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Studio visit with Anna-Sophia Vukovich

January 27, 2020

Anna-Sophia Vukovich (b. Calgary, AB) received a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University in 2008, and a MFA from Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2016. The Albertan landscape, from her youth, definitely comes into play in this body of work created for her exhibition "Soft Signs", The Gallery at W83(2019), the vast expanse of it... the loss of a sense of direction in the dark gestural work and in the lyrical light blue winds and water work, all which are now displayed in her lower level studio in the upper west side of NYC, where we met. They have been transferred with these elements, the directional arrows, like intake valves letting new air into the space of the canvas and circulating, but it becomes trapped in the dark, a catalyst to ignite the light in between. 


These cue’s are also like instructional components and speak to the internal. They work like a how to diagram to the abstract picture. They are meditative. The large canvases that hang from whittled poplar branches (imported from Alberta) are ambitious. There is movement in these collaged and overlapped hangings that become sculptural and static-less. 


Vukovich has participated in solo and group exhibitions in Canada and the United states. Anna-Sophia has been awarded residencies at Byrdcliffe Artist Colony (2019), Edward F Albee Foundation (2018), Wassaic Project (2017), Vermont Studio Centre (2016), and the Banff Centre for the Arts (2013). Publications include "Studio Visit," "Friend of the Artist" and "Anti-Architecture" a collaborative zine with Kara Walker. She has won several scholarships including a Toronto Arts Council Visual Art Grant, Diney Goldsmith Fellowship Award and a professional development award to the Joseph and Anni Albers Foundation.

TUSSLE: How do you choose the color palette for your canvases and symbols? How do your color choices and symbol choices relate?

Anna-Sophia VUKOVICH: I work intuitively with color. While naturally the landscape of Alberta did affect my color choices, what was more important with these paintings was achieving a kind of atmospheric space through mark and scale. I view these paintings as being quite minimal, as it’s about a large field in relation to a small but specific sign. I also wanted to create a tension between a gestural background and a graphic symbol which pops out, instigating a kind of reaction or memory. I am interested in displacing these everyday symbols and using them to speak to a kind of inner or felt sense of navigation. 


T: We spoke about the ephemeral nature in your work and your avoidance of a static image or installation. Your idea of hanging canvases from branches and/or overlapping becomes an aid in movement and something that popped into my mind was choose-your-own-adventure books, even though you are instructing us with symbols, which is less random… How do you feel randomness comes into play with your work… What are some other things that you feel aid your work to be less static? Those are her questions


AV: I am interested in a kind of instability. In considering potential versus actual, in change versus static, and I am curious how this spectrum of action can be explored with images and their public display. How these paintings were installed also became important to their content. Normally, paintings are spaced out on a horizontal axis, however I wanted to play with depth, for them to overlap in places to evoke a non-linear sense of time. I often think of images in a state of flux, and it is their relationship to one another that creates part of their meaning. There is an interdependency, as well as a paradox in terms of their importance versus their visibility/ changeability.   


I like the idea of “choose-your-own-adventure” in relation to these paintings, as the title of the show “Soft Signs” was about these internal voices and signs that we follow that lead us down different paths.  A sign is a proposition to act a certain way, so there is definitely a sense of personal adventure. 


T: Even though they are starting points for your larger paintings the collages that you make are quite different in nature. They are very graphic and seem to depict scenes of an event. Are there stories behind them? Or do you view them as purely instructional?


AV: I view the drawings as distillations or a concentration of an idea or a feeling. They are investigations into images that arise within me, kind of like a journal entry. There is a story behind them, however it’s maybe more about a kind of essence or a pitch. As I was looking at and thinking about signs while making them, I was naturally drawn to a graphic, flat quality. I have been interested in the tantric idea of an image as being an aid to a different state of consciousness.   


T: You mentioned that you study and play violin and there is a lyrical movement in your abstract canvases behind the symbols. Do you listen to music while you work or have that in mind?


AV: Yes, classical music was a big part of my childhood and I played quite seriously from the ages of four to twenty. So I was exposed at an early age to an abstract language that has its own internal logic, and I believe this subconsciously influenced my interest in creating a system of symbols and marks to work. While I love listening to music, I generally find it hard to concentrate on something at the same time, as I can get really excited about what is happening in a particular piece with regards to the phrasing, interpretation and how an idea is translated sonically. So if I need to think and generate an idea, then silence is my preference. Having said this, I agree that there is a lyrical aspect to these larger canvases, specifically with regards to the background when compared to my drawings. The scale shift has been new for me, and somehow working in this size allowed me to immerse my body into this space and move more freely with my marks. It is as if I zoomed into the background of my drawings, and found there to be a whole other reality.   


T: There is a great deal of the Albertan landscape in your work, which is hard to avoid after experiencing it growing up. But now that you are living and working in New York City do you feel the city landscape is playing a role?

AV: I feel that making art is this kind of living breathing relationship, and so I have found that location and place does make an impact in terms of what is happening in the work. There are strands and ideas that can start in certain places, however the execution or development of it does get influenced by location. 

Regarding “Soft Signs,” I felt lucky to return to my childhood landscape this past summer and make work on my friend’s horse ranch for three months. Every week I chose to pursue a couple of different hikes, and I really immersed myself in the frequency of this terrain. The expansive horizon and sense of space definitely influenced the scale of these pieces, and I know I couldn’t have made these paintings, or have initiated this scale shift had I been here in New York.

On a similar note, “Forever Present” is a piece I made last year here in New York, and believe that both the color and the way it is constructed speak to the space and time restrictions that are real realities in this city. Constructed of 11 x 14 inch pieces of paper, each unit is scribbled in with black colored pencil. Conceptually infinite in scale, the piece is a record of tiny moments or hours that amass to something tangible when placed together. I could make this work at home, or on my bed, and I could also work on it if I only had an hour or so between appointments and my day jobs. It didn’t require the same concentration or alertness that a painting demands, which was helpful regarding how taxing it can be here at times. Sometimes I feel that this city is about ingesting information and content, and if possible, it’s more productive to digest and create elsewhere.

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