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STUDI0 – VIKA PROKOPAVICIUTE

The life of an ever-morphing canvas, with new meanings built through process.

IMAGES COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Opening an art gallery in the midst of a global pandemic might not sound like the most obvious way to spend your time, but Studi0 (run by painters Helen Waldburger and Elliot Jack Stew) did just that in late 2020. Opening in the heart of Zurich, the artist run gallery aims to push the boundaries of what a contemporary gallery can be, while promoting some of the most exciting emerging artists from across Europe.

Featured during the opening show at Studi0, Vika Prokopaviciute is a Lithanian-born, Russia-raised, Vienna-based painter. She commands attention on the canvas not only through her hypnotic compositions, but by the very nature of the existence through self-referential process. We spoke with her to unpick the origins of these meta-paintings, how awareness of dimension can subvert expectations, and what the future holds for art in a digital world.

'Becoming Habits: Chapter Three' can be seen in Zurich, Switerzland until April 10 2021.
A book collecting the work featured in the exhibition series, alongside accompanying texts can be found at:

https://www.studi0.art/collectors-club

Multiplying Pale Brush Fire
200 x 130 cm, oil on linen, 2020

You've mentioned in previous interviews that you find the question 'where are you from' challenging to answer. Could it be that it's something that adapts throughout our lifetime, or do you think the answer never really changes? 

I find challenging not the question itself but the context of it. This question expects either just a birthplace in the CV or a story, unfolding biographical facts. In my case, this one place in the CV is misleading. I like these confusions: you are shaking up the cliches, simple questions don't seem so simple anymore. I would say the answer unfolds throughout the lifetime, growing into a tale.

Speaking of a CV – one thing yours does say is that you studied at a school of engineering and architecture - how has that taken you to painting, and does your education influence your work in any way?

Yes, this is correct. I studied Design and Architecture in Samara, and after my graduation, I worked for several years as a graphic designer in Moscow. While working in the office on weekdays, I was a Sunday painter/illustrator on weekends. But then I decided it was time for a change, and in 2012 I moved to Austria to study painting (a lot of studying). Architectural training taught me how to think three-dimensionally while operating in two-dimensional space; graphic design experience brought me how to arrange elements on the surface according to their ‘function’ while flirting with audience expectations.

Do you think your roots and ancestry impact your work in any way? Does your environment dictate what ends up on the canvas, or does it come mainly from within?

Not roots, but my background and experiences are impacting my work. This inability to answer the simple question (which I mentioned above), a wish to find a balance between simple and not, brought me to abstract painting. Additionally, creating my own tools, gravity, another idiosyncratic way of seeing things come as a reaction to the environment, sometimes maybe even as a mirror of it.

Sticky Quattro
200 x 130 cm, oil on linen, 2019

Multiplying Quattro
200 x 130 cm, oil on linen, 202

Many of your paintings refer to or present the act of painting itself. What are the benefits, as well as the challenges, about being inspired by the process itself instead of a particular subject?

It started with 'Brush Bouquet'. I wanted to paint a bouquet of narcissi, and instead of flowers, I used brushes. Painting brushes with painting brushes appeared very uncanny, creating the idea about infinite painting which is painting itself. The word 'painting' can be a verb or a noun. Maybe it also withdraws me from the production and I become the audience as well. As all painters do, when they step back in order to look at the result. The benefit is that I just need to decide which point of the process I am witnessing right now. The challenge is not to get lost in this loop. 

You’ve referred before to the ‘painting machine’, wherein one work leads to another, building on top and developing upon the last. In this metaphor would you say the artist is the operator, or the machine itself?

Sometimes I would like to be a painting machine myself! I think in the end, it is nor this nor that. Painting machine is a connection: method—painting process—revision, which leads to the next painting, where this connection is built anew. 

Mono-Folding Brush
70 x 60 cm, oil on linen, 202

"I like the idea of a seductive painting which drags you in, while you are scanning its charged surface. I want to offer a connection on a deeper level, where you allow yourself to be confronted with the painting, letting it in."

Mono-Folding Twice
70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 202

The colours used on your canvases dance the line between muted and vibrant, do you consciously seek to strike that balance, or find yourself led by outside inspiration?

I would say it is more about the balance. The colour reacts to the previous painting, is functional and connected to the motif itself. I painted a few paintings with red, green and blue: chewing gum colours and a joke about RGB mode, but mixing paint, not light. Then I painted with green, and then with green and pink, deconstructing the previous colour model. When I am tired of colours and decisions about them, I paint grisaille, flirting with the painting topic. So maybe it is a bit like juggling the colours and see what changes.

Your work has a mesmerising use of colour that serenely creeps edge to edge across the canvas - the abstraction in forms can feel very dream-like. What are you hoping a viewer will feel or experience when looking at your work?

I like the idea of a seductive painting which drags you in, while you are scanning its charged surface. I want to offer a connection on a deeper level, where you allow yourself to be confronted with the painting, letting it in. To be in front of a painting space where it is necessary and safe to be open, ask questions, and have opinions. To see how the paintings are still in progress, morphing one into another, changing their content, depending on the audience, on you. 

Having created works in both mediums, what do you find different in your thought process to a piece when painting digitally compared to with oils?

Digital painting is indeed a lot about painting process without simply imitating brush strokes. There are universal painting questions about layers, glazing, colours, composition, background and foreground. And there are questions about originality, value, reproduction, light, sustainability, transportation, size, proportions, indexicality. The big difference between digital and oil painting for me is scale. Despite precisely set dimensions, it is hard to understand the actual size since zooming is possible till the last pixel. Additionally, the interface of Photoshop reveals a layered skeleton of the painting, allows to navigate inside of it, even to paint under existing layers. All this shifts a painting process deep inside a painting space. Like you are painting it inside out. 

Mono-Folding 
70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 202

Brush-Folding
70 x 60 cm, oil on canvas, 2020

How do you feel the current global mood and situation has affected your work? Has it changed your habits, or impacted your process?

Maybe it sounds strange, but I feel like a lot of unnecessary fears and doubts went away. I spend more time in the studio, and I feel more daring with painting. My habits haven't changed much since painting is a solitary process anyway. At the same time, questions like 'why painting now' and 'why painting abstract now' became more present. Therefore, I terribly miss painting talks with my painter colleagues, real studio visits, exchange and spontaneity. 

In a world of lockdowns and zoom calls, do you think there's a fresh desire in the art world for 'digital exhibitions'? Or is there just no way to replace the real-life art experience?

I believe digital exhibitions are a necessity and a compromise right now.  Thanks to the Internet, there are at least these opportunities. But I don't want to believe there is a way to replace real-life experience, not with art, not with anything else. Maybe it is a naive argument, but just think about the transformation the works are going through: they were photographed or scanned, edited, placed in the virtual room, rendered and now they are shown on a tiny screen.

Pale Grey Brush Fire
200 x 130 cm, oil on linen, 2020

See more of Vika's work @vika_prokopaviciute

'Becoming Habits: Chapter Three' can be seen in Zurich, Switerzland until April 10 2021.
A book collecting the work featured in the exhibition series, alongside accompanying texts can be found at:
https://www.studi0.art/collectors-club