Join us this coming week as we open Undercurrents by Sophia Szilagyi. This retrospective collection presents a rare opportunity to view an extensive body of work not exhibited for some time. Presented alongside major new works in Sophia’s signature style of evocative and painterly archival pigment prints, this is an exhibition not to be missed. Megan Dicks sat down with Sophia Szilagyi ahead of the opening.
Otomys Contemporary: It’s been six years that Otomys Contemporary has represented you and I can’t tell you how honoured we are to have you in our stable. The first time I saw your artwork so many years ago, I actually saw it upside down on a printing table and I’ll never forget that moment – I was immediately entranced! Before we go on to explore that alchemy that exists with your art tell me a bit about you. Do you love to cook, to garden, to listen or play to music?
Sophia Szilagyi: Thank you for having me! I am 46, my husband and I have a 13 year old and we live in the northern suburbs. I grew up in a creative family, it felt right to study the visual arts and become an artist. I call myself a printmaker, as that was my formal education and is my source of reference in terms of art making. After finishing my honours degree, I worked as an intaglio printer. Despite what some people may think, I am not a photographer and my work is not photography, although I do use snapshots in gathering source material for my images. I love to be in the garden. Any garden really. I am not so keen on vegetable gardening, I am more drawn to the forms of foliage and flowers. There is something very special and grounding about planting and nurturing your own plants and creating your own space. I enjoy cooking and eating! Cooking is a little like being in the garden – your senses are at work – touch, sight, and smell. It takes concentration, love and care. As with gardening, it focuses on the mind, and I enjoy that. Oh, and I should add, I am a coffee snob! I adore my coffee and take great care in making and perfecting it. Being outdoors, socialising and exercising in some way on a regular basis is important to me. Walking, swimming and tai chi are all a part of maintaining a healthy mental and physical balance. When I walk, I look and think.. And I really enjoy a good afternoon nap!
Otomys Contemporary: It seems to me that you create space in your life for contemplation – And one of the ways you invest in this is by steering clear of social media. So, you may not appreciate it, but from my perspective, there’s a wonderful freedom in your approach – I admire this about you. Sometimes I’m concerned that the world is going crazy. Whilst instant digital communication offers great inspiration and connection – It also saturates, represses and deceives. Whilst you could be wildly promoting yourself and all the parts to your day to build a sunny and glossy Instagram profile, you choose not to. Why?
Sophia Szilagyi: To put it most simply Megan, I don’t use Instagram because it takes up too much of my time and, being prone to anxiety, too much of my emotional space. For some people Instagram is perfect, it is just not a good match for my personality. I would rather spend my time doing something which I find more supportive.
Otomys Contemporary: If you could invite any two people to your upcoming exhibition, who would that be?
Sophia Szilagyi: I would invite British artist David Hockney. This may seem an unusual choice, given the difference in our art styles, but when I saw the most recent exhibition of David Hockney’s work at the NGV, I was enthralled. By incorporating Ipad drawings, large scale paintings and split screen video pieces, his use of scale was magnificent. Some of his pieces were so large they had to be printed in panels, and to see a whole work, you had to turn your head left, right, up and down. Hockney’s work is all encompassing, just as it is when you are in a landscape. Aside from this majestic scale, I truly admire that as a traditional painter he has completely embraced new technology and thus supporting a new art language. In my art I hope not to imitate what I see but rather to capture the emotions I feel; my mood in the space, the vastness, the cold, how open or claustrophobic it feels. The possibilities of expressing one’s emotional experiences in nature by using traditional and new technology is of interest to me.
Otomys Contemporary: So, if you were to choose one work from Undercurrents to gift David Hockney, which one would that be and why?
Sophia Szilagyi: I would gift David Hockney an edition of my Evening Waves at 1200 x 4500mm. This large work has been created from reams of photographs I took of the back beach of Sorrento late one afternoon. Evening Waves records my emotional response to this site; to the time and space and how it felt to swim in that powerful and unpredictable ocean. A single photo could not do that for me.
Otomys Contemporary: Evening Waves is an astounding work Sophia, we are yet to have a client who is not transported by the strength and beauty of this work! You have one more person to invite – who would that be?
Sophia Szilagyi: Although he is no longer with us, I would also love to invite Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. His subject matter, lighting and colour has always captivated me. Once again though, what interests me most is Vermeer’s use of space. Not the physical space but the psychological space. His images are intimate; when I look at them, I feel as if I am witnessing something private and personal, where the subject is unaware of my presence. There is a strength in the simplicity of the potentially mundane actions he painted – a letter being read, milk being poured or purely a conversation being had. The beautiful Girl With A Pearl Earring, where she is looking directly at you, it feels as if she has heard me sneaking behind her and has spun around to see who is there. I do not know what is going on her mind, but something has or is about to happen. Paradoxically, although the subjects are quiet and intimate, as an audience we share the knowledge of how it feels to be in your own private space. I love that something so personal can be understood on a communal human level. And that is what speaks to me so clearly in his work. One of my pieces which I am exhibiting in Undercurrents is heavily influenced by Vermeer and that is Girl At The Piano. I happened to see my daughter through the doors sitting playing the piano with our dog in the room, both were completely unaware of my presence and too involved in what they were doing to care. It was such a beautiful moment and after I took the photograph I crept off, not wanting to disturb their space. This is the work I would gift Johannes Vermeer.
Otomys Contemporary: With 14 large works and 15 small works to be exhibited in Undercurrents – Is there one or two that are more meaningful to you?
Sophia Szilagyi: Each of my works takes me back to reflect on a particular time and how I was feeling then. In this way, like a diary, they are all important to me. However, some are louder than others. Breaking, Wave and Grounded were all worked on at a particular time that was emotionally challenging for me to express. I worked long and hard on these three and when they were finished, I felt enormous satisfaction and relief. Calling although depicting the Australian landscape, was channeled by my love of the English moors in The Secret Garden, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I can’t help it, sometimes when I’m in certain landscapes, that’s where my mind goes! Scrub is my most recent work which evolved through many stages and forms. Originally it was a foreground detail of a seascape on the Great Ocean Road. As I worked on all the images, the foreground detail instinctively became the whole subject matter. Scrub explores more closely the textural and sensory elements of the landscape, in a way which is new in my work.
Otomys Contemporary: It is always such a delight talking to you Sophia, you show strength and beauty in the way you navigate life and it is palpable in your work. We understand you are not a photographer or are you a painter – you are a digital printmaker, which in some ways is a hybrid of the two and your talent and skill in this medium has enabled you to create a profound study of the emotions of our Australian landscape and some of the people who inhabit it. Congratulations – we wish much success with Undercurrents.
Sophia Szilagyi: Thank you, Megan and Hannah for helping me put together this exhibition. I look forward to sharing it with everyone. Best wishes, Sophia.