When asked where she finds her inspiration, London-based, Italian illustrator Irene Montemurro attributes much of it to the chaos of the city and the people she stares at on public transport. “I’m aware it’s a bit creepy. In fact, it’s completely voyeuristic,” she tells It’s Nice That. But Irene has always been transfixed by the complexities and imagined narratives of people: strangers, friends and herself, which comes across in her tangled drawings.
Although she studied the medium at leading illustration university Camberwell College of Art, Irene isn’t so involved in the illustration scene. Instead, she prefers to mix with the experimental creatives that hang out in East London’s The Shacklewell Arms, where Irene also works. The independent music venue led to gig posters and collaborations with bands, pushing Irene to keep illustrating.
Initially, Irene discovered the avant-garde comic scene when growing up in Southern Italy. Driven by publishers such as Canicola, comics inspired her to become an illustrator. Later studying the medium as a BA as mentioned, soon after graduating Irene was accepted to the prestigious Royal Drawing School and quickly started filling sketchbooks.
Picking up her Muji pens, Irene starts her drawings straight onto the paper, embracing every coiling mark she makes on the page, “you can see all the mistakes and corrections in the hairy organic lines underneath," she points out. Her subject matter is extracted from memories, films, books and poetry, as well as some of the darker exhibits in museums.
As a result, this sketchbook work has become what Irene calls “reimagined diaries”; an autobiographical collection of things she thinks and sees. “Drawing is a process of discovery and I don’t necessarily want to be fully aware of what exactly is happening in the scene I’m depicting."
Moving onward from her initial inspiration of comics, now her influences are as varied as Robert Crumb, Henry Darger and Sylvia Plath, weaving her influences like her drawn lines. She has an ongoing fascination with the shocking and grotesque, inspired by the Japanese movement of Ero guro too. But while her work might raise eyebrows, it’s to be taken with a pinch of salt, “the more dramatic the image, the less serious it’s meant to be,” she tells us.
After experimenting with text on her gig posters, Irene started thinking about how drawings and words interact. “I discovered that titles are terribly important: it’s definitely the unexpected interaction between the title and the image that makes the work,” she realises. Each work is titled to provoke further images and layers of narrative, especially in works such as Lie back and Think of England.
Recently, Irene won the Sir Denis Mahon Award, allowing her to work towards an upcoming solo exhibition in Shoreditch in April 2020. Introducing text, she’ll be diving back into her original influences and creating large standalone graphic novel pages.