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In the Studio with Karolina Albricht

In the studio with Karolina Albricht, a London based painter whose practice looks to generate an active space, an environment which can be perceived and responded to through our intellectual and physical faculties. We met with Karolina to tell us more about growing up in Krakow, her greatest influences, and ideal conditions for creating works.

When did you first begin to see yourself as an artist?

From an early age I was drawn to making things with my hands. This would preoccupy a big chunk of my childhood. However, there was no notion of ‘art’ or ‘artist’ at that point, that came much later, if at all. I’m still not quite sure what exactly the word ‘artist’ entails, so from that perspective, the activity of making remains as mysterious and instinctive as it was when I was 5 years old. I’d say my relationship, understanding and involvement with painting has vastly changed over the last 7 years so perhaps that could somewhat determine the answer to this question.

Where are you from and what was your upbringing like? 

I was born and grew up in Krakow, Poland. Drawing was something I was doing ever since I remember. My early and fondest memories would be those of sitting in my room and drawing for hours. My mum raised me on her own during a time of great political change: the fall of communism and the nascency of democracy. It was a very particular socio-political point in our history, which unequivocally ingrained certain traits, a certain way of thinking in all of those affected by it, including myself. My mum has no background in art, so I didn’t have much exposure to it as a child, but she has always been extremely supportive and encouraging throughout my childhood and adolescence, through to the present day. Her deep understanding of me as a person and artist has always been a source of great reassurance.

Paint us a picture of your artistic journey. What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track? 

I started painting around 14-15 when preparing for the exams for the High School of Art. It was a 5-year programme and I enjoyed it immensely. I then went on to do an MA in Painting at The Academy of Fine Arts in Krakow. In 2008, after my graduation, I moved to London and out of necessity started working full-time in various, random jobs. It was hard to maintain a level of determination and concentration at that point. I kept a sketchbook and occasionally painted, when time allowed it, but it took me years to create financial conditions that would sustain my painting practice with enough consistency. With time, I gradually regained my focus; doing some painting at home, after work or during weekends. Getting a studio at ASC in 2016 was a pivotal moment for me, in that respect. Around that time, I also started working part-time so I’d have around 2 full days in the studio. I was aware of Turps for a long while before I joined the Studio Programme in 2018. Despite having already had an arts education, I consider the two years spent there as the most formative for me as a painter. I cannot praise it enough; in the context of mentoring, guidance and peer support it offered, along with a sense of belonging.

What’s the message of your work? How would you describe your aesthetic? 

There is no ultimate or decisive message in my work. I think that part should remain the viewer’s privilege, as a private experience. I don’t consider painting as an instructive tool. For me, it is not a way of smuggling information as didactic strategy and neither is it a means of outlining a clear, linear narrative. Rather, I understand it as a fractured narrative. An agglomeration of stories and events, which may be seemingly disconnected, but when you see them all at once, they should slowly unravel together, as one. As I see them, these stories or events can refer to almost anything that acts as a studio activity generator. A story or an event may also be a purely formal matter: the way paint behaves on the surface of canvas or the pictorial relationship it forms with other elements of the painting.

Who/what are your greatest influences? 

It’s difficult to pinpoint the specifics, it doesn’t stop at one person in particular. The list of artists that I value is extensive and ever growing so I’ll just mention some names I’ve been looking at or revisiting recently: Elizabeth Murray, Eva Hesse, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jerzy Nowosielski. I saw some great exhibitions in the past couple of months so have been thinking about these artists as well: Helen Frankenthaler, Erika Verzutti, Anne Ryan, Frank Walter and the list continues.

An unexpected source of inspiration?

I’m not sure what I think of the word inspiration exactly, but I’d say that life and what constitutes life is all one needs to never cease making. One characteristic of life is that it is unpredictable and so whatever it brings can act as an unexpected source of inspiration, to use your expression. I do think of painting as a greedy, insatiable process; it encompasses, permeates and transcends every aspect of living. 

What do you want people to take from your work when they view it? Do you have the audience consciously in mind when you are creating?

No, I don’t have a pre-planned experience that I’m conjuring for the viewer, and I try not to think about what happens with the painting once I’m done with it. It can be very counterproductive and misleading. I wouldn’t want to confuse the audience’s expectation with what drives me to paint, I prefer to keep these things separate, if I can, while I’m in the process of painting. I would hope that whoever is looking at my painting can experience it in a singular way, whether as a purely visual experience or aesthetic arousal, or as something that reaches towards other levels of cognition. Something that cannot be quite understood, grasped but nevertheless holds a deep resonance with the viewer.

What events in your life have mobilised change in your practise/aesthetic? How has your art evolved? Do you experiment? 

I think my move to the UK in 2008 was probably the most radical change in my life to date and I can’t underestimate its significance. I think it enabled me to distance myself from the conventions I identified with while studying in Poland, but it still did take years to shake it off. The other event would be joining Turps Studio Programme in 2018, which turned my life 180 degrees in many respects. 

Constant re-evaluation of the materials and techniques I’m using is at the crux of my current work; reaching for different mediums and substances I can mix with paint, collaging fragments of painting rags, studio detritus etc. onto the surface of the work. Over the last 4 years I’ve been exploring the painting’s surface and the gradation of paint application from thin washes to thick impasto. I have investigated the texture by adding a variety of alternative substances to the paint: hair, volcanic rock, textile fibres, sawdust, sand, pumice, sponge.

What are your ideal conditions or catalyst for creating a “good” piece of work?

I try not to think about my work in those terms. The one principle I adhere to is to maintain a regular studio practice, to quote the late Chuck Close (I think this is how it goes): The rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself’.

Something in the future you hope to explore?

I’ve been thinking about making sculpture for the past 3-4 years, in fact I’ve been ‘making it in my head’ for some time now! But, painting always has this sense of urgency to it and everything else gets pushed to the side. I experimented with sculpture while in High School and prior to commencing my studies in Poland I hesitated between painting and sculpture. I think the three-dimensionality and materiality of sculpture has never quite left me since. So, I’m hoping I will make a start on it this year and hopefully show them sometime next year.

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