Interview with Canadian Artist Ilene Sova
How do you describe your work when people ask you ‘what do you paint?’
I paint massive, colourful paintings of women’s faces. I have always painted women’s faces. Ever since I was a child, my mother used to buy paper every time she went grocery shopping and I would fill it by the end of the week. I was obsessed. I recently found those little pads of child drawings –done in crayons-and I was thinking that to some extent I am still doing those drawings. However, now as an adult I hope to tell a story about women’s lives in contemporary society through those faces. I always picture my work to be in large series –in installation format where the paintings all inform one another as a group.
What kinds of series have you done to achieve that?
Well I really believe art should be about something which artists are here to record what is happening in our society. To document the history of our culture. When anthropologists look back on Recently, I have been focused on two series. One was called Paintings of Women Artists. I was shocked when I saw this statistic that only 1 in 10 women who go to art school actually become artists! I am always fascinated by statistics and they often reflect what is wrong or dysfunctional in our counties. They reveal truths. I was in art school at the time and 1 in 10 number was really disheartening. This made me want to create a series that celebrated women artists and making them larger than life. After this, I painted 20 close artist friends of mine one metre by one meter. Huge close ups of their faces. It was really fantastic to give them that honour through size and paint.
Painting of Jackie Filmmaker by Ilene Sova,2010, oil on canvas,36 x36 inches; 91 x 91 cm
And the other series?
Now I am working on a series of Missing Women. I had been wanting to do a series about violence against women for about two years but I had been struggling and struggling with the subject matter and I couldn’t come to a decision. Back to the statistics as inspiration-I had heard a sociologist on the radio talking about the dramatic increase in violence against women in Canada in the past 10 years. We had also had a terrible serial killer who had killed an estimated 40 women in Canada and it was constantly on the news. I was very disturbed by these numbers and statistics and it drove me to build this new series.
Painting of Janet Derbyshire MISSING by Ilene Sova, 2010, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 40 inches
Your topics are very deep and heavy-do you ever become depressed by this subject matter?
Well the subjects are quite depressing but I once saw this Ted Talk by Eve Ensler where she spoke about finding happiness by speaking about what’s not spoken about in our communities. What’s hidden. This really helped me focus on the positive aspects of my artistic practice. I listen to talk radio and lectures constantly while I paint. This is a way to occupy my mind while my subconscious paints. At least that’s what I think is happening….haha!
Do you ever do portrait commissions or only political work?
I do a lot of portrait commissions and I really enjoy it! At first I didn’t do them at all –but lately I have had so many requests and I’ve enjoyed doing them so much that I have created a website just for that. I seem to have hit a niche. People have been hiring me to paint their memorable family photographs. I think I get so much pleasure from them because they bring the client so much joy and also I am able to tighten up and work on my realism skills. I love that each family has that one photo that they consider represents their family ancestry, or relationships and that it holds so much meaning for them.
Haynes Family by Ilene Sova, 2012, Oil on Canvas, 30 x 40
What do you think the future holds in your work? What are you thinking about now?
I have been mulling over a series about multiculturalism. Living in Toronto where people intersect from all over the world in such a unique experience. Now with the all the conflicts happening in Europe over integration of immigrants I think this is the next issue I am excited to tackle.
Ilene Sova MFA
PORTRAIT COMISSIONS WEBSITE: http://sovaportraits.com/home.html