Q&A with Ilona Szalay

riderIlona Szalay studied at Oxford University (BA) and Byan Shaw, University of the Arts (MA). Her work was selected for the Threadneedle Prize 2012 and National Art Competition 2012.

Your work is described as looking at the tensions and the balance between ‘violence and control’ and ‘Beauty and fragility’. Is this something you wrestle with when painting?

Yes, the physicality of the painting process sometimes feels like walking a tight-rope – on the one hand there must be a spontaneity and unforeseen dynamism to the image which is all about a relinquishing of control but on the other hand the image must contain a skeleton, something rigorously ‘true’, which is born out of visual skill, experience and precision. So, there are pockets of intense control alongside areas of delicious abandonment.


Some of your paintings look very fresh and as if they might be easily wiped away? Does this play with the theme of ‘create and destroy’?

Absolutely. The fragility of images, of all images, is important to me. There is a random gratuitous quality to image making, particularly in the way I work which is very rapid. I like the idea that other factors come into play, the image is shaped by all the activity around it in invisible ways – what time you arrived at the studio, what the weather was like, if the window was opened before you began, all of this banal context ultimately has bearing on the way the image was made, quite literally on how, when and where your hand encountered the surface of the work.


Do you feel as if your painting style is becoming more fine-tuned, using fewer marks and colours to capture the subject matter?

I believe the whittling away of the unnecessary is the lifelong work of any artist. It almost feels as though there is a slow and continuous unmasking taking place. As skills develop and confidence and experience grow I feel able to convey more with less – although what the end point of that would be… It’s also to do with working with your chosen medium, understanding its properties and exploiting them fully for your own ends, almost as though the medium itself has taken over and is dictating its terms.


The new show is called Octopus, based on a piece of yours with the same title. Does the Octopus convey something about your paintings or how you paint?

Yes. Painting is physical above all else, you need a body to make paintings and as such the process inhabits an interesting hinterland between the physical, intellectual and emotional – all three coming into play. The vast physicality of the octopus, its abundant limbs and sheer energy and movement which oscillates between liquid gliding and untethered chaos, captures, for me, an elusive aspect of the paintings process.

Ilona’s work will be on show in ‘Octopus’ at the Galleria Marelia in Italy from 25th to 30th Jun 2013.