|This biography from the Archives of AskART:|
|Inger Jirby Interview (1994)|
Copyright by Jessie Benton Evans
Jessie Benton Evans: When you go out in nature, what triggers your artistic vision?
Inger Jirby: An absolute emotional response beyond words. I'm overwhelmed by the beauty and moods of a church, or the small Rio Grande Gorge village of Pilar. Driving from Santa Fe to Taos, the opening of the Gorge takes my breath away. Shapes, colors, moods astound me because they're so gorgeous. Before they are analyzed, they create a feeling. It's complex. Picked apart, they become rock formations, glitters in the river. To analyze in advance cuts off the creative process.
Evans: What do you love most about nature?
Jirby: Nature has so many facets. I like things that are absolutely beautiful. I experience incredible dimensions, textures. I've painted Pilar with a feeling of human intimacy, even when looking down from a hill at the village, edged by cliffs and the river.
Hiking this year, I experienced the enormity of the landscape. I felt so small, like dust. Yet this made it even more magnificent and fantastic. I'm drawn to the beautiful, the peaceful, the dramatic. There is a certain kind of drama in everything I do. Just my way of being is dramatic.
Evans: You describe your childhood home of Lapp Land, Sweden, as dramatic.
Jirby: Lapp Land is above the Arctic circle, the land of the midnight sun. It is very intense because the seasons are so extreme. Everything is speeded up for survival. Summers are very brief and intense. Growing season is June, July and August. Then the whole harvest must be brought in. I didn't like to go to sleep with the sun shining. One month in summer the sun never set, and one month in winter the sun never rose. Living in the perpetual dark, going to school in the dark, was very strange, unpleasant and depressing. During difficult winters, Lapps would come into Kiruna, my childhood town in Lapp Land, in their special sleighs covered with reindeer hides and pulled by reindeer.
As a child, I didn't take nature's phenomena for granted. I noticed these astounding things happening in nature. I thought it was special when visiting my grandfather in Stockholm and night darkened in the normal way. August was summer in Stockholm and autumn in Lapp Land. In the fall, artists came to Kiruna and further north to paint, because the colors were so incredible, as spectacular as New England foliage, with cobalt blue lakes. Swedish artists love color. A lot of Swedes studied Matisse and the Fauves in Paris. Most Swedes opt for the sun. At twenty, I studied art in Mykonos, Greece, an island dry like the desert, with incredible intensity, color and architecture. Then I lived in Paris, Venice, Jamaica, and New York before coming to New Mexico.
Evans: I see you as a master colorist, suffusing your paintings with light and brilliance, with startling, unexpected, color combinations that seem strong and elemental yet extremely sophisticated. Even your night paintings have a dazzling luminosity and resonance.
Jirby: I set an abstract color scheme. I might decide to cool down the color, or to increase its intensity to create color climates or specific color moods, as well as letting local color influence me. I like very brilliant, vibrant colors like vermilion red, cadmium red light, magentas and violets. I express my Self, how I feel about my subject. It's a way of imposing myself on the subject rather than subordinating myself to it. Red, a favorite color, raises the blood pressure. I'm addicted to the excitement of life. My paintings are a celebration of life. There are colors in the fall that absolutely explode in my mind, that I feel are almost penetrating my whole being. Standing under a huge autumn golden tree at Rancho de Chimayo, I become yellow all over, with a feeling of being penetrated by suns. Colors give physical and emotional sensations. We resonate to
different color frequencies and wavelengths.
Evans: Describe a painting day. Do you know in advance what you'll paint?
Jirby: I have a general destination in mind. Driving to a place 30 to 60 minutes away gives me a chance to calm way down, to get in a meditative space away from phones and activity. It prepares and focuses me for painting. On arrival, I search for a scene that excites me. I sketch a composition, then spin the color wheel in my mind to decide what
color scheme to use, then paint. But I'm flexible. I don't force or impose it, but instead stay in tune with what's out there.
Evans: So many artists paint in the studio. You paint on location, whether interiors, buildings or landscapes. A vitality and energy seems to be transmitted to the work by painting from life, even though you don't paint literally.
Jirby: I feel that to paint landscapes in the studio is a form of insanity. Out in touch with nature, I pick up speed. I invent more in nature. Nature is so abundant, rich and varied. Nothing in the studio is as significant as what's out there. Painting from life gives a liveliness. Even when a subject is abstracted, it's more observed. I use life, but I'm not trying to be a naturalist, rather I "re-create" than imitate. In the studio, I slow down and think too much. A lot of artists paint in the studio because they are afraid, they can't abstract from nature, and nature blows their formulas and theories. You can't be afraid to have your ideas change or evolve. I may decide on one thing and end up with something totally different. It wasn't easy for the big masters -- like Van Gogh, or Gauguin. They tried to be honest and get to the essence of things. They didn't lie about what they saw and try to do it easily. Look at Cezanne -- how he suffered and pushed a painting to an ultimate completion. His models almost dropped dead of exhaustion.
Evans: You paint yourself and your son in some of your interiors.
Jirby: I use myself because I'm available, I can paint myself in any context, and I can go beyond naturalism without having to please anyone. A teacher of mine once told me that the minute a figure is put into a landscape, it becomes the center of interest. I have begun to put people in my landscapes to add another dimension, integrating them as part of the natural scene as Van Gogh did. I want to paint portraits from direct observation to keep from formula.
Evans: What is your philosophy of life and how does it reflect in your art?
Jirby: To live one day at a time, without futurizing or living in the past. When I paint, I'm the cleanest. I achieve my life philosophy. I live in the now, in tune with myself and thought processes and what's out there. I'm part of the universe. I'm not the bark on the tree -- I am the tree. My art is a celebration of life, and the divinity and beauty in all things. I get back whatever I put into life. I try to keep my attitude positive, not denying the dark side, but not dwelling on it. Often my change of attitude causes a problem to disappear. Life to me is joyful, full of surprises. I have a childlike expectancy and wonder. I'm aiming to live to 104 and to die with a brush in my hand.
Evans: How did you become an artist?
Jirby: Lapp Land had a lot of art. Kiruna has iron mines. People had money and nothing to spend it on, so they bought art. Painting dealers would bang on doors and sell paintings. Being an artist was respected there, the "ultimate" you could be. As a child, I played at being an artist and at ten was given my first box of oils, setting up my studio in our hallway. At school, I was a big star because I excelled in art. When I said I would be an artist, I was told, "Don't say it out loud, because most people only dream of becoming one." At age 18, I dared. My relatives had enormous pride in me. They never put me down. No one asked what I was earning. My parents helped me to go study art in Greece. My aunt helped to sell my paintings.
Evans: Were you afraid to go to a new country alone?
Jirby: I didn't know the language, but Mykonos is very international, and I knew English, French, German and Swedish before I left. Yes, I did have fear, but I have never let fear stop me or paralyze me. New places feel uncomfortable, but once I'm set in surroundings, it goes away.
Evans: What language do you think in?
Jirby: Swedish and English. In painting, I think in English, because I learned how to paint in English.
Evans: Do you go back to Sweden?
Jirby: Every second year, I return, because I have begun to miss Sweden and because I taught my son Swedish and we have relatives there. But New Mexico is my whole life, my home. I love the gorgeous, interesting, beautiful landscape, the architecture, cultures and people.
Evans: Do you feel a spirituality in nature?
Jirby: I feel a part of nature, closer to my higher power. That's why I like to be out there. Nature is my connection with God that I have through my art. I believe that I could not have survived without my art. For years, that was the only spirituality I had. Now I have a more encompassing feeling connected to God. I feel God's presence.
Jessie Benton Evans is an artist and writer, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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