Irene Hoff mixes media and subject matter into pop art fantasy, writes Salvador Bali.
THE journey so far …
I’m originally from Holland, I came to Bali officially two years ago to live, but I’ve been in Asia for over 12 years already. I lived in Jakarta for eight years, then to Hong Kong, followed by Vietnam, and finally (back) to Bali … with my two children.
During your migrations, have you always been an artist, and, if so, what is your background in that realm?
Big no to the artist at large during that period … I am self-taught, without (formal) art education … my passion started when I was a kid, always drawing. I came from a sensible family and so I chose a professional direction in communications, consultancy, and education for adults in companies. After my graduation I worked for two years in Holland, and then moved to Jakarta for a telecommunication project. Being a consultant in Jakarta put me in a financial position to be okay, and I continued to pursue my passion again, which was design. I started doing digital design, and then moved to Hong Kong – I set up a company there that designed children’s products, exporting to Holland. In the meantime my passion for art re-emerged and I started doing paintings for my kids as a hobby. People saw them and the first orders came in. My kids were five and eight years old at the time, and so there I was figuring out what I was going to do. Big decisions … stay in Vietnam – but that seemed more of a loser’s choice – back to Holland, which was like choking … and then Bali came up. I tried to read the signs in the sky … it was my dream to live in Bali.
So you’d been to Bali before?
Oh yes, many times, I had the Bali bite and knew people already. And my ex had moved to Jakarta, so a good balance for the kids.
When did the serious art focus happen?
That started here in Bali. Previously I’d done loads of commission work, but became fed up with that and pushed it back a bit. So my first serious paintings started in Vietnam – a series called The World of Weast, which I finished here in Bali, and that led to my first official exhibition at Ku De Ta.
How did that work out?
Extremely well, a big breakthrough. It established me. After that, I had an exhibition at Métis, and W Hotel – at the Taksu Gallery, which is also located in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Next to that I did most of the art for Luna2 – beautiful private hotel on the beach next to Ku De Ta; styled on nostalgia and futurism.
Do you have an agent?
Not sure if I need an agent, it’s coming at me (laughs).
How would you describe your art?
I think it’s a bit mystical; there are a lot of elements in it that you don’t directly see, but you might see it the third or fourth time. You wonder what is real and what isn’t, and it challenges you to pull it into your own existence.
Sounds like Salvador Dali …
You look at it and say, “I don’t think that’s right, is it?” So I try to integrate it into a holistic experience . . . For example the series World of Weast is a blend of West and East. It’s about integrating the best parts of all there is, seen and unseen, turning it into a world that surpasses reality and fiction. Some of my elements are also from Japan, the strength of Japan pasted into a European world. You might think this is New York, but you see a sign of Japan, or a Japanese woman walking through the streets of New York with an umbrella in the rain … but that’s a double connotation. Some of my art has cartoon figures in it. I love the fantasy world. If you look at it, you think it’s normal, but it’s just a drawing, not a real person. I try to integrate reality, fiction, west and east, and get the best elements out of all worlds.
The cliché, “if you want to make God laugh, tell him you have plans”, that’s a very Bali thing … rubber time …
Yes, that is applicable for Asia in general. Having lived in this part of the world for such a long time has changed my view on the world, letting go of boundaries of how things supposed to be, which is reflected in my art.
Do you sit down at the canvas with a concept in mind or do you just go with the flow?
Right now I feel there will be a new series, I just feel it, it’s here.
When you say series, do you work around a theme?
Yes, sometimes they integrate and connect as well, for me it’s like giving birth to a child.
Dealing with graphics, it seems to me that you did study art. There is some kind of influence …
I think it has to do with finding and following your passion, once you know and feel it, things can never go wrong. If you want to discover what drives you, you should go back to childhood … what drove you as a child? For me it was always making drawings, creating. I let that go and started doing something “sensible”, but I believe if you are able to create a balance at some point in life, those passions come back to you. I feel this was something I was always supposed to do. I’ve always been fond of colours and compositions and I’ve always been focused on shifting things around to create a certain balance that feels right.
There was a movie, Field of Dreams … build it and they will come …
That’s how it is, just make the paintings, they’ll sell, believe, create, and so far that’s how it’s been for me.
What’s your philosophy?
Sounds very simple – be yourself. I meditate a lot, that’s my tool to stay close, to be authentic and genuine, and to reach the highest level of creativity.