Man in Yellow Suit, 2021, Ink and acrylic on paper,
21.7 x 29.5 in.

Anonymous figure study, 2021, Ink, acrylic and
watercolour on paper, 19.7 x 27.6 in.

Brown Portrait Study, 2021, Ink and acrylic
on paper, 11.8 x 15.7 in.

Lovers study, 2021, Ink and watercolour on paper,
11.8 x 15.7 in.

Anonymous Face study 9, 2021, Ink and watercolour
on paper, 15.7 x 19.7 in.
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Martha Zmpounou

United Kingdom

My work revolves around the idea of the human figure and portrait as a space of expression and exposure. I see the human body as a fragmented yet multifaceted entity, an outcome of a process of layering. Working mostly on paper, this layering process is usually expressed with the use of a mix of water-based media, where the artworks are driven forward by the medium’s inherent qualities, its fluid and transparent nature. It is a mode of work that embraces accidental bleeds, unfinished or seemingly underdeveloped areas, next to others meticulously developed in detail. This results in a fragile dynamic balance between abstraction and representation, one which seeks to capture the tonal and morphological particularities of a sitter’s skin or facial characteristics, and in essence, their very self; the transient and ambiguous element in the figure depicted, all that is supposed to be masked and hidden in portrait or figure.

   - Excerpt from artist statement

Click works to the left (on desktop) or below (on mobile) to view full-screen.︎     @marthazmpounou︎    


What attracts you to portraiture? Is there a particular way or reason that you select certain subjects?

I am attracted to portraiture as a space where emotions and meanings can be masked or revealed. By that I refer to the multitude of emotional responses the human face can potentially evoke, subtle yet powerful. When it comes to identifying subjects to work with, I do not tend to focus on a particular type of person, but more on an atmosphere and slight shades of meanings. In that sense, my portraits and figure works are more about capturing an essence or feeling rather than a particular person. The latter plays the role of a vehicle or a starting point to communicate other concepts, ideas, and themes, such as personal histories, memories, loss and grief, trauma and the feminine body.

When or how do you feel that you’ve achieved a sense of self in a work?

Most of my works are developed through a process of trial and error where parts of an image emerge out of painting and repainting. It is a seemingly circular sequence of acts, some of which resemble destruction. This mode of work tends to blur or even erase the finish line. Instead of a line, the completion becomes a distinct territory, a temporal space. On one end of it, artworks remain largely unfinished inviting the viewer to complete the narrative. One the other, works become borderline overworked, layer after layer, a curious visual palimpsest. This is the space where a sense of self in a work can grow, and realization comes often long after completion.

What is your process like? How do you embrace the relationship between chance and intention?

In my work chance breeds intention. Coincidence and an element of surprise and apparent randomness are important to my process, along with more controlled experimentations and explorations on the possibilities of my media. I tend to embrace unexpected accidents that happen during the process and let them inform/become my work. It is a process that puts my work in the periphery of the figurative, seeking a balance between abstraction and representation, seduction, and repulsion. I am drawn towards the incomplete and incoherent, the fragmentary and the cryptic. This fragile dynamic balance between abstraction and representation is also conceptually underpinned by an effort to subtly undermine the glorification of an idealized, polished self, complete and coherent, which is usually evident in traditional portraiture. Media wise, I like to mix acrylics, inks, pigments and watercolors and work with large amounts of water and in multiple layers. There is an immediacy and fluidity in watercolor which I really love, plus it’s a very versatile medium. I’m also fascinated by the ways it responds to different amounts of water and paper surfaces, and the multitude of unpredictable qualities this leads to.