Glitter! The word itself incites a smile and is synonymous with laughter and fun. All these things are felt when looking at the art of Deborah Lynn Irmas, an artist based at the Santa Monica Art Studios in Santa Monica, CA. Her trajectory has had many turns but she always found herself drawn towards art in more ways than one.
After graduating from UCLA with a degree in Fine Art Irmas began her art career as a Graphic Designer but when the profession moved towards computers she decided to go back to school to keep up with the change. However, the environment of new technology and a new generation of graphic designers who learned graphics and not really design became unappealing to Irmas. After taking classes in printmaking and painting Irmas found a figure drawing class which gave rise to a suggestion that she might look into a part time profession as a personal trainer and so we are at the present day.
It makes sense though, for anyone who has taken a drawing class and been around art that the human proportions are the hardest to draw and studying the muscle structure and manipulating it on paper would, in a way, lead to manipulating it in the gym. Fascinating trajectory really!
Day job aside Irmas describes some of her pieces has having a masculine and feminine balance to them with the clean painted canvas surrounding the glitter covered pins at the center. One can see there is a balance to her work, one that speaks in both color palette and composition. However an off shoot of her work developed one day while working on the glitter pins, through the wiping off of excess glitter from her fingers to a canvas. This element of chaos, in opposition to her ordered pieces, was seen as a compliment to her existing body of work. The smears now grace sections of her paintings and at times can become a piece on their own. If one looks closely at her piece 'My Heart Can Stay' they will notice the presence of the glitter smears gliding up and off the canvas, as if they are running off to another job.
In addition to her 2D work Irmas also sews on fabric, a fascination inspired at a young age while watching her Salvadorian mother sew elaborate dresses on a fixed income. The beauty of textile can be understated or glamorous depending on the creator and with Irmas she combined the two using her minimalistic aesthetics of painting and the glamor of textile glitter.
In conversation with Irmas it was discovered that throughout one's life we learn lessons and it's not always clear as to their purpose. But as one lives and works the answers become clear, almost as if M. Night Shyamalan wrote it, that the skills we learn can be applied with greater purpose later in life.
It feels like there is this sense of control within your work. Do you feel there is a sense of visual control happening in some of your pieces?
Yes, there is definitely a sense of control in my work. The funny thing is, I don't plan that. I always start loosely and I try not to have any sense of what direction I am going in, but somehow my pieces end up very controlled and often times very minimal. I would have to say that this is my art identity. It is nothing planned. If I were to plan my pieces out, I don't think they would read the same way to the viewer. I believe in "just doing". No thinking beforehand and let the creative process take its course. It is very difficult to work this way sometimes. I have learned this invaluable lesson from my teacher Tom Wudl.
You mentioned that some of your pieces have a masculine and feminine balance to them. Which elements do you see them as and what makes you think that about your own work?
Yes, I do feel that my pieces have a feminine and masculine balance to them. My panels with the squares cut out of the center are heavy and they are 3" deep. This makes me feel that they are masculine. I often add glitter in some way because I think it has a feminine quality and the two give my work balance. I'm not really sure why I think that about my work. I have always felt the balance between masculine and feminine makes my work interesting. If a piece is too heavy and strong, I feel it's masculine and if it's too light and soft, it's feminine. I try to combine these two to balance my work. Maybe it's because I was a figurative artist to start and as I became an abstract artist, I have kept the feeling of both sexes working together, like a sort of love story that the viewer probably does not see.
You work as a personal trainer, which is a 180 to the world you are surrounded by. How did this life choice come about and do you see either world influencing the other, meaning do you get inspired at the gym to create in the studio or vice versa?
I work as a fitness trainer. Well I began as a graphic artist after I graduated from art school. After years of graphic design, the field became all computerized. Once the people element was taken out of my work, I lost some interest. I have always needed a balance of the real world and the art world. Art can be very isolating and I love it. But I also need energy and people to be part of my life so I can stay happy in my isolation. I have always loved the body, and as I said earlier, I was doing a lot of figurative work, mainly monotypes. The combination of drawing or painting a model and doing fitness training seemed to make perfect sense. They were both about the body. Both art and fitness require the skill of mindfulness. I decided at some point to quit graphic design, get an art studio and eventually get certified as a personal fitness trainer. It is an unusual combination, but it works well for me. I definitely have a creative influence in my training style. And vice versa, some of the organizational principles in training have helped me with my art. But I have to be careful not to carry my training world (my rational self) into my art world (my irrational self). That can be a constant struggle as an artist.
Glitter is an important material that you use in your pieces. And when you say or hear the word ‘glitter’ it almost inspires a smile. Do you think your inclusion of such a ‘happy’ material is inspiring the viewer to smile on some level? And what does glitter mean to you? Why did you start using it?
Yes! Glitter is happy! It's an interesting material because of its "crafty" like quality. Because of that, I have to fight with it and take it out of its natural element. I like glitter because it's simply pretty. I grew up with very little so as I got older, pretty, beautiful and elegant things made me happy. Although, I don't think of glitter as elegant, I think the way I use it in my pieces allows them to feel that way. I always have loved anything that sparkles. I use a lot of house paint in my work and because of its minimal and flat quality, I am then drawn to glitter to give my pieces the opposite effect. It's the opposites attract principle. I definitely respond to that. I would hope the viewer does too.
Your mother was El Salvadorian and an avid seamstress. What was your exposure to her sewing and how do you think it has overlapped into the art you now make?
My mother made a lot of my clothes. But not everyday wear. She always made me beautiful clothes...like a beautiful coat or an elegant long dress. When I would come home from school, my mom would always be doing one of two things, either painting or sewing. So I was exposed to this every week, almost everyday. If she was not sewing for me, then she was sewing for herself. I loved being with her and watching how she did everything. She would show me, but I was never interested in sewing from a pattern. I think I finally found my outlet in sewing with my art. I feel free when I sew..when I am in the creative process. Making a dress or a skirt required skill and patience, but sewing my art pieces allowed me to be free of all that. My mom absolutely inspired me and helped me find this path. I've named many of my pieces "Violetta" in honor of her.
How important do you feel it is that art remains in schools and inspires the next generation of potential artists?
As an artist, I would have to say it is very important, so important that without it, it would almost be considered criminal. Every one of us is creative. Every one of us should have a chance to express his or her creativity. Even for those who don't aspire to become an artist, art in schools is important. Art is about creativity. It is about mindfulness. It is about personal expression. And that is important for all people in all fields. Learning how to tap into your own personal creativity is a very important thing in life. It will keep you happy whether you are a practicing artist, a hobbyist artist or in an all-together different field. I can only hope that art is put back into any program that it has been taken out of. All young people deserve a chance for personal expression.