A Studio Conversation with

Alexandra Zuckerman

It’s the end of July, and one of the hottest days that Stockholm has experienced in years, as I hurry to meet Alexandra Zuckerman in her residency studio at Iaspis in Stockholm. She has been here on a six-month residency program and will go back to Tel Aviv at the end of the month. I first encountered Alexandra Zuckerman’s works at the show “The Drawing Room” at Magasin III. Since then I’ve been to her studio several times and talked about her work and other matters. We have had hours of talks about childhood nostalgia that we share because of our past and memories of former Soviet states. There’s something in her aesthetic manner that makes me think of the dark Russian tales I read as a child. But we try to put the nostalgia aside this time as we sit down in the studio and focus on the artworks on display in front of us.

How would you describe what you work with?
I always say that I’m a painter, but actually I work with drawing. I think that I refer to my practice as painting because I always think about images through painting when I´m working. That’s the medium that I started out with. I don’t like paint as a material so I use pencils instead, but in a way, mentally, I’m still painting when I’m creating an image.

Has it always been like that?
While I was attending classes in art school I was trying all different kinds of mediums. But I truly found my own super powers in painting, especially when I started to use watercolours. I remember in the very beginning how I felt that using watercolours made me react faster. It was something with the material that clicked with me. Although I mostly work with ink pens now I still use watercolours when I need to.

Many of your recent works are monochrome ink drawings but, when looking from up close, one can see that you are still sometimes using colours.
Yes, that’s right. Sometimes in my monochrome paintings, I have this pale pinkish tone hidden under the ink. I use it because it reminds me of the body. You can’t really see it unless you stand really close, I don’t want it to be too noticeable. It’s not that I have something against colour, it´s the opposite, but right now the monochrome suits my themes better, it is the theme. I use it to create a more quiet, secretive and maybe a little bit darker atmosphere.

"Hole" 2012 pencils on paper, 94 x 118 cm

”Hole” 2012
pencils on paper, 94 x 118 cm

Your working method seems to be quite time consuming. Is the slow working pace important for you?
Well, I like to spend a lot of time with a work. To be near it; to get to know it better. To let images roll in my head, one into another and then put them down on paper in order to understand what it will end up as. Spending time with a work and always letting it take me to the next room is essential. In my works there are a lot of rooms, windows and doors, as kinds of thresholds. Actually my motifs are similar to painting. A painting is always an opening into another world for me. Slowly you discover that behind the door there is an opening to the next one, and for me it’s something that I have to go through slowly. Quite often when I start a work I have an idea of what I want to do, but it’s never a complete image. So I start with a little something that I catch and then slowly I’m going in. The time allows me to listen more carefully and to follow the work. I’m curious how it will look in the end.

Do you ever erase anything or go back and change?
The best thing about ink is that I can’t go back. That keeps me a bit more alert but I still make mistakes sometimes. At times I leave the small mistakes like small traps, because I like them inside the work, but sometimes I start over. I don’t want my works to be perfect; a mistake is also a new opportunity. I have a series of works that are cuts of several pieces of paper. The first work from that series was made due to a mistake.

"Black Sun" 2014 Installation view, Iaspis open house

”Black Sun” 2014
Installation view, Iaspis open house

So, from that mistake a new series of works took form?
Yes, it literally opened a new window for me. I cut the first paper, and the initial idea was to make some kind of collage. But suddenly I felt a new space was opening up. I held the papers against each other and all of a sudden something happened.

Are your works referring to each other?
Every drawing that I finish is already a step into the next one. It’s a never-ending process. In my family we had a joke that we ate the same soup every day because my grandmother never threw away the leftovers. Then she would add ingredients so it lasted forever. In a way, it’s the same thing with my drawings. I always go back to images, themes and settings that I have used before. But there’s always something new that comes up and takes me to the next drawing. Some works can be seen individually, but I rather look at the drawings like a growing city, or labyrinth, with a sense of it’s own.

Do you work with several works parallel?
I don’t usually do just one work, I always tend to make a family around it. This is a way for me to understand it better.

Do you work with symbolism?
I wouldn’t use that word perhaps but there is something connected to symbolism in my works. Many of the repeating objects in my drawings, like the holes, the moon and the opening doors and windows can be read in different ways. But I don’t feel I should explain it. I’m glad if the works are suggestive, and if it makes people use their imagination. Everything I draw is very personal in a way. That’s how art make sense for me.

"Black Sun" 2014 Installation view, Iaspis open house

”Black Sun” 2014
Installation view, Iaspis open house

Your last solo exhibition at Noga Gallery in Tel Aviv had the title ”What the moon saw”. Tell me about your interest in the moon.
The moon has no light of it’s own, so in a way it’s only an image. Same as a painting, a reflection of the sun. It’s a great source of imagination for painters and lovers because it’s a hole in the dark sky.

Not titled yet 2014 ink and crayon on paper and cardboard, 50 x 50 x 50 cm

Not titled yet 2014
ink and crayon on paper and cardboard, 50 x 50 x 50 cm

I think of Russian stories and tales visualized with lubok prints from my own childhood when I see your works. Has that been a big part of your inspiration?
Yes, of course. I look at Eastern European illustrations and animations a lot. I grew up with them and remember that, as a child, I was completely fascinated by the images. I remember the long days when my parents were away and the complete silence and boredom I felt as a kid. In this timeless void I was going through these books and was totally drawn to the images.

You have been experimenting with new mediums, such as prints and weaving lately. Are you open towards new mediums?
It has been one of my dreams to learn weaving, I adore the medieval tapestries and I’ve always had a huge interest for craft. In a way the weaving process is very similar to how I work with my drawings. It’s a medium that requires a lot of time and is done very slowly. I was lucky to meet an amazing artist here in Sweden, Susanne Henriques. She opened up this new world of weaving to me. I still don’t know how I will use it, but it’s something that inspires me a lot.

"the Girl, the Horse and the Lover" 2012 pencils on paper, 29,7 x 42 cm

”the Girl, the Horse and the Lover” 2012
pencils on paper, 29,7 x 42 cm

What are you working on right now?
For the last several months, during my residency here at Iaspis, I have been working with ink drawings that I have placed into thin wooden frames, making them stand up like little creatures or theaters. It allows me to work on several papers with layers and to draw from both sides of the paper. This is the flattest solution to make a three dimensional illusion, but it’s a very see through trick literally, it reveals itself immediately. I’m interested in creating weird perspectives or openings that are leading you nowhere, or push you away at the end. For example this house model I am working on right now. The rooms are spiraling into each other, inside and outside reflecting one another, creating an inner labyrinth. Another exciting project for me right now is a collaboration on an illustrated book with Lisa Rosendahl, who I met here in Stockholm. It’s a beautiful, imaginative story that I immediately clicked with. It contains all the best things: the moon, dreams, many drawers and even a purple dragon. I was happy to be challenged and it keeps me busy at the moment.

The conversation between Alexandra Zuckerman and Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten took place in Stockholm, SWE on July 23, 2014.

Text: Olga Krzeszowiec Malmsten
Foto: Jean Baptiste Berangér, Patrik Aarnivaara

Name: Alexandra Zuckerman
Born: 1981 in Moscow, RUS
Based: Tel Aviv, ISR
Education: BFA 2006 Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem, ISR and an exchange year 2005 at Städelchule, Frankfurt am Main, DEU
Info: ”The Drawing Room” at Magasin III, children’s book project with Lisa Rosendahl, and Brand, a collaboration with Lucy Fontaine at Fruit and Flower Deli.
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