REDEFINING THE DOMESTIC SPACE IN HER DEBUT SOLO EXHIBITION AT THE GRIFFIN GALLERY: INTERVIEW WITH ZSOFIA SCHWEGER

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1. Zsofia, tell us a bit about your upcoming solo Exhibition at the Griffin Gallery.

My first solo show will present the paintings I made during my six-month artist residency at Griffin Gallery. I have been working on extending and refining my project, in which I explore the motif of the house through paintings of my first home in my native Hungary. My hope is that the exhibition will offer a coherent and confident body of paintings. I’m also quite keen for them to communicate some of my ideas about home and belonging.

2. Is there a real life situation that has inspired this series of work?

Yes, for sure! My work is driven by my experience as a Hungarian living abroad first in Boston and New York, and now permanently in London. I’ve been researching the concept of home, geographic mobility, and the emigrant experience in general.

" Questions of identity and memory are key; they’ve informed my work for a long time now. "

Specifically, the subject of my paintings is a real place, where my family lived for 20 years before coming to the UK. We still have the house but rarely visit: furniture and belongings are still in place, waiting for eventual moving or disposal. I’ve been interested in the idea of frozenness, stillness, and emptiness.
 
3. What is your strongest childhood memory?

I had a very happy childhood in Hungary in the ‘90s, so it’s hard to pick one strong memory. The one I’ve been thinking about a lot is from when I was about 4 or 5, hanging out with my grandpa, and waiting for an engineer to come and fix the television. We were to have new channels for the first time, including a kids’ channel. I was beside myself with excitement for all the cartoons I’d be able to watch. Of course, it was an English-language channel, so I didn’t really understand any of it, I think it was a good few years later that a Hungarian kids’ channel came along, but still, there you had it. Cartoons all day long! I bring this up, because a lot of such material novelties of the nineties in Hungary (following the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, the year I was born) really shaped these years for my family. I think it was a positive and hopeful time for my parents who were in their early 20s, and that really defined my childhood.

 
4. Describe your technique and how relevant it is to the overall message of each piece?

My painting process is tightly controlled: I usually make small drawings on site, and then bring those back to the studio to make small painting studies. In these stages I figure out the composition, as well as colour combinations. I make all the decisions, pre-mix the colours, and generally get ready, so by the time I get to the final painting, all I have to do is apply paint to the canvas. This allows me to keep the paintings single-layered, totally flat, with the white of the canvas showing through between colour blocks, hopefully hinting at the overall process. The intention is that this mode of painting might communicate a sense of anxiety and alienation, which is generally what I experience whenever I return to the house in question. The works make use of alluring colours, but ultimately they lock the viewer out: you’re both in and out.

5. Out of each of the works you will be exhibiting, which to you is the most powerful? Why?

I like Sandorfalva, Hungary #24.
One of my general aspirations when I make a painting is to be able to walk away from it once finished, having made a conscious decision about as many aspects of it as possible. I feel like this then allows me to be confident, to step away and to let the painting be itself without any further commentary from me. I feel like I got there with #24, having struggled with it for weeks and weeks, slowly deciding to edit out much of the representational details. I enjoy how it now commands space at a scale of 210 x 180 cm. It’s a pretty severe painting to my eyes, and that really challenges me, helps me move forward.


Image: SANDORFALVA, HUNGARY #24

6. During your six-month residency at the Griffin Gallery where you had time to develop your practice, what were some of the challenges you faced? Were there any surprises ?

Oh, for sure, there were a lot of surprises and challenges. This was the first time ever that I was able to work in the studio full-time. I have had various jobs ever since I started university, so I was always painting late at night, after everything else was done. I was so excited to finally have the space and time to really paint. I’m not sure I really thought everything would be smooth-sailing here on out, but I guess I was surprised that it wasn’t.


 
7. How do you feel the contemporary art world is changing? What is the role of painting in your opinion ?

This is a tough question! I know well that the role of painting is sometimes contentious, but I never needed to defend my own decision to paint within a larger art context. Actually, throughout school, I never really used to think of myself as a painter, and instead always let concepts lead me to whatever medium fit them best. At some point I did a lot of video, for example, but I always circled back to painting. These days, I’m pretty happy to be calling myself a painter.

" I find the physical nature of painting and its labor-intensivity rewarding. For me, it’s during that labour of painting that exciting discoveries are made and some sort of purpose is found. "

I can sometimes locate some meaning for myself in having opted for a medium that has me doing physical work: it somehow balances out digital life, makes it all OK.
 
8. What advice would you give to emerging artists looking to take their work to the next level and get into galleries ?

That’s an even tougher question, as there are so many different ways to be an artist. In my case, I tried to have a consistent body of work ready that I could keep submitting for open calls.

" In the last year of school, I looked at the websites and CVs of artists I admire to see what they were doing, where they started, what organisations they worked with, so I would have a better idea on where to look and where to apply. That has really helped me. "

ZSOFIA SCHWEGER
MIDAS PR

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