Artist Lina Iris Viktor Takes us into her World
“I’ve always strived for autonomy, a true voice to what I’m doing.”
Through her work, multidisciplinary artist Lina Iris Viktor speaks a language that is felt deeply, intuitively. In her world, a mythical one of her own creation, words take the shape of ancient symbols, and a purist color palette of Majorelle blue, black, white, and 24-karat gold amplifies a message of strength, immortality, and oneness.
In the lead-up to her solo presentation at the Armory Show, we caught up with Viktor to talk process, subverting the status quo, making art in New York, and more.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your creative path; what’s led you to what you’re doing now?
Lina Iris Viktor: When I was growing up in London I did a lot of performance theatre and acting, and when I came to college in the States I was trying to peruse that, in terms of furthering performance and acting. When I was in my first year of college….I switched to working in film at Sarah Lawrence, and came out and started to work with a few different film directors. I did my own thing as well. I studied photography….I also opened a design studio for a couple of years, and closed it when I decided to really just focus on my work. So basically, I would say that my trajectory has always been a mishmash of a lot of different disciplines. When I was younger, I didn’t understand the connective tissue between everything I’d done, but now, with the work I do, it makes sense to me how all of these different disciplines have fed into my practice.
Would you say you are you more spontaneous or methodical when creating work?
LIV: My work is very methodical in that it’s very planned. There is obviously certain room for improvisation, but at the same time, all of my canvases are mapped before I even begin working, because there is a code being depicted in the work. So it has to be very specific, very structured. There is a certain kind of methodology I have, in terms of formulating the canvases, and then starting to work and build upon them and create these kinds of sculptural canvases that are then gilded.
What ideas or themes do you explore through your practice?
LIV: My work is about a lot of things. It’s partially about trying to make sense of a lot of the cosmologies and symbols and symbologies that have been part of our DNA as human beings, not even about myself as an African, but as human beings since the beginning of time. So, I look at a lot of ancient cultures like the Egyptians, the Nubians, different empires that existed across the content from the Congo to what is now Nigeria. I also look at the Dogon and Mali cultures and the symbologies of the Aboriginal people in Australia, a lot of South American, Native American cultures and how they depict their understanding of the world around them. These symbols are very universal; but for me, I want to create a visual language, or narrative, that unifies all these different symbols, and find a way to weave a visual tale that is not a literal language but that is felt far more intuitively.
I like to explore the ideas of universal implications of blackness, which has a trickle-down effect on the more sociological and racial ideas of blackness. When you think about the universe around us, it appears to be black, it appears to be a void. Our modern society has always had very negative connotations associated with blackness, and I’m talking about that in the universal sense. So, when you look in Webster’s Dictionary, you see the associations and the synonyms attributed to blackness, and they’re all pretty negative. And so I almost want to create these works that are so visually stimulating—you can call them beautiful or aesthetically pleasing or attractive, but at least stimulating—so we can renegotiate these ideas around the universal implications of how we define blackness.
Color plays a significant role in your practice, in particular blue, black, white, and 24-karat gold. Could you tell us about the motivation behind this purist color palette?
LIV: It was very intuitive. It wasn’t something I actively premeditated on. I’ve mentioned a lot already that I’ve always been drawn to the aesthetic language of cultures like the Egyptians and the Nubians, and if you look at the color palettes they use, it’s those colors: black and gold, and lapis—what people call Yves Klein Blue. To me, these colors signify power. And when we look back to that era and time and you see the artifacts remaining, what we see in museums—they’re wholly powerful, they stand the test of time, they’re immortal, and so I wanted to imbue the work with that energy.
How would you like to see people interact with your art?
LIV: When I show my work in terms of an exhibition, it’s going to be a curated space; so I want the works to be strong individually, but I also want them to be in conversation with one another and in conversation with the space. I’m not just hanging paintings on the wall haphazardly or whatever; it’s very much an experience I want to create for the viewer, which is holistic with the work and the space all together and how you feel within that space. I guess the biggest intent I have is to create a moment of reflection, a moment of meditation, so you get lost in it and you’re picking things out and you can wander….I want it to be wholly and, in a way, transformative.
Why do you choose to make art in New York?
LIV: I spend about half the year in New York and the other half in London. I’ve been here since college, so it was just the next logical step. I chose to start my career here rather than in London as I felt like New York was a place that favors ingenuity, it favors the spirit of someone who wants to do something and say something and it champions that energy. In terms of making work here, it’s a catch-22, because I’m actually at the point now where I don’t need to work in New York; I could go anywhere and make art and be perfectly happy, but I have a great studio here and also, it’s the connectivity of being in the city. I wouldn’t necessarily say New York feeds into my work, but it definitely helps support it.
When in town, where do you go to get your art fix?
LIV: The last couple of years I’ve seen less of New York because I really just go from the studio to my house….But in terms of gallery spaces, it’s the usual suspects. I really love the Met Breuer. I think it’s a beautiful space. I really love how they stripped it down from what the old Whitney was, the architecture of it, and also the shows I’ve seen there have been beautiful and beautifully curated. In terms of establishments and spaces, I like Pace Gallery, David Zwirner, Sikkema Jenkins, The Whitney. But what really gets me into the space is the artist they are showing.
WORDS Edwina Hagon