We sat down over a Zoom Call with our good friend Alicja to catch up on what they have been up to since MADE IT 2019. Here's what she said:
SS: How have you been getting on post-graduation?
AM: I graduated almost two years ago now, and I found that in my first year, I had a lot of exhibiting experience and I’ve been fortunate with exhibitions, which is the best way for me to put it I suppose. I did exhibitions and then an article and a collaboration, and then I moved to Leeds towards the end of the year, so this year has been more like a gap year without Thailand. It’s been the first time since I started painting that I’ve not been doing it regularly and it’s been kind of nice. I’m still making work, but making lots of applications too and like raking in the rejections, but that’s really important I think to get used to that. Just making it really casual. I’ve enjoyed it – I think – there’s been times where I’ve not chosen to take a break where I’ve had no inspiration, but I think that’s just up and down. The art life is up and down. They treat it like the first year is like make or break almost, like if you don’t do stuff you’re just dead to the art world. I don’t believe in that, but it’s a tough one. I guess I should say that when we had the MADE IT exhibition it was a really good chance to make one piece of work that I could spend a lot of time on, and that was great.
SS: How does it feel being out of university as a practicing artist?
AM: I miss being directly in your peer group, I think it can be daunting when you set yourself goals outside of uni because it’s just you, but I like figuring things out for myself and applying things I’ve learned, and being responsible for it all. I quite like it. But yeah, because I felt ready to leave uni when it was time that was fine, but it’s hard to describe the difference. But uni is brilliant, it’s just amazing getting to paint all day every day, but it’s not like real life. It’s going to end and growing up is hard! When I first finished I didn’t get the scholarship (a graduate scheme offered by the University of Salford), but it still worked out. The post-uni grind is good, it makes you really appreciate the choices you make and their impact. Check your uni emails until the end. I was lucky, I had great opportunities and a lot of energy at the right time. If you get an opportunity to do something amazing, go for it. Really apply yourself and go for it properly.
SS: Is it anything like you expected it to be, for better or worse?
AM: I don’t think I had any expectations, bit of a boring answer, but you know!
SS: Take a second to reflect on your year as an artist – are there any experiences (good or bad) that have really stood out for you?
AM: The Art Battle at the Manchester Art Gallery really stood out for me. The founders John and Sophie were really great to work with, it was for charity and it was just a different kind of art event. The making process is exposed to a crowd of people when normally it’s fairly private. Something I just never thought I would do. I’ve never seen anything like that before even done, so I didn’t know that was an option. It’s something I would recommend trying if you paint or if you do 2D stuff or if you just want to do it! It’s crazy because you don’t have an unlimited amount of time and you just have to get it done. It’s just really fun.
In terms of bad things, I don’t want to be too negative, but I had an interview I think about a lot when I’m trying to sleep (she laughs). They asked me “do you have any questions?” and I asked, “what kind of scale of art would work for this?” - it was for an art fair – and she just said to me “that was the wrong question to ask” and she explained to me that me asking that question meant I wasn’t serious about my work because I don’t have one size that I will make no matter what, and that being flexible is somehow bad. That just really shook me because she asked me if I had any questions, and the notion that there are wrong ones to ask is fascinating to me, and the feeling that being serious about your work means doing similar things all the time. Generally, people are quite open to your questions, so that was a strange experience. I’ve never had that happen before, and I think about that sometimes. It was interesting. Needless to say, I didn’t get that chosen for that opportunity! Not sure why! (we laugh)
SS: Has your practice changed at all? If so, in what ways and why?
AM: So, I think part of my work has stayed the same because I’m still exploring identity, but it’s kind of evolved. My painting style and the subject within exploring identity and the concept of home and how that’s influenced has grown with each show. It’s also about the identity of other people and observing that. I feel I’ve jumped through a lot of ideas in a short space of time, so I guess that’s why I’ve slowed down a bit now also because opportunities force you to make work and sometimes you don’t have the space to reflect on it properly. I like making bigger work, but it’s more cost effective to make smaller work, and if you want to sell it it makes that easier too depending on who you’re trying to sell it to. I like painting massive murals and parks and impossibly large objects, but these things take more time to be done properly. I do wonder though sometimes what could be done if I had more time, and more resources and stuff. What can I make? And where will my practice go? I’ve also done more collaboration since being at uni and that’s been good.
SS: As an emerging artist, do you think there are enough opportunities to put yourself out there? How have you found navigating the art world?
AM: Well with the opportunities I think there is a good amount, but we always need more. We especially need more that generate income, because generally I think you have to invest your own money to apply and for materials and other making aspects, and sometimes opportunities can be confusing because I think you need more time to develop your ideas, and often opportunities expect you to be polished when that isn’t reasonable at this point. You need time to develop. My art world is very much online; if you’re not in London, sometimes the art world feels a bit far away. I think the Manchester scene is good, it’s quite immersive and accepting - as a student I’ve always felt accepted straight away, and when you come out of that it’s a bit more competitive. The conversation becomes a bit of a one-upmanship and maybe that’s my weakness, but I don’t love it. That’s the art world on an interactive basis, when you meet artists sometimes you can’t have a relaxed conversation that you might when you’re at uni. It’s a bit unnecessary, everyone is so different, but also the amount of opportunities is much smaller than the number of emerging artists so what can you do? My mum and her friend are both artists, and they’re both just the biggest weirdos I’ve ever met, and that’s like my favourite part of this. Having to present yourself in a certain way, that’s a lot of pressure.
“I think if you like making art it’s not going to leave you
– so, it’s fine to take your time”
SS: If there was something you could change about the art world, what would that be and why?
AM: I mean there’s so much, but the one-upmanship I kind of mentioned before, but also the business approach to it and the handful of people making the big decisions. Like football, when you have a few big teams and the rest are kind of scrambling around, I guess I would just like it to be a bit more level, but I’d like to think it’s heading there with time. The art world has become more diverse recently, I’d like to think it’s becoming more accepting of differences, but that kind of thing takes time. I like to think it’s going in the right direction though, as naturally opportunities are created by different kinds of people and there is more demand for diverse voices. There’s so much we don’t know too, like I’m in the art world and I want to have an opinion on it but I’m also not. My experience of the art world is just my perspective. It’s a weird one. Everyone’s artworld is different.
SS: Do you have any advice for upcoming graduates on how to prepare for their year ahead? What can they expect, and do you have some tips for keeping going?
AM: (Looking at notes) I’ve written a lot here, but I just don’t know. It’s a tough one because everyone’s so different, and wants to do different things. A perspective I would recommend to try out is there is no one right way, thinking like that prompts you to be a bit more resourceful and also consider how you can apply your own unique experiences. There are probably wrong ways, like doing nothing and expecting things to happen, but maybe even that could work out, who’s to say? The pressure of making money may become a burden if you’re not from a financially secure background, but don’t listen to the stigma around getting a “real job” and feeling like you’ve “given up” – it’s a really smart thing to do and it’s important to feel secure. I think if you like making art it’s not going to leave you – so, it’s fine to take your time and to keep looking for opportunities and keep looking for inspiration and give yourself permission to do that. If you feel like you’re getting comfortable enjoy that, and if you panic listen to that. Just go with your gut, think about the people that look at your work, and then forget about them and then make it. It doesn’t need to be in that order. Make things that excite you, say you’re going to make six paintings in three days, because it doesn’t really matter if you do or you don’t at the end of it it’s just about getting out of pressure/a rut. And talk to your artist friends and support them, because that will just fix everything. If you love art there’s no way that’s not going to be inside you which sounds really cheesy. I did graphic design first because I thought that would make me more money, but I just couldn’t get away from how much I love art, so I had to go back to it. If you love it that’s a really good reason to do it, and hopefully that will keep you motivated, but equally if your passion’s not there that can be something to listen to. Sometimes that’s what it feels like when it’s time to try a different technique or idea. Perfectly natural. When I was thinking about what it would be like to be a person reading this, what I like reading is people’s experiences, not just generic answers. I should add, just to try and work on how you take rejection, or how you react when things go wrong. When things go wrong for me it can be quite hard for me to pick myself up; but things will go wrong. That’s something to include in your hobbies, try to like figuring things out when things go wrong. I will feel sad for a day, but then I’ve got to carry on. Just take care of your mental health, really. It’s like any job.
SS: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned over this last year that you feel has had a significant impact on yourself as an artist and/or your practice?
AM: I’ve learned that my attitude towards my practice is really important to staying motivated. The way I approach this is that my practice is my own, so whatever I put in is what I will get out, and this also means figuring out what the right amount of pressure for me is and not overdoing it. So as a procrastinator, I try not to beat myself up about it, but I set myself deadlines, and I think that’s been the most important because it’s like your own thing. It’s your own practice, it’s yours to control.
SS: Are there any projects from the last year or any current projects you’re working on that you’d like to talk about?
AM: I want to mention a collaboration I’ve been developing with Paul Miller – it’s a fusion of projection and painting together. We’ve exhibited an early experimental version ‘Flection’ of it last year, it’s something we’ve been working on for a while. It’s going to go a bit more sculptural, so I’m making paintings on paper and manipulating the paper which form sculptures that then come to life through projection mapping and soundscapes. I’m really proud of where it’s going so far, and it’s something I love watching because it’s a combination of traditional and modern techniques which feels natural and allows the viewer to navigate it and make sense of it. I’m curious to see how an installation like this will work as a video more like a film, consisting of one painting, with the focus and movement of the light telling a story so you see the painting in a different way. We’re just figuring it out, it’s fun. We don’t know where it’s going yet.
SS: Bonus Q – Any shout outs for artists, organisations, gallery groups, websites, resources etc that have supported you over this year or that you just want to recommend graduates and emerging artists look out for?
AM: I wanted to shout out some of the people I’ve worked with in the places I’ve found opportunities, so HOME Manchester especially Bren O’Callaghan and Isabelle Croissant who I worked closest with for Unpacking. GK Gallery in Salford, Celery Works which is a collective I’m part of in Blackpool, Abingdon Studios, Grundy Art Gallery and Art Battle. Art Rabbit and Curator Space – if you aren’t familiar with these yet they’re really helpful. One of the artists I connect with and am always drawn to is Sadé Mica (who graduated with Alicja from The University of Salford in 2018).
Thank you so much to Alicja for taking the time out of her very busy schedule to answer our questions - she's one to keep an eye on!