Ivan Comas

I Tend To Notice Things That That Others May Over Look. Conversation With Ivan Comas

Mariusz Urban: Given the fact that you’re traveling constantly, I’ve been really interested in how your studio looks. You probably don’t have many things around…
Ivan Comas: Yeah, it’s temporary… I bought a plant, it’s really the only thing I have here. I buy my materials new and after each show everything disappears. . I don’t have a permanent home or studio, so everywhere I go I have to start all over again. So I like to keep it minimal. Well, I have to. But I’ve gotten used to it over time. And actually, I don’t mind readapting. I like not knowing what happens next.
Isn’t it hard? Usually people are resistant to rejecting and reducing things, they rather collect them and get attached to them.
At first. For a while I had this feeling of emptiness. I had a whole life in Paris—all my books, movies, music, which I now miss. But the thing I miss the most isn’t my stuff or my studio, but home, a place to go home to.
So when did you move from Buenos Aires to Paris?
I moved right after high school. Buenos Aires just wasn’t for me. I’m part French so France seemed like the best idea. I was accepted into L’Ecole des Beaux Arts there. And then after my studies, I went back to Buenos Aires. It was strange returning, probably because of the circumstances…It was a tough time in my life… but it felt good to go back for a little. I got a big studio and had a lot of time to experiment.
It must have been difficult… Does that experience somehow influence what you’re doing now? Did it bring those images of neglect and decay into focus?
It resonates in some of my older work. My recent works came about after, when I started to travel around more. I’d get lost in unfamiliar streets, taking photos…
Yeah, as I checked up on you I found out that at one of your very first exhibitions you showed photographs… At first you dealt with photography and then decided to move to painting, why’s that?
Yeah I started with photography. I was inseparable from my Nikon FM2, a reporter camera from the early eighties. But I was inspired by the ideas behind imagery in general. Some of my biggest influences are Antoni Tàpies’s paintings and Witold Gombrowicz’s writing—I’ve read all his oeuvre. He was very inspired by marginalized, neglected, unshaped things that don’t really signify anything but are all around us excpecting to be seen and connected.
So when did you start to paint?
When I was at Cooper Union in New York, I met this Cuban kid, a student named Mena—now a very good friend of mine—who saw my drawings and photos and told me I should try painting. I had no idea how to even start…but I started messing around with it and got driven by it. Initially my paintings were more figurative, but I’ve always been drawn to abstraction. It takes time to learn how to successfully transition. The landscapes of the cities I visited inspired me to try new materials and different methods. I started combining different medias—plasters, asphalt, cement, spray paints—and found these chemical reactions and anomalies that created a resemblance to my photos.
You focus on elements of urban environment which are often overlooked. Those fragments of landscape that rather play the role of a background to which we usually don’t pay so much attention. But on the other hand, you look at them in macroscale. Where does that come from?
I like to observe. I’v always been drawn to details, like in high school I’d love to look at all the carvings on the benches. I tend to notice things that others may over look. And with photography, I could capture all those little intimate details. I photographed all sorts of things that eventually inspired my paintings. Before, my work tended to be highly texturized, capturing those elements of neglect and decay in urban landscape. However, in Berlin, nature is abundant and that inspired me to see the liveliness and beauty also present in the city.
I wonder, how does living in different cities influence what you’re doing? Your works are composed in series like reverse paintings, decay paintings, and recently shadow paintings, each made in a different city…

It’s more of a consciousness, being aware of what’s around you and really taking the time to absorb it. Each city has influenced my work, but I think the series I made here in Berlin has the strongest direct connection to the city. I spent around two months looking for my studio, which was like a whole summer, so I spent most of that time outside walking around, photographing the streets.
Your Facebook profile picture depicts how you work quite well. You are standing there in a park with a canvas in your hand like you’re trying to capture the shadow of a tree on it.
That’s basically the first step. Taking a blank canvas outside and seeing how the shadows look at certain times and in certain spaces. I also work the images and distort them in Photoshop. In the studio I’ve prepared backgrounds with some simple gestures layered on top of each other, erasing some and painting over them until I get the right depth, an imitation of the cities always changing surfaces—walls are painted over again, streets repaved. Light and shadows make the city dynamic. Berlin has a crazy quantity of trees and nature, there’s so much green space around that it makes everything feel alive.
You’ve mentioned before that you’re using technology in your practice. How does that go along with your direct interest in natural landscape? Do you think that it is possible to avoid technologically influenced thinking about world today?
Like most artists today, I work with a basic set of tools, like Photoshop. But I needed the technicality to achieve what I wanted—to take something directly from the city and put it onto canvas. What better way than through the use of photography? At first I thought of projecting the image and then painting it onto the canvas, but the whole process is obvious and simple. Then, I discovered UV print technology. It’s a massive industrial printer that sprays the ink onto almost any surface. With this technology somehow everything became connected—my photographs, my paintings, the use of industrial materials, and technology.
You’re also applying natural processes like drying, absorption of materials and their light sensitivity for example.
Right now, I’m working more on creating depth without the use of texture, and omitting the natural processes I’ve used in the past. I really enjoy working with technology. However, instead of working with natural processes or chemical reactions, I started driving my attention towards nature… and ironically started using technology. It is sort of twisted, because the thing, the shadow becomes less and less “natural” as the work progresses.
You’ve already answered my next question. I wanted to know if you think that today it is possible to avoid a technologically influenced way of seeing the world?
It’s definitely hard to avoid. We’re constantly capturing the world by displays. It’s just part of the times. But still, I like materiality, I’m a painter. Of course thanks to technology there are a lot of new possibilities for creating art and many artists apply them to what they do. It reflects the world today and it makes art more current and diverse.
But it’s hard to resist the impression that some of your works have a certain digital print look. Are you aiming at this kind of effect?
I agree, some of the paintings I showed at Art Berlin Contemporary had this digital look. However I’m not really interested in creating such an effect. In my latest paintings showing in my solo show ‘Days Go By’ at DUVE Berlin, I found ways to manipulate the UV printer and eliminate that digital print look. Instead it creates a more painterly surface, almost like it’s spray painted.  

So, tell us about your plans, what’s coming up?
After my show at Duve Berlin in mid-November I’m back on the road. I’ll be showing my paintings at Untitled in Miami with Steve Turner, then heading to Mexico where I plan to take a well-deserved holiday in the Mayan Peninsula. I have another show in Mexico City with artist Debora Delmar at Zona Maco. After that, I’m heading up north near the US border to do some research for my upcoming show at Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles in June.

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