Zora Mann is a Berlin-based painter and mixed-media artist. Born in the UK, she grew up in Munich and studied in France at Villa Arson. She is represented by Chert Gallery, and has worked closely with its founder Jennifer Chert on projects such as a 2014 colouring book titled Zora Mann’s Magical Colouring Book (a coloured-in page hangs on Zora’s fridge at home), as well as the too-large-to-photograph, intricately crafted beaded curtain which hung partially completed in her kitchen while we spoke about her practice and process.
I always do drawings first. I used to be systematic about how I made them into paintings. I always kind of knew—not exactly what the paintings would be like—but the drawings were my guide. And then I spent a year doing watercolours, which I did much freer, without drawing before. That loosened me up, or contaminated me in a way [laughs]. Now when I paint, it’s really hard for me to stick to the drawing. I get all excited and I do something else. I guess it’s just a desire to have more room for error, to have the creative process be more part of the finished thing.
Usually I don’t plan a date to finish things. I should. It would probably be more efficient. Before, when I worked more systematically with the drawings, I definitely knew when it was finished. Now I don’t know when things are finished anymore. Not having a plan is more scary. But sometimes it’s more fun, too. I have to find a mix between the two.
For a while, I did really dark stuff. But now I would say that I’ve changed. There’s still a dark element in my work, for sure, but not in the same way. Before it was more figurative, more tortured, teenaged [laughs]. And now it’s more hidden.
Here’s a list of things that do me good. It’s simple things. Surprisingly simple things. You forget sometimes, you know? Especially in the winter months.
The book was Jenny’s idea. She kept asking me if I wanted to do a kids’ book. I was making animal drawings, and I didn’t really know what to do with them, and then she had that idea and it was perfect. It was so much fun doing it. In the beginning we wanted to have it printed, and then we realised we wouldn’t be able to have the thickness we wanted. So I printed it in lino print. Every one. Which was really nice, it took a week to print. Took much quicker than I thought.
Spirals, and snakes, and a mask, DNA. Braids. Connection between two things. A movement. It can be a bunch of different things. I like it to be open, but I definitely have my kind of ideas about it. It’s always multiple things. The hands are a want to humanise the forms, give them a kind of bodily, human element. The fruit also. It’s just bringing figuration into the abstraction.
I always sell myself as a classical painter, but right now I’m drifting away from that. I thought of myself as someone that paints on rectangles. With the shields I moved away from that a bit. With the curtain, too. I’m happy it’s opening up.
—Zora Mann, as told to Studio Beat
Photos by Jill Blackmore Evans
Visit Zora Mann’s website here.