Vienna-based Florine Imo finds inspiration for her work through her desire to touch people. Allowing her work to speak for itself, Imo purposely employs a busy formality to occur while telling simple stories. In her own words, Imo explains that she hopes her viewers “mirror their dreams, fears, traumas or simply their own existence in place and time.” Here, we speak with Imo about the ins and outs of her practice.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and when did art first enter your life?
From an early age I’ve been surrounded by paintings, since my aunt is also a painter; colours in general always have fascinated me. My childhood was mostly spent wandering through the woods and rivers of lower Austria, the summers I spent surfing and creating with my aunt and her family in the south of France. Soon after high school I moved to Vienna to study figurative painting, a city exploding with culture and art. Vienna is an amazing place to live, although the city-life made me realize how much I treasure, love and miss nature. This drove me to travel as much as I could, trying to collect different sceneries. The impressions I made through that, influenced me and found their way on my paper during my painting process. Later I understood why – vegetation and wild life can be as random, confusing, fatal, overwhelming and beautiful like life it self is. Personality wise I am that person everyone puts their trust in. Maybe it comes from Buddhism, which was brought close to me since I’m young, or it’s simply a part of me. I’ve always valued other peoples perspectives of life, their stories, problems, dreams and hopes. I feel close and connected to everyone who opens up to me. Soon I found out that our stories are all linked. We all go through similar stages, emotions and challenges during our lives, however different they might seem. This later became a central point for my paintings and drawings.
What stories does your work tell?
In the beginning of my studies I wanted to touch people with my work deeply, thinking that was only possible through shocking images. Quickly I realized that the deepest way to reach someone is to boil it down to an essence, to let the image speak honest to you without much provocation. I like to keep the formality in my work busy, the concept I try to leave simple. Transparent for the viewers to mirror their dreams, fears, traumas or simply their own existence in place and time. Ideally it’s not a depiction of something, I want to show a soul in my paintings, a presence that can not be unseen. The same goes for places, I want to paint the smell of the place. So I would say my work reflects moments of my, and every other person’s life I meet in the most honest way I can tell. Usually I portray myself or people who are close to me. I see them as who they are, but also as actors in my work, for the viewer to connect and identify with easily. I paint what is too scary to think about and try to see the bigger importance and beauty in the moments we don’t usually give enough validation to, or share that much with others. The goal is to understand each other better, to make no difference between you and stranger. My ambition is to open up thoughts and conversations between the audience.
What art movements most inspire you?
I’ve been visiting France, because a part of my family lives there and developed a love for Paris, especially the museums. I remember looking at Renoirs “Bal du moulin de la Galette” in the Musée d’Orsay. Since then, but definitely after that, I was stunned by impressionists. Not only because of the conceptual matter and philosophy, but the technique as well. I fancy the brushwork, not blending colours, I’m all about that. I admire Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Cézanne, they are all masters in my eyes. But I must admit that my biggest inspiration didn’t come from world famous painters.
Most inspiration, as said before, speaking only about the conceptual side of my work, I take from life, the people I meet and the things that just happen. Speaking in a technical and motivational sense, what I value most for my artistic process and my biggest inspiration is my class. Figurative painting, in Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts and the studio we share together. I feel so lucky to have found this painter bubble paradise, where we support each other in an honest progressive way and push each other to our best. This class and the people became my home and safe space for developing everything I did until now. Their dedication to painting, different perspectives, the humour, and ease in this class is what drives me and offers a fertile ground to grow.
What is your process like? How do you begin a work?
The process starts by making experiences, taking risks and exploring, which is in my nature and is essential for my paintings and drawings. That also means that my personal life and work are not too far apart but live of each other. Recognizing these special moments has become my daily practice. The next step is capturing these fading moments. For me, the way of capturing them is through photography. Sometimes I quickly take a picture with my phone because I feel like “that’s such a painting” and sometimes I take my camera and try to get a great shot with good composition if the moment allows it. Important is to be remembered after some time, that this moment happened and that it was great, or bad, or anything. The mood needs to be felt. When I start a painting, I first try to think about how I feel this day and what’s possible to paint. Then I choose a picture that I think fitting. I choose which technique, either pastel or oil-pant and start with my routine. Nowadays I tend to work mostly with soft pastels. I change the composition and choose the colour palette. That I decide by what could fit the moment better, and I never really know how the finished painting will look like once I started, which keeps it always interesting. When painting a portrait or a piece that contains faces I see it as a constant reflection of the person being painted. The photograph gives me the characteristics and reminds me of the moment. Then I exaggerate colour and size to paint the soul. Once I start drawing or painting it just goes from there, changing and taking decisions, playing and fighting, crying or laughing, and dancing while finishing the piece. Every painting feels different and mostly the process does, too.
Do you go through periods where your palette gravitates toward certain colors?
Yes, it firstly depends on the mood of the piece, the place where I made it and where the moment happened. As an example, I just recently spend half a year living in Iceland with my boyfriend and his family. I studied under Hekla Dögg Jónsdottir and Eygló Harðardóttir and I learned a lot from them. In Iceland I actually first started taking pastels seriously as my main medium. By choosing a coloured grey paper as the background and mood, adding colours of winter, I experienced a whole new side of using colour. Obviously I was influenced by the mesmerizing landscapes I saw while taking road-trips, the lack of sunlight during winter and the people and culture around me.
What other artists do you most admire?
Kirsi Mikkola who is our professor of the figurative painting class in Vienna’s Fine Arts Academy. I admire her firstly for her playful and fresh access to painting, her endurance, patience, her never ending interest and effort in so many peoples’ process. Kirsi planted the thought in my head that the goal is something that’s beyond ourselves, which is reachable through work, passion and dedication. In addition, I really enjoy Rupi Kaur’s poetry, which inspired me to write my own poetry-drawing book this year. Cy Twombly for his subtle but direct colour palette and Egon Schiele for being the first painter to whom I looked up to as a teenager.
What’s next for you?
After my show “cold stones warm hearts” that just opened in Vienna, I’m back at making experiences on my travels right now in Greece. For the moment I’m enjoying making memories, collecting new sceneries, taking pictures, writing poetry and sketching outside. The next month I will continue travelling on and off and already looking forward to come back to the Academy for the new semester, full of energy, new ideas and inspiration to paint. I also plan extending my poetry-drawing book, making more experiments with pastels and apply for open calls. Let’s see what happens!
At the end of every interview, we like to ask the artist to recommend a friend whose work you love for us to interview next. Who would you suggest?
I don’t know who I could suggest better than my dear friend and colleague Pourea Alimirzaee. I got to know Pourea when I started studying painting. Since then we supported each other in our development and grew from each others discussions. He also came to Iceland with us, where we shared a studio together and I learned a lot from him during this time. I admire Pourea for his poetic visual access to painting, his sensitive concept and devotion to keep experimenting for a fresh and lively aesthetic.