Writing is always the first step of my work, I don’t start with shapes or colours, I start with words, later sketch the story and finally, tell it on canvas.
Ipek Ergen is living the artist’s life, spending countless hours in her studio and travelling around the world. It’s no wonder that her creativity and inspiration are in abundance and the symbolism in her works are often illusionary and playful, but not without the darkness that is often found in human behaviour. The narrative, costumes, masks and colours all complement each other in Ipek’s finished paintings: there is a dreamlike quality to discover as there is in Ipek herself. I recently asked Ipek some questions about her life, her works and inspirations. An interesting force and incredible airbrush artist that is always ready to discover new worlds and bring them to life on the canvas!
Ipek, your work is incredibly unique and beautifully detailed. How did you begin using airbrush techniques and what in your background lead you to using this medium?
In Fine Arts University, I had a very traditional education; using only oils, working with models in classical poses, reproducing old masters… Everything about art felt so serious and heavy back then. When I graduated, I needed something lighter, more fun, I needed some fresh air. This search led me to spray paints and airbrush. I wanted to give my works the feeling of restored and colorized old b&w photographs, so I started working with many thin layers of sprayed black ink and colour them with watered down acrylics. With this series, I won the “Young Painter of the Year” award and kept improving the same technique since then.
Does your studio need to differ from another artist who may paint in oils and acrylics? What is your studio set up like and while you are sharing that with us, we would love to know what a typical day for you is like!
There’s no typical day for me :) My husband is a captain pilot; I am a painter, so we are a family who totally lost the sense of time and place! Generally, we wake up and have breakfast at meaningless times like 3 am or something, and he goes to his flight to who knows where and I go, often camping in my studio for days or maybe I decide to go with him and we find ourselves going to another corner of the earth for lunch. We follow each other around the world; we are always on the road! Not settling down like this is so much fun and extremely nurturing for my creativity.
As I work and live in two different countries, go back and forth like 8 times a month, sometimes the airplane is a bedroom, (I always, always sleep during flights!), back of the car is the dining room, the storage room of the gallery becomes my studio. The thing is; I actually have a very organized and large studio facing a beautiful garden and fountains, everything begins there, and then I start to carry a bag of art supplies and rolled up canvas with me everywhere. I just need a cosy place, some fresh air, a good mask, and a box of gloves, because the ironic thing is I’m allergic to most of the paints!!
What is the most dominant source of inspiration and motivation in your creative process?
Always being on the road, wandering around the earth is my main source of motivation! There are exciting things in every corner, so I usually find myself rushing to my studio after every trip. Other than that, I find inspiration in random things like a line I have read in a book, a word I hear in a song, a Deja vu feeling, a place I walk in, the animal world in general, human psychology, daydreams, anime, manga and otaku culture, vintage cartoons especially Alice in Wonderland, vintage postcards, 1930s and 40s models and actresses…
Your artwork heavily features women and women in masks and costumes, is there a symbology and narrative behind their presence in most of your works?
I love to play with symbolism and turn my works into a treasure hunting game. They are full of symbols to discover and hidden layers that can only be seen under a black light. You will always find a black light torch on the table near my paintings in every exhibition or art fair, but I never show it, it’s up to you to play the game :) Animals, crystals, mushrooms, costumes and masks they are all part of the game and they are all representations of different human behaviours.
In every painting I tell the story of a different heroine; Veronica, Sofia, Lily, Carmen…I always note the name of the heroine on the back of the canvas. Every background story is surprisingly detailed, some of them are pages long.
Writing is always the first step of my work, I don’t start with shapes or colours, but I start with words, later sketch the story, and finally tell it on canvas.
I love that there is often a familiar companion with your heroines. Is the presence of animals significant in your pieces?
I often use animal symbolism to explore human behaviours and darker corners of human psychology, especially rabbits. For me, rabbits represent luck, intuition, finding your way underground, in the dark and unknown, always managing to go back to sunshine using your inner vision and talent. Curiosity, adventure and the drive for discovery are my favorite themes! Just like Alice, following the white rabbit in the beginning of the story, without even questioning why and where this can lead her. My animals are always there with a mission, for example I painted this show rabbit called Mike, that accompanies the burlesque performer Sophia in her stage. Another rabbit was the messenger that brings the heroine Ivy, a letter from a faraway place. I also love to use unusual animals as companions; a lady taking her pig for a walk on the seaside, or a girl taking advice from her mouse friend, some girls have their pet fish on a leash. Deer’s and their antlers are common symbols I use for masculinity, since i only paint female figures on canvas.
What do you hope that people feel when seeing your works? Are there certain emotions you try and evoke from your pieces for the viewer?
“Curiouser and curiouser!” I just want people to stop for a minute when they pass by one of my paintings and be curious about its story.
Could you describe how you decide on what colour palette to use? You seem to lean towards these earthy tones of oranges and browns that create this dreamlike feeling that compliments the texture of the airbrushing.
That’s the consequence of my obsession for the vintage postcards of old actresses and pin up girls. I always mix my colors with different shades of yellows and ochres. I sometimes thin my acrylics with coffee to give that vintage, yellowed picture feeling. You would be suprised if you hear the weird things I put on canvas to make some specific effects :)
If you feel comfortable, I am sure our followers would love to know more about you personally, where you live and how your childhood and current surroundings have influenced your pieces and your choice to become an artist (if it was a choice!)
This month I’m completing my first year in Germany and I extremely love it in here! I love working, creating, spending time in beautiful gardens and watersides, I love the Rhine River, I love the huge art supply stores, my gallery Art42, the artists that I meet, and fabulous street art pieces everywhere; they are all huge influences on me.
I was born in Istanbul, a magical and influential city: big family of artists, dance teacher father, musician and ballerina mother, aunts and cousins all musicians, living all together, very crowded and fun environment. When I started walking, simultaneously I started to paint on the walls of our house and my family treated them like masterpieces. I was this extremely quiet child who just always paints by herself, who has imaginary animal friends (that was not so hard to guess, right?), who loves to create and paint stories with them in it. I was obsessed with my Alice in Wonderland videotapes, the ones with red dressed Alice that was created in 1985; I still watch them sometimes while painting! So, not a single person was surprised when I decided to go to art school. I started to take painting lessons at the age of 6 (didn’t like it at all), studied painting at university and had a master’s degree of art and design. Never stopped learning, never had enough.
I am fascinated by the whole air brush process, could you speak a little about how a piece is created? What would you recommend for someone that might be interested in starting to airbrush as a medium?
When I’m against an empty canvas, I start with a watered down ink that just leaves some blurry stains when sprayed on. I add more ink for darker parts. This simply creates the body of the work. Then I start doing the lineart with very thin brushes and acrylic. This part takes much time, sometimes a week. I add layers of acrylic, ink, neon paint, ecoline, dry pastel, coffee, more acrylic, and some airbrush paint. Sometimes I love to play with gold leaf. I always finish it with a final layer of UV protective spray, varnish or resin. If I use resin, I love to mix it with real gold dust for sparkles! Controlling the airbrush is so much different from the brush, you need to make it a part of your body, so my only recommendation would be to make as many practice pieces as possible with blank canvases. And always protect your work with proper sprays or varnish if you don’t want to see your painting vanish after years.
Is there anything you would like to attempt that you haven’t had time for yet? Or any unfulfilled art fantasies that we may see more of in the future?
Everything starts as a dream, then becomes a plan, then becomes reality. But I have this ritual of being extremely quiet about dreams or goals, and never share them before seeing visible results. This somehow keeps me motivated.
What is on the horizon for you?
I’m just back from Munich, I was there for Artmuc art fair, and soon I’m traveling to Hamburg for a group show. For the rest of the year and the upcoming year, we are planning to attend art fairs in Switzerland, Austria, group shows in France, Germany and Netherlands on the horizon.
I recently had my 5th solo show, here in Germany at Art 42 Kunsthandel, and I already started to work on the theme for my next solo with them. Also, I hope I’ll finally have enough time and energy to start working on my PhD this year!