I really enjoy the refined, minimal abstractions of Slovakian artist Milan Milan Vagac, who is currently in California doing a residency at Headlands. After reading through this fantastic interview, check out more of his work at the links below!
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Can you introduce yourself?
I’m from Slovakia. I completed my studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, in the department of Painting. Now I live and work in Prague, Czech Republic, where I have a studio. Besides artwork, I'm an editor and co-founder of the Magazine X dedicated to publishing and theoretical reflection on contemporary drawing.
When did you first discover art, or figure out that you wanted to make it yourself?
I decided during my studies at art high school that art is for me. I studied graphic design and classical printing techniques, but I was most attracted to fine art, especially painting. So after high school I signed up to study at the Academy of Fine Art.
What has your art education been like so far, whether formally or informally? Have you had any mentors or tutors who significantly guided you toward your current practice?
I completed my art doctorate one year ago. I think I always had success in alluring mentors and engaging colleagues during my studies. At the Academy, I was led by Prof. Daniel Fischer and Dr. Klaudia Kosziba both are very interesting artists and people. They encouraged my interest in art and helped develop my work ethic towards study and practice. In recent years, I've attended several art residencies. They influenced me and my work, and I met a lot of interesting people with different approaches to art.
Much of your work is large, abstract -- minimal -- and reminds me of early 20th century modernism and architecture such as what came out of the Bauhaus, for example. Is this an influence at all?
Yes, you are right. Art of the early 20th century period is an important inspiration for my work. My current series of paintings have the title BAU, which refers to the school Bauhaus. BAU means “to build” and I use it also for describing the process of painting, which is more about constructing - building. I used to work with basic elements of painting like pure canvas, drawing, underpainting and show them on the final surface of the image. They play an equal role of visual means. I often used to work with allusions and relations to the past forms of art. I realized that the teaching methods at the high school I attended were based on the Bauhaus methods. So I graduated using similar practices as other students of Bauhaus. I naturally am inclined to use the language of geometric abstraction, therefore I started to examine sources of this visual language and conceptualize them in my work.
What sort of themes or ideas are you exploring with your paintings?
My work consists of a few, more or less related ideas. I’m examining ideas of objectivity and processes of automation. In one group of paintings and drawings I use visual systems created by these sorts of geometric rules and conditions. These rules determine the final appearance of the whole series, it’s a kind of generative process. It refers to the relation of man to new technological environments. A lot of human labour is being replaced by automats, and a lot of human decisions are made by computers. I would like to reflect on those processes in my work. Modern art is a useful reference because modernism emphasized technological progress.
My awareness of these past art forms, as I mentioned before, is also an important part of my work. I deal with the ideas of originality, appropriation, allusion, uncreativity and others. I try to re-think modernist ideas. I examine the role of classical media - painting and the role of the artist in the contemporary world.
Can you describe your process?
I used to create larger series of works. There is a few slightly different lines and approaches in my work and I continually develop these works. When I have enough of one approach, I then continue on the other one, or I develop a new one. I think about the painting process to reveal itself in an evolutionary way. A couple of years earlier I used to work more conceptually from a particular idea to another. Now I’m much more interested in the slow process of continual progress. Each painting or work is an important part in the body of work. I’m fascinated by the artists who concentrated on limited fields or concepts for many years, or their whole careers. I’m learning to have similar dedication and concentration. In recent years I've had an opportunity to work full time as an artist. And it’s a great experience, I go to my studio on a regular basis.
What is your studio or workspace like?
I now have a shared studio with two colleagues. It's a space originally built as an atelier for one sculptor in the 1950s. The studio has a wall with large windows, so there are excellent light conditions. It’s a pleasure to work here. One disadvantage is that it is situated on the 6th floor with a smaller elevator. So, I have to move large paintings via the staircase.
If you could meet anyone at all, and talk about anything with them over lunch or a drink, who would it be, and what would you want to chat about?
I would like to talk with Kenneth Goldsmith over a glass of Irish coffee about uncreativity.
If a young artist just about to start their art education asked you what the most valuable lesson you've learned is -- so far! -- as an artist, what would you say?
Meetings with other artists from different countries, contexts and generations have helped me to develop different points of view. They showed me other ways to look at art.
What do you need or value most as an artist?
Being part of a community of similarly minded people. Also the time spent making art is one of the most important things for me.
What do you feel is the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
Creatively, I’m never fully satisfied with the results of my work. I guess many other artists have the same experience. American painter Agnes Martin wrote about it. I think it is a regular part of the process. It’s a kind of engine for permanent artistic research. Professionally, you need to deal with several problems which have little to do with art, but you must figure them out. Also, you must always fight for the time for work on art.
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on a series of works for a solo exhibition in Bratislava, and soon I’m going to hold residency at the Headlands Centre in California. I’m really looking forward to this experience.
Anything else you would like to add?
Thank you for the interview! Good luck with your project!
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