There is a billiards hall somewhere on the moon. The occupants do not wear spacesuits. Surrounding one of many pool tables, guests are formally clothed, the men clad in dapper suit jackets and dangling black ties, the women sporting corporate spring blouses and loose-fitting pencil skirts. Earth wanes in the distance. The black of space fills the expanse. Inside the table itself, there are planets, stars, galaxies; they await the looming strike of a cue stick.
Netherlands-based digital artist Irie Wata doesn’t think the world is boring – just a tad finite. “It would be cool if there could be more possibilities regarding time, space, scale, and gravity,” she tells me in our interview.
As the omnipotent curator of her computerized universe, Wata has manifested the reality of her wishes to a surreal, hyper-realistic perfection – one complete with human-sized lily pads, roads made of sky, and the complete translation of all else birthed by her boundless mind.
Irie Wata is emblematic of a shifting art culture that began with the digital revolution. Apart from the 20th Century and prior, when creative works were only accessible via either high-end institutions or dough enough to make a competitive bid, advancements in technology have made it so that screens are the only barriers between curious eyes and the images that answer their queries.
It’s a system we’ve seen museums capitalize on amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions like the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of the City of New York have curated smartphone-friendly adaptations of their exhibitions to emulate the intimacy of true presence, despite a formerly binding lack thereof. Such is the epitome of a digitized art world: Why travel to the magic when it has already made the painstaking journey to your palm?
Yet, perhaps the greatest of changes is the one applied to the artists themselves: the concept of a studio. Reimagined once feasible, now, rather than the paint-splotched, unkempt, isolated rooms creators have called home for centuries, a conceptual workspace is one that has shrunken exponentially smaller.
Irie’s studio is adherent to the new definition.
It’s nucleus: the computer screen.
The past is one of many things you’ll find Irie Wata has little to no regard for. Through her artistic denunciation of boundaries, rules, and closed-mindedness, eyes of both artist and consumer are permanently fixed upon a future wiped of the natural. It’s Irie Wata’s world. We’re just living in it.
One of Irie’s most popular prints, entitled Meet Me At the Crossroads, portrays a sky streaked with artificial clouds left by airplane engines; skateboarders railslide the heavens, harnessed from a fatal plunge only by Wata’s imagination. Here, via the internet, of course (courtesy of 2020), we chat about automobile-bearing blue skies, surprise album cover requests, and the meaning of art in a modern sphere.
In Conversation With Irie Wata
SH: I feel that the concept of a studio is universally significant to artists across mediums. What does that look like for you, and how does being in a studio impact your creative process?
IW: I agree! However, when I didn’t have a real studio yet – just a very small desk in my apartment – I was still able to make art. But now that I have a room that is fully my studio, I get inspired by my decorations and other artists’ art that I have hanging, and the space also helps me to stay more organized. Now that I started my own website where I ship orders myself, I definitely need the space! I couldn’t have done that in my previous apartment.
SH: I came across your work on @undercoverosh’s Instagram page – congratulations on that by the way! – and I was taken aback by how surreal, yet hyper-realistic these digital landscapes of yours are. I’m sure you’ve been asked this a lot, but what inspires you to create pieces like this?
IW: Thank you! Most of my inspiration to create art in this concept is to have an escape of reality and see things differently/in a new perspective. I’m not saying the world is boring but it would be cool if there would be more possibilities regarding time, space, scale and gravity. I also like to enhance the beauty of nature, and especially the more unattainable things of nature like the cosmos. This is why with my art I’m bringing people closer to planets for example, or make them swim in a mysterious forest.
SH: How did you get into digital art?
IW: I always loved creating stuff, and when I was only 13 years old, my father downloaded Adobe Photoshop for me and I started experiencing with it. I became more and more skilled with it and about 3 years ago, which is much later, I needed a creative outlet in my life so I started manipulating pictures of what I love the most about nature – the galaxy. I started posting my creations on Instagram and they quickly became very popular! People wanted to buy them as prints and asked me for commissioned work – this is how I was able to establish the brand called Irie Wata.
SH: One of my favorite pieces of yours is Rodeo Drive. Can you go into detail about how that was made? What was that process like?
IW: Rodeo Drive is my most popular work until now and is the perfect proof that less is more. The process was actually very simple; I wanted to create something vaporwave-like and I came across this pretty picture of Abbot Kinney Boulevard in LA. Like always I started thinking about how I could alter the picture, and when I turned the picture upside down I saw a second road in the sky because of the perspective the photo was taken in. I added some vintage cars and I had my new road/perspective. Fun fact: I had this artwork lying around for some weeks and didn’t feel like posting it – I thought it might be too simple!
SH: You’ve done a few album covers – what’s it like being contacted for things like that? Can you walk me through one of the first times this happened? How did it make you feel?
IW: It’s such an honor to be asked to design someone’s album cover, and I love seeing my work all over the music streaming platforms. A more funny story to tell is actually when I posted an album cover for the first time – it was a fictional one that I made for a band I really liked. A few weeks later the band’s manager actually emailed me and asked me if I wanted to work with them on their lyric videos! Until now still some of the coolest projects I worked on.
SH: Can you tell me about your favorite piece that you’ve ever done?
IW: My favorite piece is ‘Read between the lines’ and is actually quite similar to that ‘Rodeo Drive’ piece. It was one of the first pieces where I used an upside down landscape to give the whole piece a new meaning, and it got so popular that I decided to do more in this style. This is why this artwork is very important to me: it is like the “founder” of my own unique artist style which I had been looking for for so long. Also the title I naturally came up with is a good description for everything I create nowadays.
SH: Most artists have a point where they realize this is what I was born to do. Did you have a moment like that?
IW: I did! 3 years ago I was having a hard time because I found myself stuck in routine and needed something new. It was some sort of instinct that I decided to go back to my passion of creating – I always painted/drew/made stuff when I was little and it never went away. Now that I’m doing it for all this time, it made me realize that this is the one thing I’m passionate about and that I should never stop creating.
SH: What are your aspirations career-wise? Have you reached the goals you’ve set out for yourself, or do you still have things you’d like to accomplish?
IW: My ultimate goal is to work full-time on my art and creating big brand awareness around it by selling merch and more. Actually like OBEY did. At the moment I’m reaching my goals step by step: a year ago I decided to cut one day off my full-time job to work on my art, and from August 2020 this one day will change into three! So I’m really happy with how far I already came, also now that I have a dedicated art studio.
SH: If there’s anything you’d like for consumers to take from your work, what is it?
IW: What I would like for them to take from my work is the title of my favorite piece: read between the lines. We all get stuck in reality sometimes and when we change our perspective on things we could positively change our mindsets and great accomplishments will follow.
SH: What do you think the role of art is, in general?
IW: You saved the toughest for last! I think people were made to create, I think that’s something divine that we shouldn’t ignore. So in whatever form I think creating art is to inspire others, enhancing the beauty of life, sharing experiences and also making the world a better place.
You can learn more about Irie Wata at iriewata.com.