Interview with Irma Soltonovich

Words by Michelle Heslop. Portraits by Andrea Walker Collins.

Where did you grow up and was art a part of your life as a child? I grew up on a farm near Nipawin, Saskatchewan, at the edge of usable farm land. As a small child, I was constantly drawing, especially horses, on whatever bits of paper I could find. Painting or drawing was accepted in my family; my Aunt was a well-known artist in the area.

Did you study painting? After high school graduation, I attended Teachers College, then later completed my B.Ed with a major in Art Education from the University of Saskatchewan. While there, I was honoured to take classes from renowned painter, Otto Rogers. I received a working MFA from Ellensburg, Washington and completed a year toward my doctorate in Art Education at the University of Oregon.

Why did you set down your brushes between the years 1968-2001? I was disillusioned by the entire art system. I began working in interesting jobs, creating and delivering innovative programs that were satisfying my creative needs. In 2001, at the urging of a couple of friends, I took some art classes and within a year I had a solo show. I was on my way to becoming the full-time artist I am today.

Tell us about your muse. I’m an abstract landscape painter. My inspiration continues to be the prairie landscape and the horizon line. To grow up on a small Saskatchewan farm is to inhabit the landscape completely. The prairie is never just background in Saskatchewan; nature dominates with blizzards, thunderstorms, northern lights and always the overarching sky. The landscape is a felt experience for me, encountered in nature and then later recreated in the quiet of the studio. I am influenced by place, mixing reality and nostalgia in my paintings, where fiction is larger than fact. All of my work is informed by nature and viewers can bring their own metaphors.

If you could go back and give your art student self advice about your art journey what would it be? I’d remind young Irma to continue following her heart and instincts and not get caught up in trends or university bureaucracy. Describe some of your favourite tools. I use an Italian style palette knife almost exclusively. I usually use a painting gel or medium with my acrylic paints and work on multiple canvases at the same time.

What are you currently working on? Spring and summer are always busy as I prepare for my annual solo show in August at The Gallery at Mattick’s Farm. I’m always painting new works for the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (AGGV) sales/rental program, preparing for the occasional pop-up show, and doing commissions. I do semi-regular mini-workshops and demos to keep engaged in the community.

Is there a special quote or passage you live by? When I was about 10 years old, I memorized “Invictus,” a poem by William Ernest Henley. I loved the last lines, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” As a full-time artist, I try to remember “it’s only paint,” a quote I borrowed from local artist and friend, Michelle Miller. I also use a couple of martial arts phrases, “never turn away” and “always look toward.” Artists must always be brave.