A recent graduate from the MFA Fine Art course at Wimbledon College of Arts, Magdalena Gluszak-Holeksa’s painting Between Man and Man (pictured below) was shortlisted in the Jackson’s Open Painting Prize 2019. Through the considered and intuitive relationship between her ideas and the painting process, Magdalena Gluszak-Holeksa investigates personal tropes like memory and the experience of time.
Through her process she explores the meditative and the speculative, as well as the balance between the known and the uncertain. The resulting landscapes and sceneries seem to never settle, as though they are in a constant state of flux. We caught up with her to learn more about her process, materials, and how she develops her work.
Daniel: Tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education.
Magdalena: I have been drawing and painting since I was a child. I don’t think I have ever made a decision that I want to be an artist, I’ve always been drawn to making images and I never wanted to do anything else. I moved to England nine years ago to study art. I completed a Foundation Degree at Byam Shaw School of Art (Central Saint Martins, 2011) and BA in Photography at Arts University Bournemouth (2014).
This year I graduated from the MFA Fine Arts course at Wimbledon College of Arts. This course had the biggest impact on my work. I met a lot of amazing and talented artists there. Sharing a studio with them for two years taught me more than anything else so far as we were talking about our ideas and critiquing our work all the time, as well as encouraging and supporting each other.
Through this I learnt more to confront myself with my own thoughts and I became more aware of how they manifest visually in my work. I used to be very vulnerable to people’s opinion about my work but I eventually realised that I can trust myself and my intuition, while being able to take in the criticism.
Daniel: How would you describe your practice?
Magdalena: In my process I use drawing, photography and collage, but I find that through painting I can fully delve into the exploration of my ideas. It allows me to be both intuitive and gestural, at the same time staying intentional and in control. I work out the composition and colours as I apply the paint, which influences my concept, as well as the other way around. My investigation of something so personal like memory and experience of time recently became tightly linked to the process of painting – it’s meditative, speculative and involves balancing between the known and the uncertain.
Even though my work seems expressive and quick it actually takes a lot of time, focus and decision-making. This is because I leave parts of the canvas unpainted and I don’t know how the finished piece will look like until I reach a certain ‘wholeness’ of visual information.
Daniel: I find the mixture of figuration and abstraction within your work particularly fascinating. How important is this to you and how do you explore their relationship in your work?
Magdalena: The fact that in life we experience a lot of opposing things, such as loss and hope, fear and love, death and well-being, provokes me to question how much we really control our lives and how we navigate through the uncertain, while continuously shifting the boundaries around the things that we believe to be true.
The abstract elements in my work allow me to explore the things that are difficult to define, like fragmented or partially lost memories. The unpainted spaces on the canvas point to the areas of knowledge that are still forming. The somewhat figurative parts suggest a narrative and context that relates to how, instead of what, I am able to perceive.
Daniel: I understand that your work is grounded in uncertainty and evoking particular personal moments. Why is it important for you to represent these feelings through painting?
Magdalena: It’s important for me to wonder and reflect on experiences and people that are close to me and that have a big impact on me. What I enjoy the most about that is what painting particularly does – it opens up new ways of understanding and thinking about the personal within a broader context of a visual language.
When I work I have to forget that I’m working – that’s when I’m most successful and I find myself within a space and time that extends beyond the practical and the everyday. I compare it to walking or hiking. When I used to live near mountains I would go for walks to take a break and rest. Ironically, facing the peacefulness and quietness of nature made the thoughts even louder, it echoed everything that was happening on the inside.
Daniel: Could you tell us about the significance of familiar landscapes in regards to your work?
Magdalena: I grew up surrounded by nature, which I used to photograph a lot. Years later I realized that these images were really strong in my memory and would come up in my work a lot. Even though it came from this particular time of my life I think it relates to this universal longing for the natural, spacious and sentimentally to the initial, to what was ‘first’.
Daniel: Why is the exploration of memory important to you?
Magdalena: By looking at the subject of memory I am really attempting to process all the changes in my life and understand the idea of movement, belonging and attachment. It comes down to the meaning of identity in relation to the state of mind, which in general I find vulnerable and easily influenced by circumstances, other people and what we look at. It makes me question the accuracy of the past, the present and the future. What is truer?
Daniel: What is a good day in the studio for you?
Magdalena: A good studio day is when I can see and learn something new. I tend to get stuck in the process of painting as I don’t have a complete image in my head. I love the feeling of the little breakthroughs that connect one shape to another and when the composition starts making sense.
Daniel: And when you’re working in the studio – do you listen to music, audiobooks, Radio 4, or do you prefer to work in silence?
Magdalena: I like silence.
Daniel: What are your most important artists’ tools? Do you have any favourites?
Magdalena: It’s probably not the best choice but I love painting on Rabbit-skin glue. I like its texture and translucency. Even though it has a tooth to it, it still allows me to paint detailed, fine elements. I find painting on the raw colour of the canvas most satisfying and RSG is great for that as it hardly alters that colour.
I use different brands of paints and brushes and I don’t have particular favourites. In terms of brushes, I mostly use soft and small brushes but I find that they get damaged by the oil paint more easily.
Daniel: What are your artistic influences? Who are your favourite contemporary artists?
Magdalena: Some of my favourite contemporary artists are Adam Lee, Joshua Hagler, Cecily Brown, Victor Man and Makiko Kudo. Recently I’ve also been looking more at Japanese and Impressionist paintings.
Daniel: What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your art in the flesh or online?
Magdalena: I recently graduated from MFA Fine Arts course at Wimbledon College of Arts (UAL) and became part of a collective of artists with Whitney Jade Halsted and Belinda Chan. We are planning to share a studio here in London and continue to organise exhibitions together. More details soon! Follow my Instagram page and website for updates and images of works in progress.
The featured image is: The State of Things [Detail], 2019, Magdalena Gluszak–Holeksa, Oil on canvas, 120 x 90 cm