Mirjam Blanka Inauen is an artist living and working in Zurich. She studied Sociology, Anthropology, and Gender Studies in Medellin (Colombia), Lausanne (Switzerland), and Puebla (Mexico), since pursuing a career in music and later art. Her visual work is characterized by rhythmic repetitions, bright colors, and grid-based patterns. Working with the fluidity of paints, indefiniteness of color, and the tactility of the surfaces, Mirjam focuses on creating a sense of presence, closeness, and intimacy. By combining craft with the artistic approach, she challenges still existing boundaries between art and design.
IMATELIER: Mirjam, I've been following your artistic practice for a while, your art evolves and changes a lot, it feels like you are in a constant search. I’d like to know what have you been working on lately?
MIRJAM: I have always been drawn to materiality in art, also how it relates to our bodies, the feelings it creates. I have been working with textiles a lot. I am looking for a similar effect in painting. Right now I am working on a series of paintings on paper - very simple forms, bright colors. I cut and recompose the papers in a playful way and I am experimenting with different paper sizes and weights. It’s a process that gives me a lot of joy. I am here in my studio almost every day, so I need to do something that fulfills me. I'm a happy artist.
IMATELIER: Lately you have been working with color pigments. Why not ready-to-use paints?
MIRJAM: I simply find a lot of beauty in these pigments. I am fascinated by how they look, their different characteristics. I am interested in the story of their origins and meanings. It’s important for me to have this material approach to color, or to painting in general. We often think about color as something visual, not material. But to me it makes a difference thinking of a certain red not only in terms of its tone but also, for example, as the extract of a root of a specific plant. So not only colors but also their respective pigments have fascinating histories and meaning. Some paints refer to the tone, to what you see and some names refer to the origin - the mineral, or the plant, or the name of the region where the pigment comes from. I like to think - “I'm painting with a pigment from the earth of Tuscany”, rather than - “I'm painting it red”.
IMATELIER: It brings another dimension to it, adds a story, isn’t it?
MIRJAM: Exactly. And also there are practical reasons, which are maybe even more important to mention. Mixing my own paints gives me more control over the surface of the painting. Perception of colors depends a lot on its surface and whether it’s smooth or rough, glossy or matte, etc...
IMATELIER: Talking about the properties of the surface, I would like to talk about your textile artworks.
MIRJAM: Well, I like to think about the rug as a painting with a textile surface. I was very lucky to find a cooperative in Morocco that produces rugs by using their own wool dyed with natural pigments. The head of the cooperative is a very experienced dyer that is as fascinated by natural dyes and pigments as I am. His work makes me think about the many parallels between dyeing and painting and therefore between art and traditional craft. I am in awe of the weavers’ and dyers' work and I see it as art as well. The experiment of translation is another interesting aspect of this collaboration. I do a very basic draft, working with drawing, painting, and collaging digitally, and then send it to the cooperative where they translate the draft into a rug very freely. The difference between the draft and the final rug shows how the specific characteristics of material - like wool, and a working process - like weaving, shape the final visual result. There is always a choice to use a computer, or a pencil, or a brush, or yarn and a loom. I like to think about how process and material, about how the movement of a body and the use of a certain tool is shaping an art piece.
IMATELIER: Would you say that your artistic approach is intuitive or is it also conceptually driven?
MIRJAM: That’s a difficult question... I believe it is kind of an artificial divide. I do think conceptually about things like rhythm and repetition or about translation into the material. But I also work very intuitively with color, choosing color pigments that - for a reason that I am not aware of - I feel attracted to. And then, in the artistic process itself, one has to make a lot of conscious decisions, constantly moving around, looking from a distance, analyzing and evaluating, deciding where to go next. It’s like a ping-pong game between thinking and doing, where intuition and conscious decision-making go hand in hand. I am starting with the material first, intuitively driven towards certain materials, paints, and colors. Maybe that distinguishes me from a conceptual artist.
IMATELIER: Preparing for the interview I have discovered that you had been writing music, touring with a band. Looking at your paintings I see many repetitions, rhythmic lines. Is there some connection?
MIRJAM: True, I’ve made a lot of music. Mostly before going into fine arts. I would say that my painting process is inspired by a kind of rhythmic thinking. There is a repetition of forms and a linearity, like a timeline going through the work. There's a rhythm as well in the way I work and in my schedule. I am generally drawn to repetitions and rituals. Also, I like to compare art to music because music is so evidently emotional and transcendental. It wraps you up, touches your body, goes inside your brain. I think it's the repetition and the rhythm in music that makes it transcendental, like meditating with a mantra or breathing. It is so much more difficult to reach this kind of transcendence and emotionality in the visual arts, since hearing and seeing have different connections to our emotions. Everybody can relate when I am talking about feeling transcended by music. In art, it is less obvious.
IMATELIER: I imagine that aspiring for transcendence is a challenging task.
MIRJAM: It’s a goal that I might not reach but it lays out a direction and a path to follow. I have this phantom project in my head where music, painting, fashion, and installation come together. Realistically, It’s not something that I can do right now, but it is definitely a source of inspiration for me.
IMATELIER: Do you think that art that communicates on the emotional level, pure and seemingly simple, might have a bigger impact?
MIRJAM: I don’t know about the impact but I think it is an interesting and very challenging task for any artist to think about how simple your work can be. What is the most simple version of your work? What is the essence of it? This is when you realize that the most simple things are the most difficult to create. Simplicity is also a certain form of perfection.
IA: So if someone reacts to your painting, saying: - “Oh, so simple, my child can paint that!”, would it be a compliment for you?
M: Yes, I would take it as a compliment, since it means that you are able to make something that is really difficult look really simple and easy.
IMATELIER: And to wrap up our interview I would like to hear about your current studio space. It is simple and beautiful, as you like. Can you say a few words about artists with whom you are sharing the space, how do you feel in here?
MIRJAM: Thank you! I am currently in a studio program by ZHdK and the City Of Zurich where I share a studio with other artists. Anita Samadeni, Daniel Muller, Sophie Diggelmann and I have moved here just recently. I love to be surrounded by other people working creatively, I love all of their works. It feels like we're going to have a nice group here.
IMATELIER: Where can we see more of your artworks? I post updates regularly on my Instagram page, and I have a vernissage coming soon — at Anton Bortis. The opening is on December 9th at 7 pm at Binzstrasse 39, Zurich. Please, come by.
IMATELIER: Thank you for the invitation and for the conversation! It was a wonderful introduction to your artistic Universe. See you at the opening!
MIRJAM: Thank you!