Interview and Gallery
Animals often appear in your images. Sometimes your subject may, for example, embrace an animal literally or other times one may appear floating, ghost-like, and emotionally suggestive. How do animals play a part in your life and work?
It’s a long story… My grandmother is a bit of an enigma. Part of the mystery surrounding her life has to do with stories involving hiding and running away as a young girl. ”Bad men” were often mentioned. Seeking safety in nature, amongst animals and trees was a common thread in all her stories (and she had thousands of them). Because of her animals have become representative of safety, intimacy and the ability to be vulnerable despite the dangers of living in this world of ours.
The presence of animals in my work comes from that, partially, but there is also the badly run zoo my mother used to take me and my late brother to. Potent images of animals just lying around making noise at each other roam my head. Quite extraordinary.
What are some of the most urgent messages of your work?
I can’t filter anything any longer. Anger, sadness, pride, rage, love, it all comes out in the paintings. There is nothing left between emotion and canvas. I feel overwhelmed at times but it’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s the price of admission, I guess. You have to feel it through and through to do it properly.
I started working on a graphic novel recently. It’s full of hyperrealistic pencil art and it addresses childhood sexual abuse. Both I and the writer I collaborate with are survivors. It’s the first time we’ve discussed this with anyone and it will soon be out for everyone to see. When I started working with these images, I felt physically ill for weeks. As said, it’s the price of admission.
I feel overwhelmed at times but it’s how it’s supposed to be. It’s the price of admission, I guess. You have to feel it through and through to do it properly.
The light and shadow, sharp and fading images in some of your artworks (such as “The Ceiling,” at left) give time and place a fluid feel; subjects seem both central and caught in a present yet ever-moving moment. Will you walk us through the creation of this artwork and what those tensions mean to you?
Oh yes… The Ceiling. That is one angry painting. One can tell from the sharp lines and the lack of breathable air in the composition. It’s never clear what these things mean in the beginning. I can look at a piece years later and discover symbols that I didn’t even know were there. It can be quite unpleasant sometimes. My visual memory is really good so it stores a lot of imagery (so much clutter). Some of these images are quite painful but I wouldn’t even know until I’m done painting them. It’s the reason why so many of my paintings never get to see the light of day. So I guess you are right about the ghosts.
Regarding the process… I had these powerful images of darkness lit by fires burning in ancient candle stands and was trying to figure out how to populate them with beings without robbing them of their integrity. I saw an image in a documentary I was watching and started drawing then went to bed with drawings scattered around my bed. Whatever made sense in the morning, I kept. That was The Ceiling. It would be silly to even attempt an explanation but I remember aiming at a master vs slave dichotomy that is elusive (as in apparent only if you look at it directly but invisible if you add the surrounding figures).
If the ideology you seek to disrupt is hiding in the gutter then you need to get on your knees and dig.
What ideologies do you seek to disrupt?
Patriarchy is a dear foe. I spent years doing academic work and whenever I tried to get to the bottom of a burning issue, I ended up finding patriarchy lurking underneath, cutting through the most damaging of discourses and underlining everything that causes cultural and societal decay. When that dies, climate change, war and everything else will die with it, I’m sure of it.
I spent decades figuring out how to tell my stories and when I finally found my voice it wanted to scream and throw itself in front of toxic masculinity. I had to force it to speak in allegories and the reason for that is simple: messing with conventional truths is how you crack it all open and you can’t do that in a loud voice. If the ideology you seek to disrupt is hiding in the gutter then you need to get on your knees and dig. There is nothing clean, clear or obvious about that.
You’ve lived in several countries in your lifetime. How does that impact your sense of place and your work’s sense of place?
It impacts my sense of place as in I can’t work in Sweden or in the US. UK suits me for now. I live very close to the ocean and my studio is above a coffee house that has a bar and serves excellent soul melting vegan food. I’m happy most of the time, might even be in love and spring is coming (if Boris doesn’t put an end to it).
What are you currently working on?
The graphic novel is a priority project. I’ve only managed about twenty drawings and there will be at least hundred more to do. I am also starting work on a show in Melbourne, Australia. It’s a group show so not a huge amount of work but I have a difficult storyline in mind so I better start deciding.
Who are one or two contemporary artists you follow and why do you appreciate their work?
Yue Minjun and ceramics artist Lee Yun Hee. If I can name a third, it would definitely be Kris Kuksi. I’m in awe of all of them for rising above mediocrity, never resting, and charging at me with meaning. It takes courage to do that. Their talent renders me speechless.
Are there other arts you connect deeply to–literature or music, for example–and if so, what are one or two of your loves in that/those art(s)?
I read as much as I can and my music listening habits are loud and unapologetic. Everything I like is going on repeat much to everyone else’s horror.
For the longest time I thought that my relationship to literature and music differed in the sense that one was a well (literature) and the other companion (music). That was until I got into music created by true storytellers like Sakamoto, Bibio or London Grammar. I will stick with literature though and mention my two big loves: Mo Yan and Kazuo Ishiguro. The Garlic Ballads by Mo Yan is one of the most beautiful pieces of literature I’ve ever read.
Where should we go to find more of your work?
I have also rebuilt my entire web presence as a part of something bigger. I needed to do that for 2 reasons:
1. I had to deal with some fake Iva Troj print editions and at the same time clean out older works. I have no idea who leaked the hi res imagery and I am in no way flattered that people steal from me so it had to be dealt with.
2. I never saw myself as someone who climbs up and looks down. Difficult times lie ahead and nobody needs an artist who spends too much time gazing at his/her navel. We need to nurture the ecology of talent that raises us all so it makes sense to be part of a collective. You can find our little nest here: currentlyawake.com
Part of it is a small agency, 22blocks, where I use the skills I developed working as a design manager for IBM Innovation and for ad agencies before that to support myself and my son during his childhood (I was a single mother for most of it) to create a home for other talented artists that want to belong to the same ecology of talent that nurtures me.
Award-winning contemporary artist Iva Troj creates fine art pieces which seamlessly merge Renaissance aesthetics and techniques with postmodern praxis. Her intensely detailed images achieve astonishing tricks of light and shade, as practiced by the great masters while incorporating dreamlike scenes which challenge cultural norms.