Last year Mirry Stolzenberg won the Jackson’s Prize at the East London Prinmaker’s Festival of Print. A recent graduate of the Visual Communication course at the Royal College of Art, Mirry’s work combines images from multiple sources (as well as from the artist’s imagination) to create drawings and prints that are filled with atmosphere, poetry, and at times, magical realism. I was interested to find out more about her work.
Lisa: Congratulations for winning the JAS Prize at this year’s East London Printmaker’ s Festival of Print! Can you tell us what the prizewinning work was and how you made it?
Mirry: Thank you! The Prize winning work was a Photopolymer etching of a drawing I produced for one of my artist books titled ‘23-29 Market Square’, inspired by an old tenement building I encountered in Krakow whilst on a drawing residency in Poland. The reader’s passage through the book was intended to feel architectural, as if they were an invisible onlooker, wandering through the fabric of the apartment’s rooms, walls and passages and simultaneously through the otherwise hidden lives of the building’s inhabitants.
Lisa: What is your working process? Do you ever work on several ideas simultaneously, do you work intuitively or more from observation, do you ever hit dead ends with ideas or do you always find a way through eventually?
Mirry: Although each project requires a slightly different approach, there are elements to my working process that tend to run through all I do. For me, it’s important that—at some stage or other–there is an element of observational drawing, as I find the practice of spending time absorbing a particular environment through drawing, helps to maintain a sense of aliveness within the final piece. In order to capture the atmosphere of a particular era or a sense of place, I tend to delve quite deeply into pictorial and text based references, which I then use to form a giant mood board that eventually fills my studio walls. By surrounding myself within the world I am trying to create, the direction of the work makes itself felt in a more immediate way to me. At a later stage, through combining the images in my mind with my own sketches mixed with found imagery, I discover the overall composition from which the final drawing emerges.
It is always my intention to work on several drawings at the same time to ensure each one feels fresh, although sometimes I find myself growing attached to working on one, which makes jumping to another a real challenge! When I notice that something isn’t feeling right, if possible I tend to move on to something else with a view to returning to the original drawing later, in the hope of seeing it again more clearly. I find this really helps.
Lisa: How do you decide on what you want to illustrate?
Mirry: Generally speaking, my illustration work is drawn from the short story form. As an illustrator, I’m naturally attracted to authors that inspire vivid images in my mind. Guy de Maupassant, Bruno Schulz, Roberto Bolaño and Miranda July being amongst a few of my favorites. When it comes to commission based work—an album cover for example—I’ll listen to the music with my eyes closed in order to discover the images it conjures up. I’ll then create a mood board inspired by that imagery and will start sketching through collage from there.
Lisa: What are your favourite media to work with?
Mirry: I love the simplicity and directness of working with charcoal and pencils, especially the soft Nero kind as I find the texture they provide beautifully rich and dark. I also enjoy working with various intaglio inks through etching and monoprinting.
Lisa: What was it like to study at the Royal College of Art? And how do you think the experience has equipped you for the professional life you have been living since?
Mirry: Studying at The Royal College was awe-inspiring. It felt a bit like an exotic kind of sweet shop, brimming with so many diverse lectures, workshops, evening classes, seminars, screenings, electives and potential interdisciplinary collaborations…
During the first year, I felt as if my mind was blown open with all it was exposed to. I was fortunate enough to have the renowned designer Andrzej Klimowski as my tutor. We had the most otherworldly, opulent and humorous conversations; I learnt so much from him. In an equally beneficial but different way, during my 2nd year, the artist Anne Howeson was my personal tutor. I was a huge admirer of her ghostly, atmospheric drawings and the poetic way her mind worked.
Studying at The RCA provided some wonderful opportunities. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a travel bursary that took me through Poland by train to the Ukraine on a drawing residency. In addition, I was lucky enough to be amongst one of the winners of an annual design competition, which gave me the chance to have my work published by the Tate.
How has my experience at the RCA equipped me for my professional life? Now that’s a difficult question! I’m not sure any course in the world– vocational or otherwise–can prepare one fully for their professional life. Spending those two years devoted to developing my practice alongside such vibrant and talented practitioners was obviously beneficial in terms of giving me increased confidence and clarity over my artistic direction and yet–at the end of the day, once we graduate, we are generally on our own–little fish in a vast ocean of bigger ones who’ve been around the coral reefs a few more times than us… to be honest, in this industry I’ve chosen, it isn’t easy. But slowly, slowly through perseverance, thinking outside the box, making connections, putting myself forward, taking risks, I’m finally arriving at a place that feels good.
Lisa: Can you describe where you most like to make your art works, do you have a designated studio space?
Mirry: For the past seven years or so I’ve been based at SPACE studios by London Fields in Hackney, sharing with various artists, graphic designers and illustrators from the legendary art collective LE GUN. I love working there. My studio mates are exceptionally talented in different ways making the dialogue between us a dynamic one. We like to eat cake together too, which is always essential for the production of strong work.
Lisa: Is there any difference in approach when you make a work intended for exhibition as opposed to work intended for reproduction in a book?
Mirry: Yes! It all depends on the medium and the context. When I’m producing images for a book I tend to work with pencils and collage whilst thinking in print and publishing terms. In contrast, when I’m producing work towards an exhibition I’m usually in a printmaking studio, making original editions.
Lisa: What are you working on at the moment?
Mirry: Right now I’m illustrating a short story by Guy de Maupassant titled Mouche, Reminiscences of a Rowing Man, which I stumbled across in an anthology of love stories by writer Jeffrey Eugenides. Set in the Victorian times, the tale centres around a love hexagon between five strapping young Parisian sailors and their adored muse for whom they nickname Mouche. Guy de Maupassant writes animatedly with humour and surprise and such vibrant imagery, making his stories a real joy to work with.
Alongside my Guy de Maupassant project, I’m also preparing for an exhibition of etchings at the Pages bookshop gallery in Clapton, opening in April. In addition myself and my partner Philippe have collaborated on a book project—made up of a series of Risograph prints–which is set to be published by Knust Press later in the spring. Full details on all the above will be announced on my Instagram feed during the up-coming months.
Lisa: Where online or in the flesh can we view more of your work?
Mirry: You can see more of my work online here:
Or alternatively follow this link to my Instagram feed:
Header Image: ‘Alpine Architecture’ (Preparatory spread for a book of Risograph prints) by Mirry Stolzenberg, Nero Pencils, found material, 37cm x 26cm, 2017