Slavka Sverakova in conversation by e-mail with Susan Connolly
SS: Your focus on the visual force of hue and tonality is a principle known to me from early abstraction. I have in mind Kandinsky’s belief that colours possess the power to activate a conscious thought by sensuality and composition. As a painter, do you feel connected to any phase of Modernism?
SC: Kandinsky was a huge influence in my early exploration into painting and abstraction, and his belief that the paintings should reveal themselves to you is something that I continue to believe in. Modernism had such a verity of painters I admire, but as for identifying my own practice I am unsure. Making marks through colour has always fascinated me, and the power of sensation through both paint and colour is to the forefront of my practice. More and more, and as I continue to question why it is I do what I do, I am led to believe that it is more to do with the intuitive act of making and not a more logically charged reasoning that the work I make looks the way it does.
SS: I am aware that scale constructs a meaning. Your paintings for the final MFA exhibition operated on two scales: one I would call domestic (a room), the other personal. The painted room, actually a room covered with paint, addressed many at the same time; the smaller oblong paintings seemed to ask for one-to-one concentration. What form, or rather mode, of reading do your paintings want?
SC: I believe that scale is completely irrelevant; sometimes certain pieces demand larger spaces but smaller works can command the viewer’s attention equally. I think when I was making the work during my MFA I was very unaware of exactly what I was trying to convey and this led to lots of bits; of course, the idea remained the same, and still does, the exploration of paint. It has only been over the past few years that the processes I was developing then have come to their full potential and my fuller understanding.
SS: Your recent paintings are less biomorphic; I think of the circles you spread on the top layer – the geometry becomes more visible in its precision and spick-and-span brushwork. There is not one centre in your compositions; I see a visual field, in which things are present. The high key narrows the differences between the two layers of paint, yet it is those differences you charge with focusing my attention.
SC: The most recent work has been really about questioning very precise things within the painted surface, for example sometimes a pattern, at other times colour or presentation, and so on. After my MFA degree I found myself focusing less on painting and more on teaching and this allowed quite a reasonable time to pass before I actually went back into a studio environment. So for a long time I was thinking about constructing paintings, working out exactly how they would be made and what they would look like – long before they were made. This was really a positive thing as it allowed me to consider the work, allowing me to work extremely efficiently when I was in the studio and the paintings sort of just appeared once there.
While on residency last year I began to wonder about the peeled/ removed surface and this led to a complete body of work, which just focused on the idea that if I could view these paintings from behind or within – what they might look like.
SS: You have made me aware of your responsiveness to a given life/ work situation. For example, during the time spent at the University of Ulster, the studio was available and you did not need to replace art practice by teaching. Then you were content with the power of intuition in the process of making art. Afterwards, when you needed a paid job, the ‘art practice’ moved into your conscious mind, questioning, planning, imagining possible paintings.
During the residency the two collaborated: your intuition still governs the selection of the motive, composition and choice of the dominant hues; the scale, size, application, are more controlled and planned. I do not see the patterns as decorative, because, with you, I am constantly switching from the illusion I see to the hidden possible other layers. It is as if the paint, the paintings, concealed strange illuminations the insecurity of life visits upon us. It is as if your paintings were confessing to an event or a feeling, or a state of mind without ever giving a complete account.