Latvian painter Ieva Kampe-Krumholca was shortlisted for the Jackson’s Painting Prize this year with her work Two Sides of the Truth. The painting places the viewer beneath a green arching palm, the familiar atmospheric light of a greenhouse, hanging thick in the air. Here, she tells us about the invaluable lessons she learned from the Flemish masters, the right time for painting and her fascinating visits to botanical gardens all over Europe.
Above image: Marriage, 2020, Ieva Kampe-Krumholca, Oil on canvas, 130 x 150 cm
Clare: Can you tell us about your artistic background/education?
Ieva: I do not come from an artistic family, but my interest in creative expressions started when I was 7 years old and enrolled in local art school. And so it began: Local art school, private art studios and finally, The Art Academy of Latvia. In the academy I started as a painting restoration student (4 years of study), and, although my heart belongs to painting as my own creative action, these four years shaped me most importantly. I had to study a lot about technique, artistic chemistry, painting technology, and maybe the most important part of all I had to copy Flemish old masters paintings, one every semester. After a deep dive into historical painting techniques I continued my studies in the Master’s degree painting program where I had to shape my artistic personality and find my creative path.
Clare: Where does a painting begin for you? Can you take us through your process?
Ieva: First of all, I cannot imagine myself without painting regularly, so my process starts unconsciously. Right now I am working on a new series of paintings dedicated to my local almost invisible road-side plants. So, I take my two-year old daughter and dog on a daily walk in my village, take some smartphone pictures if something catches my eye and after lunch, while my little one is having a nap, I go to my studio and paint. My daughter does not attend kindergarten yet, so we spend all our time together and this has taught me not to wait for “the right moment, the right conditions”, every moment she does not need my care, is the right one for my painting. This leads to me painting every day, but only for a maximum of two hours, but I do not mind, because I have learned that small steps can still lead to great progress.
Clare: I read you spend time visiting greenhouses around Europe to find your subject matter. What are the best places you have seen?
Ieva: Greenhouse visits were a must-have for my previous painting series, but this spring, when we had to cancel our trips one after another due to the pandemic, I made some changes in my creative plans. But yes, my family and I, we have a tradition of visiting botanical gardens in every city we visit. Of course my all time favourite place to return again and again is Kew Gardens in London (this is the place where my botanical series begun four years ago), but I also highly enjoyed the botanical garden in Berlin where we were almost alone in those huge greenhouses. The tranquility of this visit was priceless. Also, I must mention a very interesting collaboration with the botanical garden in Riga, although this greenhouse is small in comparison to those mentioned above. I had permission to visit this greenhouse in late, dark autumn, and after closing hours when garden falls into darkness, I had my own searchlight to light up the garden my own way. I made a lot of extraordinary photos that evening and used this experience to make my master’s thesis.
Clare: Does all your subject matter come from life inside greenhouses or do you paint outdoors as well? What are the differences between the two when it comes to painting?
Ieva: As I mentioned above, right now I am painting my local plants (weeds actually), that grow in road sides and seem to be like an invisible background (or foreground) of landscape. Even though I had to change my subject matter because of the travel restrictions, I actually feel much more connected with it than ever. Although I always paint indoors in my studio, I enjoy that I can meet my painted weeds on my daily walks. This makes my work more sensitive to what this invisible plant life symbolises.
Clare: Do you have a practice of drawing? If so, what paper and materials do you use?
Ieva: All my six years at the Art Academy I had obligatory academic drawing lessons, mostly drawing nude models. I am grateful for what these lessons gave to my skills, but I never fully get excited about figurative drawing. And honestly I love painting so much, that drawing is just “a phase I have to go through” to get to my most favourite part, so I do not draw any more than is needed for painting.
Clare: Can you tell us about your colour palette? Do you mix all your greens? What are the colours you cannot do without?
Ieva: My colour palette consists only of natural pigment oil paints, this is my restoration study legacy. Since I had to copy Flemish masters, I am well aware of multilayer painting technique and I use this knowledge regularly. I pay a lot of attention to pigment transparency or opacity and this comes to great value when I have to make really deep shadows or natural looking light. I rarely use paint directly from tubes, I like to make precise tones so a lot of mixing is no problem for me. When it comes to greens, I have my favourites (green earth, glauconite) that I adjust to my needs. I cannot work without mars pigments (Mars Deep Brown Transparent, Mars Orange, Mars Black warm and cool), Golden Ochre, Titanium White, Indigo and Paynes Grey have also entered my palette lately and I enjoy these colours a lot. Reds are the ones I could live without.
Clare: What are your most important artist’s tools? Do you have any favourites?
Ieva: As one of my academy professors said “No tools will save you” and I have to agree. I believe that all my skills are in my head and hands, and if I am capable painter then I have to be able to work without “supertools”, but of course I have my favourites that makes my work easier for me. Since my studio is located in my house and I have little children walking around, reducing all the toxic ingredients is a high priority, so I use and appreciate Sennelier Green for Oil products. I cannot stand any other shape brushes than variations of “cat-tongue” shape and egbert. Also, I always varnish my paintings and I only use Dammar varnish.
Clare: How has the lockdown of the last few months affected your practice?
Ieva: The biggest change was my subject matter alteration because of the travel restrictions. But my painting practice goes on as usual every day while my little one is napping. I assume that this will also echo in this years financial statistics, for me as for many artists around the world.
Clare: What are your art influences? Who are your favourite contemporary or historical artists and why?
Ieva: I follow a couple of big art curator profiles on Instagram and really enjoy exploring young and/or contemporary painters from foreign countries, but I rarely remember their names. What I look for in today’s artists is a high quality painting technique and excellent compositions – a rare combination unfortunately. I highly admire David Hockney, not so much about specific works of his, but his vitality, his life dynamics, his attitude towards work, his ability to change and look for something fresh. I also have a deep respect for Edward Hopper, again not about specific works, but about his ability to encode a very personal and existential message in his work. From historical artworks I still cannot resist the fascination for Flemish still life and landscape painting. So many fine technical details to learn. And the Impressionists for their courage to be different at that time, and spiritual strength to continue despite being so underrated by their contemporary public.
Clare: What makes a good day in the studio for you?
Ieva: A good day in the studio consists of: a clear goal of the days session, me being able to truly be “here & now”, satisfactory daylight (in Latvia from October to April it is mostly cloudy and day feels like late afternoon all day long). The length of my painting session is not important, neither is the amount of progress made.
Clare: Can you tell us where we can see more of your work online or in the flesh?
Ieva: I have a solo exhibition at the moment, from 24th of October – 5th of December, taking place at my local museum’s art gallery Museum of Valmiera. And online I am regularly posting my work on Instagram. I have to admit that I am not very good at my art management/promotion, but I guess you cannot get both at the same time. I put the emphasis on my painting.