Karolina Albricht is a Polish painter based in the UK. I interviewed Karolina over Zoom in late 2020. It was actually a friend that suggested that I check out Karolina’s work, and I am very glad that he did. I really enjoyed my conversation with Karolina; it got me thinking of how space is represented on canvas. In this interview, we talk about her painting practice and how her paintings are often responses and interpretations of external factors. We talk about the effect of the studio on her work, and we even discuss her approach to scale in her painting.
Let’s start with a day in the studio. How do you approach your practice?
I like to be in the studio first thing in the morning and have the whole day ahead of me. No interruptions, just get into it. It allows me to take my time, to think and look at what’s been done the previous day. Like warming up or stretching. Drawing is one of the studio activities that can easily shift the gears of thinking, without the pressure that painting sometimes may have.
I make notes of words that I hear or read, which resonate with me and somehow might come in useful in the studio. It might be fragments of lyrics that I’ve listened to. Sometimes it’s just a single word, that I think, “I must make a note of this.” And before I start the work, I often look through my notes, look at the words, and see if anything happens, see how I react. Sometimes it can be a physical reaction, or internal reaction, it can set things in motion.
I listen to a lot of music in the studio. I find that it helps me to disconnect from all those things that might hinder the process, and to isolate things I should focus on. So, music and dancing, amongst other things, help to get into the headspace that I need when I’m painting. A dance can simply mean a basic movement of a hand or leg, nothing too elaborate, just locating yourself in the body, a kind of kinaesthetic experience. Music and dancing have the most immediacy across the arts so they interact with you physically before being then filtered by the intellect. Music opens up a lot of ‘head’ and ‘body’ doors for me. It has an innate relationship with my work, and somehow things I’m listening to can find a way out, transgress.
It’s a multi-layered game, like a domino effect with books, with music, with painting: it’s all intertwined: the word, the sound, the line. But the music is the core layer, it is underneath the painting.
It’s interesting that you mention dancing as an influence on your work.
I’ve generally been thinking about the physicality in my work, and why it is that physicality such an important aspect of my work. It is a combination of things, of course. In a way, it might be a reaction to where we are now, as a society, and how we interact with one another, and with the world, or what these interactions have been reduced to. With digital media, the physicality is essentially wiped out so that must have a degree of influence.
The shapes, the line and the movement, it’s all a constant exchange, in relation to the body. During first lockdown my attention shifted to how the body moves within the studio, and how/if that is linked and translated in the work. The series of paintings I then started developed a titling system: combining specific types of movement or direction, and body parts. All that was to do with mapping my movements within the studio and then transferring them from the floor to the wall- flipping them. The way you move about the studio floor, the way your arm might move to draw a line or how your foot might step on the ground— that creates a pattern, a repetition: a rhythm. I read that rhythm might have developed in humans as a way to unite collectively during wars and battles- a ‘battle trance’. And I’m thinking what the rhythm is, what its function is and how it surfaces in my studio. I think my work, in many ways, is relying on this heavy, intrinsic thing of rhythm/ multi-rhythm/ syncopation. Especially syncopation. (Syncopation is the combining of rhythms)
There’s a very textural element to the way you lay on paint. Is that tied to physicality, with the use of materials like burlap?
Yes, that’s yet another layer of that physicality, which, over the years, gradually became more and more prominent in my work. I’ve started using different mediums and thinking about alternative substances that I can mix with the paint. I got my first Lukas Painting Butter maybe four years ago, and it’s become one of my go-to medium. What it does is it gives the paint a heavy body and speeds up drying. It gives it more flexibility as well.
It allows me to add what I want, from hair to volcanic rock. I have a box of sawdust that I’m looking forward to experimenting with. I can really play with the surface of the paintings with these materials.
How did that interest in materiality spawn for you?
I guess the explanation for it is more of a bodily reaction to looking; looking and thinking and processing everything that is happening around you and within you.
You experience the world through your body, through the entirety of your senses, named and unnamed, and my painting hugely relies on those experiences. The body can often act as a filter, it constantly processes the space around it.
We have talked about physicality in your work, but you also work in very different scales with certain paintings. How important is scale for you?
Yes, playing with scale is important. I recently finished Turps Studio Programme. While I was there, I had more space- larger walls, and I could experiment with larger paintings.
I’ve started painting on 220cm by 180cm canvases. Before Turps, the largest I had worked on was around 150cm. So it was a significant change. And I’m still learning to find myself on that scale. I also continue working on the smaller ones, small paintings, which are around 30 centimeters high — and trying to shift things between large and small, often simultaneously.
The small paintings are a kind of compression. It’s as if they demand more intensity, in terms of layering and in terms of detail, like snippets of something much larger.
Whereas the bigger paintings are a space you can physically enter. That space, you know, you can walk around. That scale means it’s already an object that you can spatially interact with and perceive in a very direct way, you can’t help it. It’s a different kind of an ‘entry point’.
There is this constant interaction in painting, how the body behaves when approaching these different scales, you know? From entering a painting which is taller than yourself, and then going back to something that is the length of your forearm.
These changes teach flexibility. There is an element of contraction and expansion, which continues to exist on all scales in various ways. You have to be alert at all times. I think of it as a way to challenge myself, and I like a challenge. The gesture or mark cannot be the same on such differences in scale. It’s a completely different approach.
I’ve found it very interesting the way that you name exhibitions and certain selections of works, like The baddies, the goodies & the sheriff (2020).
The baddies, the goodies & the sheriff is a group of paintings that I started working on during the initial lockdown. I had started painting some smaller works in Turps’ studios, but then they had to temporarily close because of Covid-19 restrictions. So I picked up my works, and I moved back into my old space in ASC. Something shifted when I put them up in a different space, on a different wall, in a space occupied by myself only. Divisions came about whereby some became “the good paintings, the nice paintings, the polite paintings,” the paintings that I knew how to make, and I felt comfortable making — and the other paintings, which were the opposite of those. They felt like the opposite because they were doing something forbidden (forbidden by myself…). So, if I’d look at one of the ‘nice’ paintings, I then immediately was tempted to just pack it up, take it and destroy it. Not in a physical way, not to tear it up into pieces, but just disrupt it completely, contradict it somehow.
And so while that process started happening, that was a point of departure as well for my work, because I started to experiment more — things kind of erupted. And later on, I divided the group of paintings, or they divided themselves, into the baddies and goodies, the wild ones that would misbehave and the ones that were easier to manage. And there was a painting that sort of connected the two groups, which I called The Sheriff. The sheriff was watching both the baddies and the goodies!
However, these paintings now departed from my initial attempt to identify them, getting some kind of grasp of them. I now see them as simply the ‘Small Ones’ as they continue transmuting and twisting.
Before the lockdown, I think I’d gotten to a point where I was comfortable within the parameters of where I was operating. I suppose the lockdown and moving studio were the push that led to this change. And of course my time at Turps. I think I have to be 100% engaged and preoccupied with what I’m doing, otherwise the practice and thoughts slips away. I think you have to try to remain in this state of alertness, always on your guard, always be ready to attack.
You can find out more about Karolina Albricht’s work through her Instagram pages and websites, links below
thank you, Anne James for your work editing
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