Artist Ida Ivanka Kubler is no stranger to examining life from new perspectives. A visual artist, fashion designer and innovator who incorporates stunning natural materials into her process, Kubler’s artistic dexterity is apparent in every facet of her creative practice. From blending oil and watercolors, to combining surrealistic tendencies with nuanced, delicate figuration, Kubler has developed a compelling artistic style that manages to be simultaneously evocative and subdued.
In her Non Material series, which has gained the artist international recognition, Kubler projects an inner reflection and childhood innocence into the consideration of her figures in the natural space. Approaching her painting first with a three-dimensional model of a male and female suspended together in cardboard, drawing from the visual lexicon of the Arte Povera movement, Kubler makes a point to carefully study her initial composition in physical space. Kubler, a Bulgarian-born artist who has lived in Germany, the UK and the US, notes of the psychological effects works from this series can evoke from her intended audience. “To put something “Auf dem Kopf” (german; for “on its head”) means to create a mess [and/or] confusion...it [changes] our set ways of seeing and [frees viewers to feel] empowered.”
Inspired by childhood experiences observing theater and the movement of figures through her neighborhood from her grandparent’s front yard in Bulgaria, Kubler approaches her flat figures as cut-out dolls or puppets on a small stage. Moving forward in a set path toward the viewer yet floating eerily along the top of the picture plane, hovering and hanging upside down in a vision of nature, the viewer is forced to reconsider the perspective with which they are encountering reality. Are the figures approaching on a path, viewed from above along the surface of a body of water? Are they a mirage brought on by prolonged exposure to the natural elements? Kubler leaves the answer up to the observer, implying that reality, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
While Kubler approaches her artworks with careful consideration, she leaves the subject matter open to speculation. The artist indicates her intention with the telling observation, “the subject is not as important [as the viewer’s] attention to it.” With this, she indicates the nuanced embedded in the series title Non Material: the material present which meets the viewer’s eye is serving as a mechanism to unburden the visitor’s viewpoint. In considering how a subject can appear to the viewer, Kubler reveals to the viewer the modes implicit within their own ways of seeing.
The visual element of water plays a key role in this body of work. Kubler notes that her close proximity to nature throughout her life was formative in steering her artwork toward water scenes. The surface of the water serves as a mirror for the scene, reflecting reality in a revelatory way. From her childhood spent in the company of forests, waterfalls and and lake to her time spent observing the lake near Neuschwanstein castle and the river Isar in Munich, Kubler has incorporated her fascination with the visual qualities of water into this series. This autobiographical element is key to understanding how the artist has approached this body of work, yet the combined effect of the surrealist scene is greater than any one influence. The painting sets a stage for the subconscious: viewers are able to see themselves reflected within the confines or expanse of their own vision.
Kubler applies technical prowess to generate this interesting effect in the painting. Kubler infuses the watercolor painting with subtle applications of oil paint. Applying up to thirteen very thin layers of oil paint onto the surface of the existing watercolor, Kubler creates a sense of transference through this blend of disparate mediums. Layering these different textures atop one another, viewers of the work gain a sense of the natural environment through the combination of surface treatments on the painting. Situating the human figure within an immersive natural world, the artist recalls the sense of wonder which we encounter when immersing ourselves in the branches, treetops and clearings that compose natural wilderness. By approaching the wilds of nature through Kubler’s imagery, we can be better prepared to encounter and master the wildness within ourselves.
Situating her forms in discernible yet nonspecific natural locales, these works assume an ethereal air. The presence of the human figure in joyous and amorphous configurations throughout the series allows viewers of the works to approach each artwork through their own unique lens. Kubler remarks on the use of water as an agent of concealment and change when describing the series. “Imagery goes through the prism of water in all of these pieces, causing distortions, revelations and surrealism.” Kubler manifests new means of encountering the self and the natural world through this series, which indicates a subtle mastery of the human form in a surreal realm. The Non Material series offers up new visions of human fragility and the latent wonder within encounters of the natural and the primordial.