Irene Montemurro Wants To Open Up: A Conversation

by Jasmine Ledesma

Irene Montemurro has the internet presence of a spider. Unfathomable, concealed and secretive. Her privacy is a hardened fruit kept in a plush, locked box. Her art is a delicate, beautiful web she has spun for us to see. Viewing her art, which ranges from drooly, blushing pencil drawings of cherries and strap on shoes, to sleek, black and white oceans of hair is like watching fish behind a wall of glass. All you can do is look. There is something almost royal about it.

I first discovered Irene’s work after I saw a photo of her sketchbook on Instagram. After peering through her account, I was immediately drawn to the fullness of her pages, how every inch of white space was scratched on and used. Irene makes art that feels like hearing a thunderstorm roll out in the middle of the night, watching the flashes of light electrify your room in fantastic white bursts, and counting the seconds before the next strike. Irene makes art for both the light and dark.  

I had the utmost pleasure of speaking with Irene about dreams, sketchbooks and cleansing. 

Have you had any weird dreams lately?

I am at my family home in the South of Italy at the moment and it’s really hot here. Today I had a nap after lunch (which I don’t usually do). I dreamt about swimming pools, and as I write this I realise that it really is a recurring theme: swimming pools, flooded houses, there is a lot of water in my dreams. Anyway, in the dream, I decided that I needed to build my own swimming pool. I would be renting the rooms I live in forever, but own this little blue square somewhere in the world. I would buy a piece of land on dry and deserted hills, unnecessary and hard to get to, and the pool would be encased in a glass house with tropical plants growing and sweating around it. Because of its location maintenance would be impossible so I would build it to abandon it. It would be mine but also open to the public, if anyone ever managed to find it and get in.

How has quarantine treated you and your art?

It has made me question what I want from it, and whether I am making something that I would like to see, rather than just what I can do or I have been doing. In abstract terms it meant taking my FOMO more seriously. In practical terms this meant designing a website from scratch, working more with paint and experimenting with animation.

I’ve noticed you’ve kind of metamorphosed from strictly black and white ink drawings to more colorful, pulsing drawings. What sparked this switch, if anything? Did it come naturally?

I have always been doing it on the side, but only recently I found the courage to publish colour works. I am definitely still transitioning but I don’t know towards what yet. All I know is that all the things I like are very vivid and colourful and textural and I have decided to take this fact more seriously. I look at a lot of fashion and design as well. Also the black and white drawings I had been making stemmed from a very personal and diaristic practice, and I would really like to open up.

What is your favorite color to work with?

There is a flame red that really makes me happy, but I think highly saturated combinations rather than single hues are what give me the most satisfaction. Pink and red together is still my favourite.

Favorite emotion to invoke and why?

Hunger if it’s an emotion? More specifically non food related hunger, the feeling of wanting to eat inedible things, wanting to eat with your eyes, or when your mouth waters in front of a pair of shoes or a freshly squeezed worm of paint.

Let’s talk sketchbooks. What does the process of finishing a sketchbook entail?

It really depends, when I started selling sketchbook drawings I started taking them apart and so I no longer try to finish them. My BA sketchbooks though were very special because I would often go back to previous pages and fill any blank gaps with collage or new work until they were completely bursting.

A friend told me recently that sketchbooks and diaries function differently in that one is for taking note of a memory, to simply acknowledge it, and the other is for enhancing that memory. Do you feel your sketchbooks fall into either category or perhaps both?

I agree with your friend, I use sketchbooks for thinking and pairing things, for allowing different elements to meet so that they are definitely more creative than archival spaces. I have never set out to use sketchbooks in order to remember, but they do bring memories with them that often have nothing to do with the subjects themselves. In fact I can always remember what I was feeling or thinking or going through when looking at a past drawing, so that drawing fixes moments in time for me in a way that only I can read. This happens especially with very detailed observational drawings.

Do you make your own sketchbooks? What does this add to the process of filling them out?

I buy sketchbooks usually, but recently I started making these little books in which I was trying to complete or make sense of individual drawings or scraps of paper by sewing them together and reworking them as one object until something either felt right or I had to throw them away. The reworking process in some cases lasted several days.

Do you listen to music as you create? What songs?

I usually don’t! I wish I could multitask like that but I really need to concentrate, and making is almost a meditative process for me.

I loved your recent exhibition “a swimming pool for when we run out of water” – what was the sort of mission statement behind it? Inspiration? What did it cleanse you of, if anything?

Thank you! I love the concept of cleansing! It definitely did that, I felt drained afterwards and like I had finished a chapter – weirdly enough I couldn’t make that work again even if I wanted to. Maybe it cleansed the need for a certain type of narrative? There was no conscious statement or mission, but I liked the idea of portals or windows into fictional worlds, and both the website itself and the individual drawings attempted to function that way.

For the last few months, Irene has been occupied with hand drawing an animation for a music video for the artist Catholic Block and their new single, “A New Spring” For this project, Irene drew inspiration from everywhere she could. For the vibrant background, she was inspired by the architecture of Lorenzetti’s Last Supper fresco in Assisi. Additionally, she found inspiration by rewatching anime openings such as Sailor Moon, Creamy the Magic Angel, Digimon and Tokyo Mew Mew among others. The cheesy nostalgia took hold, and led her to create what she called a “much more crude and DIY attempt” at what was originally achieved in those shows.

The video for “A New Spring” will be available at the end of the month. Until then, keep up with Irene on her Instagram!

Thank you Irene!