of their existence around ten years ago when I accidently met people that were very active in this field. Collectors, experts… through these people I not only got to know more about this but also got the opportunity to touch and hold some of the most precious pieces, really getting to know what it was about and this is when I started taking pictures of the artifacts and so the idea took root to ‘mix’ elements from a mask or sculpture with African women. It was very tempting for me and still is. When I see a sublime mask, I start to wonder what I could add to make it my own, to bring it to life.
Classical African art invites me to work with all kinds of opposites I find in myself and then to try and find a balance…a controlled balance of all opposites united in the artworks I create. I love to work with contradictions, with opposites and the tension that arises from pairing different ‘worlds’. I find it fascinating to pair life with death, sweetness with evil, sensitivity with boldness and to travel through time. I find myself travelling to ancient times but also to an era like the Renaissance as well as to the future.
The women you portray in your work all look powerful, fierce and strong. Your latest portraits even show a Goddess-like, sacred look at femininity. How important is the role of women in your work?
Very important. This is indeed a life-long fascination. I remember when I was still very young I used to draw a lot and even then women, or girls at the time, were always my subject. I have always been fascinated by beautiful faces. When I was a little girl the face and the gaze of a doll was very important. It had to be exactly right. That’s what I’m most keen on still: the expression. I always strive for an expression where my women-figures display multiple emotions but at the same time are capable to not fully disclose all. That you feel close to her and in touch with her but can’t figure out what emotion is most present.
Although your work is often labeled as ‘photography’ you describe photography not as your end-goal, but as your point of departure. You shoot the original photograph and transform it into something you’ve called ‘a two-dimensional sculpture’ before. How much of the end-result is known to you when you start working on the photo shoot that starts it all? Is the photo shoot leading toward your final product or do you let your end-goal direct what you shoot?
I don’t have a certain way of doing things. I usually have some sort of idea when I do a photo-shoot of what I’m aiming for, but it’s more intuitive and improvisational. When I cast a model, I usually see her for the first time on the day the shoot takes place. Although I have seen many pictures of her, I still have to figure out what it is about her that I want to bring forward. This is very exciting and I respond to what is happening at that very moment and easily give up on what I planned in my head if something else is working way better. When I shot my material, and I scroll through the many pictures of that day I basically gather all best parts and start cutting and combining. I only work with parts of photographs, never use the whole original image. Mixing features from different women, transforming features, piling up layer after layer…, there is no way you could plan this on forehand. When I make a full length body artwork it hardly ever happens that the face of the woman in the picture belongs to the body of that same woman and it rarely happens that I shoot pictures that you can still recognize after I’m done doing what I do on my computer. But it does happen. For instance, I hardly changed anything on the faces of both Giulia and Lucrezia. I found the expression of girls, the make-up, the shape of these women’s features so convincing that I kept it in its natural state. But everything else about it…: the hairpieces, the veils and the garments are created by myself, there wasn’t a stylist present. I constructed that.
Just curious, since your two-dimensional sculptures look so different from reality and the photographs used as foundation for the work. How do the models respond to seeing your final piece for the first time?
I have never had a negative reaction from one of the models. Maybe they are proud that they are part of an artwork? The only time I had a very bad, even aggressive response was when I transformed the face and body of a top model and it was the agent who was really pissed of…The model herself loved it but her agent was kind of furious telling me that I had a bizarre look on beauty. What’s in a name ;)
As previously mentioned, you like to call your work ‘two-dimensional sculptures’, a label that suits your work perfectly. You’ve mentioned a love for Dutch fashion designer Iris van Herpen several times before, a designer well-known for using 3D-print technology. Do you ever see your two-dimensional sculptures transformed into three-dimensional sculptures in the future, maybe with the help of 3D printing?
I do have fantasies about this but I don’t know if this would work. Maybe with two or three images that are very much about shape but I don’t know how to deal with the textures, the light, all small details and colors… all things that play a very important part in my work to make the result into what makes it interesting…I don’t know what would happen when you take that away. But it’s certainly something I would like to explore in the (near) future.
Speaking of Iris van Herpen, next to your ongoing series L’Afrique! you started a new series called The Designer Collection for which you portray creations from your favorite fashion designers. Your first work, Wallflower, featured van Herpen’s work. Her symmetrical, futuristic work is a great match to your aesthetics! Can you tell a bit more about this new series and the collaboration with fashion brands?
I have always had a fascination for fashion both contemporary and historical. Actually, I have a love/hate relationship with fashion and especially the fashion-industry. I find it so stressed and exaggerated. But individual fashion pieces can be very inspiring to me. Sometimes I see a piece and find it so compelling that I love to give it an important role in my work and build a story around it.
You mentioned you love Viktor & Rolf, Alexander McQueen and Yiguing Yin. Could this be a sneak peek on who the next collaboration for The Designer Collection will be about?
No it’s not. And yes, I do love the work of these designers. I’m talking to Malakai Hom at the moment. I’m thinking of creating at least 3 pieces with his work.
You state artists Egon Schiele and Pablo Picasso to be of great inspiration to you. Picasso, also famously inspired by classic African art, once said, “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something. Afterward you can remove all traces of reality.” To what extent is it your goal to remove all traces of reality from your work?
Not a goal at all. I experimented with more abstract forms and images when I used to paint, several years ago but in the end, it’s not what interests me. Also within this series, I searched for ways to express myself in a more abstract way. You can find results of that in a piece like ‘Camille’. But although there’s a whole area I could explore more and from time to time I find it tempting, I am pretty sure my love for a more figurative way of working will always win.
Your work has been exhibited in galleries and museums all over the world. Can you name one museum or exhibition you’ve been to that has left an impression on you, and share why?
When I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum in London I brought my camera and traces of the marble and wooden figures I shot there are to be found in many images of this series. E.g. I shot the belly of my artwork ‘Venus’ at the V&A.
Next to your website, you’re also active on social media, Facebook and Instagram. How important is social media for you as an artist?
I think it’s very important and wonderful that as an artist you have these practical tools at your disposal to work on your own visibility. To be completely in charge of this. To be your own pr agent. I think it’s great that collectors can discover and find artists on Instagram or Facebook and can be in touch directly with the artist this easy. I find it hard to survive in the art world and it can be very frustrating to work with galleries that have many artists. I’m only active on Instagram for about a year now but I find it such a relief to not be dependent on other people for the sale of my work all the time.
What’s next for Ingrid Baars? Any updates on projects you are currently working on?
Right now, I’m finalizing a portrait of Angela Benton, a business woman from Silicon Valley who asked me if I was interested to portray her for the cover of her book. Angela’s life-story interested me and inspired me and this is why I decided to create her portrait as commission. And of course preparing for some shows lying ahead!
I’ve just finished a show in London for ArtLeadHer, curated by Mashonda Tifrere, and will have another on in New York later this year. Next to that, I’m working with three other female curators: I’m working on a show in Ghana and Miami with Mallence Bart Williams, a show in Paris with Maia Kerchache and one in Dallas with Deve Sanford, my first solo exhibition in the United States.
Last but not least, can you recommend a book, movie or artist you’ve enjoyed lately?
Well although I love a good movie and love to read, lately I’m quite addicted to watching good series for ultimate relaxation. I have seen quite a few, Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Six Feet Under, and Homeland to name but a few. Right now, I’m watching ‘Girls’. I think it’s pretty brilliant.