We first met Iris in Sydney, while she was in Australia working as a model. We shot our Resort '17 lookbook together and stayed in touch. Originally from Holland, Iris now firmly calls NYC her home, where after almost a decade working as a model, she has recently taken a step back to pursue a new passion for painting. Self taught and influenced by Abstract Expressionism, her work could be described as somewhat musical; the use of abstract shapes, lines and colour are like her instruments in an orchestra, and they bounce across her canvases to create a rhythmic harmony. We meet at her serene home studio in the Lower East Side to view her latest works, and talk about her love for the world of art.
Portraits by Jen Steele.
Can you tell me about your life working as a model, and how you ended up living in NY?
I started modelling 8 years ago and I have been very fortunate to have worked with the biggest designers and the most talented people in the industry. I have traveled and worked a lot over the years. The past 2 years, I’ve taken a step back to focus more on my art. Modelling has definitely helped me and stimulated me in my development as an artist, being around artistic people all the time and traveling the world. Modelling brought me to New York, and when I first came here I right away knew I wanted to live in this vibrant city.
What do you most love about living in NYC?
To me New York is the cultural center of the world. Every type of music, cultural institutions, artistic and creative expressions can be found here. I love that there are so many people from all walks of life, different parts of the world that all add to the creative fabric that makes up this great city.
One thing that brings us all together is that we escaped our safe environment, have a similar mentality and drive to be the best in what we do. The people that surround me here in inspire me every day. I do go back to Holland often enough to take a little break from the city and enjoy spending time with my family and friends. New York is always intense and on the move so it’s good to sometimes take that needed break from the city.
When did you discover your love for painting and what mediums do you work in?
I have been exposed to art at a very young age. My parents always brought me and my brother (sometimes reluctantly) to all the major museums in Europe and around the world. I’m very fortunate to already have been exposed to so many different countries and cultures in my young life. I always loved to draw ever since I was a child, but never thought of becoming an artist. Ever since I’ve started painting for the first time on a small canvas here in my New York apartment I felt that this was what I wanted to do. This really was caused by walking around New York, visiting galleries and Museums.
Now I paint almost every day and the canvasses have become bigger and bigger, and my apartment has being getting smaller and smaller.
I don’t like to limit myself in the mediums I use, I love to experiment with different mediums, at this point I mainly use oil paint, acrylic, charcoal, pastel, and gouache for my paintings, but I also love to sculpt with clay and make collages.
Do you have a routine when you paint - do you listen to particular music, or podcasts - how do you get into the zone?
I love to start my day early, getting up around 6am, and start with meditation to clear the mind. Fortunately I have enough space in my apartment to paint, so I don’t have to go out of the house, I just set up and start. Depending on my mood I listen to different types of music, but at times I also like it very quiet, just me the canvas and my thoughts. I get in a zone and completely loose track of time.
Your work uses colour beautifully, and has a beautiful energy and fluidity - what inspires you, and how do you 'plan' a painting, or is it unconscious? Do you work purely within the abstract expressionist realm?
I became much more aware of my surroundings since I’ve started painting. Inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. The outline for my work is usually formed in my mind, but sometimes I make small studies, especially when I work on large formats.
Once I feel excited in my entire body I know I can to work on it. Often the initial idea for the work I’ve created in my mind, morphs into something different on the canvas. Usually I’m very happy and excited about this development.
It’s nice to not always have it all figured out before hand and to be surprised myself. I love when this happens!
Everything around me can inspire me. It can be as simple as taking a walk around my neighbourhood. I’ve become much more aware of my surroundings since I started painting and mundane objects, colours, shapes and patterns add to my inspiration for my pieces. All of this is processed internally, usually without my own knowledge and comes out in my work.
How would you describe your work?
I could describe it as organised confusion but it’s hard for me to describe my own work since I work in so many different styles and mediums. I think it’s best to look at it yourself and see and feel what emotion you get from it looking at the artwork, that’s most important for me. When you look at my art, I want the person looking at it to feel like the art is in balance and harmony.
Your boyfriend is a very talented florist, does his work inspire your own?
It’s definitely stimulating to have a boyfriend that is also creative. He is the event designer at The Metropolitan Museum of Art so I often stop by to see his events and we visit the new exhibitions together.
The exposure to beauty and flowers, which we always have in the house definitely inspires me a lot. I don’t feel comfortable in my home when I’m the only living thing in it, even if it’s a tiny little plant or small bunch of flowers I feel more comfortable.
Art can be simply visual or prompt emotion and understanding and as the painter can be therapeutic - personally how does art and painting enrich you?
When I start painting I get in a zone and I often lose track of time. Its very hard to describe the feeling, the closest thing to describe this feeling is meditation. I filter out everything around me and I’m solely focused on my brush, paint and the canvas. Sometimes hours have gone by and I have completely lost track of time.
Since I have started painting the way I observe my surroundings has changed dramatically. I look at simple things that we see every day with a completely different eye. I find inspiration for my art in the most mundane, complex and silliest things. Painting has enriched my life as a person, made me a lot happier and also in a way has made me reflect on myself a lot more. It’s very interesting when I look at the paintings I‘ve made and I can still remember the emotions I had while creating it.
What are some of your favourite galleries to visit in NYC?
David Zwirner, Hauser and Wirth, Lisson Gallery, Pace gallery, 47 canal, Gagosian, Marlborough Contemporary, Postmasters Gallery, Dia:Chelsea to name a few.
Who are some of your favourite painters?
I really gravitate to the strong abstract expressionists artists like Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Rothko, Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Lee Krasner, Mary abbott, Cy Twombly to name a few.
I also love the work Max Ernst, Agnes Martin, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Sergej Jensen to name a few.
Tell me about a woman in your life that inspires you.
I really respect strong women, especially all the female pioneer artists before my time that have become successful during a male dominated society.
One woman that really inspires me is Georgia O’keeffe, not persé by her painting style, but mainly because of her strength, the way she expressed herself and how she lived her life during her period in time (1887-1986). I loved reading the biography about her. ( Georgia O’keeffe, A life ) by Roxana Robinson.
What are you most passionate about lately?
My figure drawing classes. It really gets me out of my comfort zone.
Can you share something really great you've read recently - can be an article, news or book...
Currently I enjoy reading Restless Ambition written by Cathy Curtis, about the life of Grace Hartigan, a volatile and determined painter. It captures her personality, paintings, thoughts, and friendships with the other female painters of her generation. An interesting look at the life and work of an exceptional artist.
I also love the little book, Art and fear (David Bayles & Ted Orland) ‘Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking. Discussing the ups and downs of the creative process. One of the most enlightening books I’ve read on art. It encourages you to keep pushing forward. Every artist, established or not, should read it.
What is next for you? Do you hope to show in NYC, and where can we see your work?
I have been building up a collection which hopefully I will be showing in a exhibition some time soon. For now you can see most of my paintings on my website (www.irisegbers.com) or on my instagram (@egbers_art/@irisegbers)
For now I want to keep on creating lots of new work.