Painters in conversation:
Zsofia Schweger talks to Agalé Bassens about ideas of home and identity in her recent work
'I thought of painting as a means to thoroughly familiarise myself with a space and turn it into a place of comfort and eventually a home.'
Writing for Junko, Aglaé Bassens interviews painter Zsofia Schweger to discuss her recent body of work, currently on show at Sapar Contemporary in New York City. The paintings exhibited both pay homage to her childhood home in Hungary and also seek to find a renewed sense of belonging in London, where she now resides.
Aglaé: Your paintings depict empty rooms in your childhood home in Hungary. They are painted with abstracted colour planes of beautiful, muted pastel tones which feel both comforting and alienating. Since leaving Hungary you have lived in the US and the UK. How do you feel travel has affected your sense of identity?
Zsofia: I feel that my sense of identity has been linked to the concept of home: what is home and where is it? Often when you’re asked where you’re from or about your hometown, people just mean the country or town where you were born or sometimes even just where your family is from. So that becomes your home by default, and then you need to qualify your response further. I sometimes say, “I grew up in Hungary, but I live in London now.” Then if someone asks more, maybe because they pick up on my slightly American-sounding accent, I explain that I also lived in America for several years. So travel has definitely contributed a lot to my sense of identity. My strong relationship to different places has helped me appreciate that the definition of home is fluid.
A: The experience of moving to a new country is very personal and can be difficult. Sometimes the more we travel, the easier it becomes. How do you imagine approaching the subject of longing and nostalgia throughout your practice in the future?
Z: I’m very lucky to have had positive experiences when moving countries, but I agree that it’s difficult. Also, I haven’t found it became easier the more I travelled, however much I may have enjoyed it in the end. I had the best time when I first moved to the U.S. for school on my own at age 16 – I knew so little but was so confident. Now I realise how much work goes into making yourself feel at home in a new country, and that makes me a bit wary of doing it all again.
And this relates to my interest in nostalgia and homesickness. If the concept of home is rooted in both space and time, then with the passing of time that longed-for return to an old home becomes difficult or even impossible. I think this is a rich and fascinating subject that will keep me engaged for a long time yet in the studio.
A: Art schools are typically very diverse in terms of background and nationalities - do you feel that belonging to this tribe, being an artist, is a way to feel more at home everywhere?
Z: Belonging to such a diverse community is important and powerful, but I’m not sure I have a special way of feeling more at home because I’m an artist. I think this must be personal to everybody. For me, these days, the idea of home is linked to my partner - with him, I could feel more at home anywhere. Still, I like feeling settled in specific places, whether it’s London, our flat, or my studio.
Photo courtesy of Zsofia Schweger, Title: Sandorfalva, Hungary #30
Photo courtesy of Zsofia Schweger, title: Sandorfalva, Hungary #28 (detail)
A: In your exhibition at Sapar Contemporary in New York City, I noticed some smaller paintings along with your large canvases of interiors. How do you feel that the scale your paintings affects the experience of remembering?
Z: I’ve been interested in how different scales affect us physically. In the large paintings, I enjoy that you can relate with your full body. It’s almost as if you could step into the images and I like that performative aspect. The smaller works have more of an object quality. These are usually small enough to be easily picked up and handled, too, so you feel like you have total control over them. I like these extremes, I don’t have many medium sized paintings.
A: Is it important for memory to be accurate? Would you say that the act of painting itself becomes a process of remembering, and is as important for you as the final finished piece?
Z: When it comes to painting, I’m not overly concerned about the accuracy of memory. You can probably tell that from the images. I base the paintings on observational drawings or photos of real spaces, but I then change them quite a lot: the spaces are cleared out, sometimes rearranged and the colour is almost entirely imagined. Painting can become a good process of remembering, like you say, but I also like the freedoms it provides. I control what I include and what I edit out. That decision-making process is important to me, and hopefully it’s reflected in some way in the finished works.
A: Is the way you think about place purely retrospective, or could you imagine creating work which would be a response to a new environment rather than to the one left behind, or even work about a place you have not been yet?
Z: Yes, for sure, these all sound intriguing! For a previous series, for example, I spent a year painting the interior of the shared studio I had at the time. I was interested in the concept of the space-place-home continuum. I thought of painting as a means to thoroughly familiarise myself with a space and turn it into a place of comfort and eventually a home. I’m now preparing to move within London, for the 4th time in my 4 years in the city, so that’s led me to consider my current environment a bit more closely and I have some paintings in the making related to that.
A: What are you working on at the moment in the studio? Are there upcoming projects you are excited about which you can share with us?
Z: I’m very excited to be working towards a show at Edel Assanti in London – it will be on view from late June to August. I’m also looking forward to an artist-led group show at Platform Arts in Belfast this summer, as well as a group show at Jewett Gallery at Wellesley College in the Boston area in the fall.
Photo courtesy of Zsofia Schweger, title: Sandorfalva, Hungary #29 (detail)
Zsofia's work is currently on show in New York at Sapar Contemporary until June 10th.
For information on upcoming exhibitions, news and to view more of her work check out her website: zsofiaschweger.com
Written by Aglae Bassens
Photo courtesy of Zsofia Schweger, title: Sandorfalva, Hungary #24 (detail)
'If the concept of home is rooted in both space and time, then with the passing of time that longed-for return to an old home becomes difficult or even impossible. I think this is a rich and fascinating subject that will keep me engaged for a long time yet in the studio.'