Ilona Kiss: Freeing the Shadows by Sara Jaspan

Jan 8, 2017 11:42AM

Dreams have been a powerful source of inspiration since the beginning of human creativity. But it’s the space between sleep and wake that fascinates PAPER artist Ilona Kiss. A realm that exists beyond even slumber-logic, dominated by strange visions and deeply resonant sensations, the details of which usually fade as soon as our conscious mind regains control.

The feeling or mood left behind is where Kiss begins in explaining the essence of her work. Whether drawing from this semi-conscious state before waking, or from the unexplained effect of certain images, scenes or even words she encounters in everyday life; her practice is built upon an attempt to capture something of the intangible, elusive hinterland of our lived experience. To coax it out of the peripheries and into focus.

Fairy Dust, 2016

With this in mind, Kiss’ drawings and paintings are surprisingly figurative: populated by a series of ghostly people, silent landscapes, strange animals and fairy-like beings; rendered in dreamy yet precise detail. They have an odd familiarity to them that boarders on uncanniness: though never having encountered these spaces ourselves we feel as if we have, in some forgotten past or other life perhaps. They hover between beauty and threat, existing in a state of fragile balance that could dissolve or collapse at any time ­– a notion encouraged by the veil of white specs that float within the foreground of many, casting a magical air upon each scene that gently prevents us from fully entering.

Raven, 2016

Kiss is personally very interested in the feeling of familiarity that her work generates, which she conceptualises in two ways. Firstly, through the shared experience of our collective memory, shaped by early childhood beliefs in magic, fairy-tales and other worlds. And secondly, through what she describes as the existence of a higher reality or deeper set of truths, which we are unknowingly brought closer to by means of the individual unconscious.

Captain Captain, 2016

Kiss’ process for translating her internal experiences and achieving such psychological-charge involves extensive planning. She begins by constructing each picture on the computer, using layer-upon-layer of found images which she either stumbles across in everyday life or searches for online, as well as drawing from her own backlog of photographs; playing with opacities and boarders until satisfied that something of her original vision has been captured. This then forms the preliminary ‘sketch’ from which she paints or draws, following the original blueprint exactly.

Reigen, 2016

Recognising her tendency towards images of a vintage quality, Kiss associates this in part with her desire to establish a sense of ‘other-worldliness’ within her work. That is, to offer spaces that seem tantalizingly real yet out of reach – testing our notion of reality and the limits of possibility. This interest may have begun in her childhood, growing up in Switzerland where she developed a fascination with native masks, tales and legends. Or later in life with her career as a stage designer, inspired by the magic of theatre – of costume, lighting and atmosphere. Now her participation in the Portico Library’s upcoming exhibition based upon Milton’s Paradise Lost is providing new inspiration in terms of spaces once known yet no longer open to us.

Eden (Maud Stevens Wagner), 2016

Working from her studio at Suite in Salford, Kiss is encouraging us to pay closer attention to the thoughts or experiences that don’t always sit within our normal frame of reference. To acknowledge, if only momentarily, the wider realm of possibilities that we instinctively believed in as children. To give freedom to the shadows of our minds.

— Sara Jaspan

Sara Jaspan is the editor of PAPER Magazine. Sara is a writer based in Manchester who works at the Liverpool Biennial. She is a recipient of CVAN NW Bursary. Sara has written for a-n, This is Tomorrow, Creative Tourist and Art Monthly.

Visit Kiss' website at 

One Moon Or Another, 2016