Raised between Barranquilla, Colombia and Miami, FL, Brooklyn, NY-based contemporary artist Ilana Savdie, born in 1986 and whose meticulous approach to color and surrealistic take on the human body begins with drawings of fragmented limbs – her paintings teeter between buoyant abstractions and primeval figures that inhabit celestial settings and can be found in both national and international collections – takes ArtNowLA’s Da Vinci Questionnaire, plumbing her own psychological depths only to discover what makes her love work and life.
What historical art figure would you like to have lunch with and why? Gloria Anzaldua, probably. I quote her so often I would love to have a longer conversation with her. I also think Louise Bourgeois would be interesting to share a meal with.
What did you purchase with the proceeds from your first sale? The 2020 election was coming up at the time so the first thing I did was make donations to Walk the Walk, which is my favorite organization that raises funds for local organizations in key states to fight voter suppression. And I also bought a Peloton.
What words or phrases do you overuse? Lately, “for fucks sake” comes out of my mouth more often than anything else, I think for obvious reasons. It’s so hard to understand everything that’s been going on for the past few years and most of what I say out loud feels like it is out of frustration, shock and anger. In my work I think I need to find ways to say the word “body” less often, it’s starting to lose its meaning, although I guess that’s sort of what happens to bodies in the work itself anyway. It’s an interesting role for a word to play.
How do you know when a work is finished? When the photographer arrives. I have additive abundant insatiable tendencies so it helps me exercise restraint to have a loose deadline like that.
When and where were you happiest? I don’t really know of one specific moment that I was the happiest. I’ll say it was an incredibly difficult year with a lot of heartbreak and change and I poured it all into my paintings for this show. I think if happiness is relative, I can say walking into the show at Kohn [Gallery] and seeing all of these objects that held so much of that pain taking up space powerfully was a moment of overwhelming joy.
What is your most treasured possession? Probably my dad’s wedding ring. Or all my sketchbooks, they are so messy and full of to-do lists and little notes, I love looking back at them and rekindling a thought.
Where is your ideal escape destination? I fell in love with Portugal when I went on a road trip there a few years ago. I usually don’t camp but I went with a big group camping on beaches around the coast and it has persisted in my memory as a place I want to escape to some time. But honestly, I love New York, I usually have my escapes within it.
What’s the worst survival job you’ve ever had? Probably working as a re-toucher in the beauty industry. In a dark way I enjoyed it, like research into a specific kind of uncanny grotesque.
What TV series from your youth best describes your approach to life? Probably Buffy the Vampire Slayer? I don’t know if it’s an approach to life but this show has strangely been the wallpaper of my life and a security blanket for the past fifteen years.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would love better time management skills
What is your most treasured memory? I loved my 30th birthday. I went with a group of friends to the Stickett Innin Barryville, New York, which is owned by some other friends. Everyone came in their highest camp looks and we just feasted and indulged. It was a moment of clarity around what queer families and chosen families could look like.
What makes you smile? Clever word play.
What makes you cry? Loss.
What is your go-to drink when you toast to a sale? I’m obsessed with La Gritona tequila whenever I can find it.
After an all-nighter, what’s your breakfast of champions? I’ve been working really hard to not pull all-nighters. But lately it’s these homemade tamales I found off of the Facebook group for my neighborhood, they get delivered to my door and they keep me going when I’m too exhausted to cook.
Who inspires you? My friends. I have brilliant friends that will spend hours on the phone with me from our respective studios. I sometimes break things open in the paintings while on those calls.
What’s your best quality? I like to think I’m pretty good at holding conversations. I think it comes from moving around so much in my life and having to meet new people so often.
What’s your biggest flaw? I have a hard time staying organized, I really need a studio manager. I’m terrible at answering emails.
What is your current state of mind? Erratic. I’m answering these questions during Art Basel Miami week so I’ve been running around for days from one thing to the next. It’s hard for the mind to sit still.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Learning to trust my own voice over anyone else’s. Trusting my instincts, which I think is not about eliminating the doubt, that’s impossible, but learning how to harness it.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? I mean if I’m being really honest, I’d probably come back as a straight cis rich white man, this world was really made for them.
Cover image: Portrait of the artist by Simon Keough; all images courtesy of Kohn Gallery.
Ilana Savdie’s exhibition, Entrañadas, is on view at Kohn Gallery through February 5, 2022.