A Room Study: A Conversation with Loribelle Spirovski
Following the success of her recent milestone international debut with Guy Hepner Gallery in NYC, Loribelle Spirovski will be opening a solo exhibition, Incognito, on July 31st at Frances Keevil Gallery just outside of Sydney, Australia. For this showcase, the young Australian painter produced a coherent body of work that represents the type of works she currently enjoys creating.
From single vibrant lines that are carving the body silhouettes of her subjects, to expressive, brushwork-based abstract portraits, her work is a vibrant mixture of styles that intertwine between individual pieces. Clearly eager to challenge herself technically, the show will include tiny color studies depicting washed off portraits, bigger and sharper pieces from her Homme series, as well as complex works that are mixing a wide range of influences and diverse visual elements discovered through her practice. We were intrigued to find out more about the source of inspiration for her award-winning works, hear about her artistic influences and work process, so we had a chat with Loribelle about her upcoming show as well as got an exclusive peek inside her Sydney studio.
Sasha Bogojev: One thing that struck me about the Incognito exhibition is the variety of works. I could distinguish large works with realistic or perspective elements, ones with outlines and expressive abstract portrait and smallest, blurry portraits. Do you distinguish them like that and how many different types of works will you be presenting?
Loribelle Spirovski: My attitude going into the ‘Incognito’ show with Frances Keevil Gallery later this month, was largely influenced by a show I did at Guy Hepner Gallery in New York earlier this year. I really wanted to take the elements that I liked from the earlier show and use as a springboard for new ideas. The Homme series has been such a success and I definitely wanted to continue in that vein, creating works in a wide range of sizes, to really challenge myself technique-wise. Over the past few years, I realized that what I enjoyed most – and what I perceived were my most successful paintings – were smaller studies that had a vibrancy of expression because there was no pressure to have a ‘finished’ piece, or even to show it to anyone. Since then, I’ve come to approach every piece with the same attitude as a study, and so meander between styles and techniques in a very relaxed way, quoting artists whose techniques I admire, while at the same time telling little stories about day-to-day observations and experiences.
Where do you draw the inspiration for all the work and all the different styles of painting you're using?
I’m definitely an art history-buff, so I like to make very deliberate references to artists I admire, trying to ‘learn’ their language in my own way and reinterpret them in a way that best suits the narratives and characters that I want to portray. I talk about stories a lot because I’m also largely inspired by literature and films and all other modes of story-telling. Living with my husband who is a concert pianist, horror-buff, and even bigger introvert than I am, is also an enormous influence on my art. As well as being a literal subject for many of my paintings, each ‘Homme’ is in some way inspired by him and the stories we trade about our past experiences (we’ve both had fairly interesting childhoods and they are a constant source of inspiration).
Is there any other narrative or a particular theme you're exploring in your paintings?
Despite my meanderings into a wide range of styles and techniques, I’ve found myself constantly drawn back to the image of a room. I’ve talked a lot about the impact that my childhood in Manila has had on my work and subject matter; so many of my memories are set in rooms, cramped rooms full of seemingly innocuous objects and characters from my past that take on sometimes ghoulish appearances in my dreams. In my art, the room becomes a conceit for my own mind and the arbitrary characters and paraphernalia that fill that space is very much autobiographical.
I've seen that you've been painting fully realistic pieces too in the past, but none of those are in the show. Is there a particular reason for that?
I definitely still continue to paint in a realist style on occasion – I just finished one the other day! For me, as a self-taught painter, it’s so important for me to continue to develop my skills in drawing and modeling form, amongst other more academic techniques, while still allowing myself the intellectual freedom to work in more expressive modes. For this show, I discussed my ideas with the curators of the gallery and decided to keep it loose and playful.
So, who are the subjects of your paintings and how do you pick them?
I work very loosely off photographs that I’ve taken, as well as film stills and old magazines. The more abstract ones of the ‘Homme’ series are completely imaginary, and more often than not, they’re based off my husband Simon. I tend to use photographs as a model for lighting and the angle of a pose and choose this based on the initial color/s that I put to canvas – a lot of my compositions are built from the background up.
Another thing I've noticed is the wide color palette you're working with, from muted, pastel-like tones to heavily saturated, vibrant colors. How do you balance between that?
Frankly, I go through different moods and determine my palette and approach this way. As such, sometimes it works and sometimes it’s less successful, but I’ve found that this is the most effective way for me, as I’ve tried to force myself to work in one way or one style and inevitably will find that I stray back to the one that I wanted to do regardless.
How much of your work is planned, sketched before approaching the canvas, and how much of it is intuitive, spontaneous?
A lot of it is intuitive in that I approach even my largest paintings as I would a sketch or study. Often, I erase, wipe away, paint over or otherwise destroy elements during the process, and treat each painting as a problem-solving exercise. Sometimes I will have an idea of a shape that I’d like to convey and will fill in the elements on the spot. I collect a lot of images, phrases, and music and will often select a few and work off that for a painting. Patterns begin to emerge organically as I’m working constantly and one idea will carry on to the next painting, and then the next.
I noticed all the works are acrylic and oil. How do you mix those two techniques and what are the attributes of each that you prefer over the other?
I mainly use acrylic for the background. The type of acrylic paint that I use has a matte texture when dry, and contrasts beautifully with the sheen and texture of oils which I use to paint the figure. I always prefer to work in oil.
How long have you been working on this body of work and how happy are you with the outcome?
As with all artists, I’ll never be completely happy or satisfied with a body of work – which is what enables me to develop the next body of work. Sometimes I’ll create one or two pieces that really say something and I’ll think to myself, “Gee, I struck some gold on that one.” When I am satisfied with a work, I tend to stop and a tension builds because it’s hard to follow that up with something to match its strength and efficacy, so I jump to a completely different mode until a new rhythm comes about. It took me a couple of months in total for this particular body of work.
What other project/shows do you have planned for the future, any plans for more international shows sometime soon?
Having finished preparing for my solo show here in Sydney where I’m based, I’m currently knee-deep in work for a show at Metro gallery in Melbourne, followed by a long list of projects capped off by a residency at Palazzo Monti in Brescia, Italy, in December. Since my solo show in New York earlier this year, I’ve begun representation with House of Fine Art in London and am looking forward to showing them next year, as well as working with Arcadia Contemporary in LA.
Do you have any particular highlight moments in your artistic career so far?
The biggest highlights of my career are getting selected twice now for the Archibald Prize – which is the most prestigious art prize in Australia – and having a solo show in New York.
Incognito will be on view from July 31—August 12, 2018