Review Me: Zsofia Otvos: Humanity and Emotions
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Saturday, October 24, 2020

Zsofia Otvos: Humanity and Emotions

Hi Zsofia, thank you for participating in our interview. Please let our readers know about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?
I am originally from Hungary, where I grew up next to my mother's tapestry weaving loom, generally speaking arts were always present around me in ways of uncles as sculptors and graphic artists as well as opera singers and composers. Instead of a pivotal moment for me it was a natural progression to find my storytelling needs expressed in visual medium. I spent several years at Studio 91, led by Hungarian painter Rita Kopek where I studied figure drawing and sculpting. My relationship and understanding of colors are based in learning gobelin tapestry weaving from my mother.

What is your daily routine when working in your studio?
I go through phases in different periods of time. Instead of a daily practice I have longer time frames depending on what I am working on. My practice includes developing an idea through sketches, doing research online for my themes and actual execution of art. I mostly work during the day between 10-4 PM and sometimes from 7 PM - midnight.

Take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork?
My works are based on what I find interesting or surprising in life, as well as an outlet for processing internal emotions. When I experience any of these moments I create sketches and write notes of details that I might find significant later on.|Where does an artwork begin for you? The inspiration happens at a moment of life. The physical work starts once I start to develop my sketches I earlier recorded.

Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?
I am singularly interested in the human experience, typically through the experience of one individual. My paintings are focusing on either of the one person or are identifying one human relationship. My expression often uses theatrical elements of dramatic lighting, attitudes and body postures.

Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?
I create visual art to tell short stories I find important. I find a particular success when the audience finds enrichment as they view my work, whether their interpretation align with my intentions are insignificant to me, as long as they are touched in a positive and contemplative way.

How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?
I walk with an open heart and open eyes, because I paint what surrounds me. I need to be sensitive to my environment at any time. I do find it interesting that at times of internal peace I feel everything around me has great significance, whereas at times when I feel overwhelmed my senses seem to be very muted and selective.

How do you select your artworks subjects? Where do they come from?
My subjects are often of strangers that seem to stand out, friends that I deeply respect. I am a long time member at Chicago's Trap Door's theater. I just completed a series of 8 paintings based on the play Monsieur D'Eon is a woman where I painted the actors in character celebrating the ensemble. My biographical series is unique in a way of medium and source of inspiration. In this series, I create large-scale detailed drawings of the fictional character Irma May who serves as a vessel to tell most intimate personal experiences.

Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?
The closest series to me emotionally is the Irma May series, I feel while I tell my very personal experiences they are also very relatable and universal.

What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?
My lifetime influences of artists are Goya, Shielle, Gross, and Otto Dix, If I had to pick one piece of art I most admire the Portrait of Sylvia Von Harden. I love the use of grotesque and satirical exaggeration while staying true.

If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?
I think I would be happy to meet anybody, maybe someone unknown from the past, more often I am inspired by the mundane. I would like to see how they live, what their daily choirs are, how their clothing is sawn, how they cook their meals, how they sleep, what they are laughing about with their friends.

How have you been affected by the current lockdown, social distancing and all limitations and cancellations in artistic world?
I was planning to take time off this year starting in March to devote my attention to my art. When the lock-down happened it coincided with my personal plan of chosen isolation and focus on my art.
While I felt the weight of hardship of others I remained focused in isolation and have been able to complete a number of paintings and series. One of them is called Witch Hunt that I started in 2004 and is addressing the inability of humankind to learn from the past's mistakes. I felt I was able to project the current state of the world in finishing this theme.

Starting during the rise of the Black Lives Matter riots I had to let my deep feelings of displacement, injustice and uncertainties be expressed on canvas. These works are currently in progress and they have invited a new technique of layering paint I am developing.
For me, the lockdown brought the opportunity of artistic growth, participation in lectures and networking. Discovering Biafarin is also the result of this focused time of creation and free flow of discovery.
I am a union makeup artist for film and Television, a kind of work I really enjoy and find a great deal of inspiration from being part of the production. It is also an all encompassing experience that when engaged in, it leaves no room for my art. Both my makeup and fine art pursuits are motivated by creating characters to tell human stories.
(On a side note I mentioned, the release of "Utopia" created by Gillian Flynn on Sept 25th on Amazon prime, where I was assistant makeup department head under the legendary Ken Diaz, department head)

Some of our readers mentioned that they have some kind of impression of telling stories about the past from your artworks in Irma series. You, on the other hand, mentioned that Irma May series somehow projects your personal experiences. Some of the pieces in the series are surreal for instance in "Irma On A Silver Platter". Please tell us a summary about the story Irma is telling in this series.
Irma was first “born” in response to an Artist’s-Calendar call. Allowing myself to lean into illustration, I allowed some tightly guarded internal chambers to be released. Irma wasn’t purposefully created as a vessel of my personal experiences; instead, my subconscious rose to the surface through her.
“On a silver platter” is from her origin story, how she became the person we got to know. I very much experienced the 3 life stages represented here: devastation and hopelessness, resolution, and finally acceptance with the confidence of taking on the world. The surreal representation of offering her organs is quite literally how I felt. I believed the world had claimed all I had, but now I actually can offer myself to the world. As a survivor, I rebuilt, now I make the choice of offering all of me and one can take as much as good taste allows.

You have rarely used colored elements in some of the works in Irma May series such as the table surface in "Times Of Reverie". It looks that such coloring highlighted the papers that are placed on the table. What was your purpose and what are you emphasizing by that minimal coloring in this series?
Drawings for me are an intimate form of expression well-suited to sharing my personal journey of coping and overcoming. The use of color highlights what literally supports the growth of Irma’s emotional journey.
The first piece of the origin story is a painting followed by two drawings. In “Times of Reverie” she is in a transitioning stage. The table-top holds, keeps and represents her memories.
She has become airier and the memories more solid; a part of the past. On the final drawing “On a Silver Platter” Irma is standing on a colorful carpet barefoot. With her sandals kicked off she removes imposed conventions and stands strong on solid ground as a whole person. It is a strong, self-assured, content place to be.|This fictional character with a long neck seems lovely and at the same time, emotionally alive, considering her various facial reactions. Such detailed paintings and drawings are very time consuming to create. It seems that you intentionally wanted to encourage the visitors to come closer and get engage with. Most of our readers were fascinated about facial figures too.
I am a story-teller who creates visual images. I use theatrical exaggerations, pushing the expression toward the grotesque. The long necks are often the result of giving separate space for the facial expressions, body postures and hand gestures. These three elements are my major tools to establish characters and their stories, so to be able to experience them individually I sometimes have to keep them further apart resulting in longer limbs and necks. I like to offer a sense of discovery of details to the viewers. I use hard pencils to ensure the lines are preserved the way I laid them, so the viewer desires to closer to the art --eventually breaking the line of privacy. That closeness is symbolically revealing me.

How many pieces does the Irma May series consist of? Is each of them a piece of puzzle and complete a full picture? What combines all the artworks in this series?
The Irma series started in 2008 and is currently at about 20 artworks. The series mostly consist of snapshots of her life and more recently I have been creating new characters from her world. The Irma body of works is ever-growing, we can think of them as pieces of puzzles, but one that can take pieces from different games as well. The subject matter and the technique together make the series. The Irma May identifiers are representations of my emotional experiences I tell through her, the exaggerated character presented in her daily life and the multi-media technique of graphite drawings with acrylic on paper.

Please describe for your audience how much and in which ways being a union makeup artist for film and television has inspired your Irma May series from the creation moment and process?
My work as a makeup artist means being up close to hundreds of actors. Our work happens within the intimate sphere where we can experience each-others’ energy. This closeness helped me to be sensitive to other’s needs, helped me get to know the human within a publicly known person. This duality of perceptions often translates into representing an outside “shield” that one might choose when leaving their house to safely harbor the human who lives within that confine. In my art I am drawn to this kind of exchange between the public and private personas and the choice of which versions one allows to be in the spotlight.

Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?
The Covid-19 is determining the possibilities of live presentations. I am working with Trap Door theater to hold a walk-through presentation of the Actor's on Stage.

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