Zsofia Schweger: The House Was Quiet And The World Was Calm

LONDON-BASED artist Zsofia Schweger is one of Europe’s brightest young talents having been selected for Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016 and Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe 2017. She has also won the Jealous Prize, the Griffin Art Prize, and the Alice C. Cole Award.

Close-up Culture are proud to welcome Zsofia onto the site to delve deeper into her background and work.

Q: You use reductive paint application and a muted palette. Can you tell us about your style and drew you to it?

A: Space and colour have been my main interests ever since I began painting. I am drawn to simplified, clean representations of space, as well as stillness and order.

But colour, for me, is by far the most fun element of painting itself. I make use of alluring colours as I want my paintings to be attractive and inviting, but at the same time I apply paint in a reductive and flat manner, which sometimes makes my compositions colder, hinting at a sense of discomfort.

Same goes for my frequent use of one-point perspective, which tends to lend an impenetrable sense to the depicted space. I like the idea of the paintings that invite you in, but also lock you out. You’re both in and out, present and absent.

Q: You were born in Hungary, studied in the US and now reside in London. How have these different homes and experiences impacted on your work?

A: I grew up in Hungary and first studied abroad in the United States when I was 16, so travel and living away from my native country have been a significant influence on my adult life. It has definitely impacted my work, too.

As an artist, I began studying the notions of home and belonging several years ago. In my recent Sandorfalva, Hungary and Bow, London series of paintings I worked with domestic interiors.

First, in the Sandorfalva paintings I explored the motif of the house by returning to my first home in Hungary. There, my family lived for 20 years before permanently relocating to London. Now the house looks frozen in time, with most furniture and belongings still in place, waiting for eventual moving or disposal. This personal narrative has lead me to painterly thinking of absence and presence, stillness and duration, cosiness and dread, the private and the social. I was interested in depicting a home where I don’t belong anymore.

I’m now in my sixth year in London and I have no plans to move away. As such, some of my most recent work is less closely tied to ideas of migration. Last year, I made a small series of paintings, which depict interior scenes from my then-home in Bow, London, which I shared with my partner. The paintings came about at a time when I knew we’d soon move to a new home and I was contemplating the fact that it’d be my fourth move within London in less than five years, which I suppose isn’t unusual for new arrivals. I was interested in documenting our spaces through painting.

Installation view_Zsofia Schweger_ BLOC at Griffin Gallery_2016_02
Sandorfalva, Hungary #24 and Sandorfalva, Hungary #26

Q: What is it like living in London as an artist?

A: London is close to my heart, I’ve felt very welcome here.

In the UK, unlike in America where I lived before, I’ve been able to settle thanks to my EU rights, which was a privilege I’ve never taken lightly. I was very lucky to go to the Slade School of Fine Art for my MA, as at the Slade I could become part of an ambitious and diverse artist community.

Of course, I’m not blind to the challenges of London’s high cost of living, expensive studios, and long commutes, but this town is a special place for an artist with its large and lively scene and incredible shows. I am grateful to have the opportunity to live here.

Q: Your latest project Libraries is fascinating and Library #4 is a very familiar sight to myself. Can you tell us more about this project and the inspirations behind it?

A: I recently moved to a home in London where I hope to stay put for several years. This new feeling of settledness is partly what has prompted me to begin engaging with other types of interior spaces. That is how the Library paintings have come about.

I am most interested in libraries for the infinite quietness we associate with them, as well as – of course – their basic function of supporting one’s learning and the general cultivation of thought (especially in a political climate where fact-based expertise might be less valued). I started this series around eight months ago, so it’s fairly new, but I plan to stick with it and develop it further.

I feel that painting is an appropriate medium to depict library interiors, which are not only typically quiet and still, but have an air of permanence. And permanence is certainly something I value after a decade of moving often.

Library #4 is among my favourites too, by the way. I based that composition on a corner of the English section of UCL’s Main Library.

10. Schweger, Zsofia-Library #4-2017-acrylic on canvas-51x59in-130x150cm
Library #4

Q: Seph Rodney wrote a wonderful piece for Hyperallergic.com comparing your work to the poet Wallace Stevens. Would you compare you work to any other artists – whether it be a poet, musician or other?

A: I found Seph Rodney’s insight fascinating, I’m so lucky that he decided to write that article! I hadn’t known that Wallace Stevens poem but I certainly appreciated the association. It’s invaluable when others bring references to my work that I may not have thought about myself, it’s both informative and inspiring.

Another such example was in an essay by Dominic Molon, where he wrote about a scene from Wim Wenders’ film Wings of Desire (1989), of which my Library paintings reminded him.

I don’t tend to compare my work to other artists, or maybe ‘compare’ is just not the right word. Of course I look at a lot of artists and I’m always influenced by others’ work. Sometimes it’s quite straightforward: for example, last spring I saw the Josef Albers exhibition Sunny Side Up at David Zwirner, which was all about Albers’s yellow paintings. Needless to say, I ended up using a lot of yellow that spring.

Q: Another favourite painting of mine is Bow, London #3 from your Bow project. I love the dangling wire that is almost tempting me to walk up and plug in my phone. Why are you interested in personless space? Do you think people will ever populate your paintings?

A: Bow, London #3 is one of those yellow-dominated paintings I just mentioned with that yellow door in the middle.

It’s the tension in these unpeopled spaces that I’m most interested in. When it comes to painting, I often think about time and duration, even though (or maybe because) painting is a still medium. I try to imply a sense of time in my compositions, so sometimes it might feel like something just happened in the depicted space or something is about to happen.

In Bow, London #3, the charger is the protagonist, but you also have open doors and with that an implied movement through the space. It is also a larger painting, so you can relate to it with your body, too, in addition to your eyes. Hopefully, that is what makes you want to walk up and plug in your phone!

6. Schweger, Zsofia-Bow #3-2017-acrylic on canvas-51x59in-130x150cm
Bow, London #3

Q: How would you like your career to unfold? Do you see yourself staying in London and do have any ambitions for the coming years?

A: While I do hope to be lucky enough to exhibit with some of my favourite galleries and institutions in the future, first and foremost I just hope I will be able to afford the time and space necessary to keep making art. And yes, ideally in London!

Q: Lastly, do you have any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

A: I’m excited to have a screen print included in the 250th Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy!

The print is based on my painting that we just talked about Bow, London #3, although it is much smaller at 54×63.5 cm. It is a 15-colour screen print and it was published as an edition of 35 by Jealous Gallery & Print Studios. This is the third print edition that I made with Jealous, they are total experts when it comes to screen printing, so I’m very happy I get to work with them!

You can find my work at the West Sackler Gallery of the RA, in very good company, this summer until 19th August.

Learn more about Zsofia’s work

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