The 28th STRABAG Artaward International has just announced the winning artists. The award, which focuses on painting and drawing, is one of the country’s most highly endowed private art prizes. Initially limited to Austrian artists, it expanded in 2009 to include international participants.
The prize consists of a main prize and four recognition awards, totalling €35,000, given annually. For 2021-2023, artists from Poland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Austria were invited to participate. Out of more than 700 applications, five artists were selected as winners.
In 2023, Jósefina Alanko, a Polish-Finnish artist, received the main prize. The recognition awards were given to Peter Cvik from Slovakia, Samira Homayouni from Austria/Iran, Liza Libenko from Czech Republic, and Grzegorz Siembida from Poland.
What inspired you to utilize painting as a medium?
From the very beginning, I knew that painting was my medium. Even at the age of 16, while attending an art high school, I felt most comfortable using paints and working with color on a surface. Over time, I expanded this medium to include new techniques such as collage or three-dimensional objects. Nevertheless, I still consider these actions to be strictly related to painting. I think the unpredictability and continuous exploration of the medium of painting are fascinating (especially when it comes to oil painting) . For example, using the same yellow paint is never the same adventure. It dries differently in various conditions and behaves differently each time (depending on the type of solvents you use, the temperature, or the surface you work on, these factors are always variable) , somewhat like a living organism, and that is very captivating. It’s a constant learning experience through interaction with painting itself, discovering one’s own possibilities, and pushing beyond them.
How would you describe your work?
In my paintings, a multi-level narrative can be deciphered . The first, highly important level is the emotional one, where purely painterly elements play a crucial role, such as color, texture, and the dynamics of applying paint to the canvas. Another significant level of interpreting my paintings is the dialogue with art history, pop culture, and mass culture. The paintings feature more or less discernible quotations, which allow viewers to create relevant discourses. I would describe my works as dualistic, juxtaposing different worlds and creating combinations and tensions that can only exist on the plane of the painting. They are collages of experiences, things I have seen or encountered transformed into the language of painting. I often borrow formal solutions characteristic of a specific artist known from art history in order to establish a dialogue.I simply process what surrounds me, ranging from mass culture through pop art to so-called high culture.
Can you discuss the inspiration and thought process behind your winning work?
Inspiration comes from everything, even seemingly trivial things that I pass by on the way to the studio and barely notice. It is during the process that they emerge on the surface of the painting. They can be things I saw years ago, smells, words, but they are never a direct conscious driving force contributing to the creation of a specific painting.Typically, I begin my work without specific guidelines. The first stage of painting is pure expression. I start with a color that either stuck in my mind or simply the tube of paint that happens to be closest at hand. During this stage, the painting leads me, and it can last for several hours.Then comes the “back-and-forth” game. It is when I consciously take control of the painting, cleaning up the patches, adding colors, and building the composition. I continue this process until the painting becomes too structured. At that point, I let go again, allowing the painting to take control. This might happen, for example, when I paint over the best part of the image. This struggle continues over several painting sessions until harmony emerges on the canvas—a harmony born from chaos and deliberate, precise brushstrokes that sometimes require a long time to create.
What do you hope to communicate to an audience with your work?
Paintings that are not conceptual illustrations possess a primal power that resonates with the viewer and directly reaches their emotions. This is inherent, for example, in the psychology of color perception. I would like the viewer, while observing my paintings, to follow that instinct first, and only later seek shapes, meanings, or connections within the artwork.
Have you experimented with other mediums?
Some of my paintings have continuations in spatial objects. This happens because the flat nature of the painting becomes insufficient, and then the image extends into sculptural objects. These objects are also created in an expressive manner, meaning that I don’t make sketches or models beforehand but spontaneously start cutting shapes out of wooden panels. Later, I assemble them and paint them.
Can you talk about your biggest learning experience during the process of creating your work?
The greatest progress occurs when you challenge what you have already achieved. I have noticed that the most interesting moments during the creative process are when you feel like you have overplayed the painting: a sense of being stuck in a loop. Then, in a final breath, you make a bold move that saves the painting and sets a new trajectory for the next cycle. It’s an incredible feeling, extreme yet invigorating, like a gust of wind filling your sails.
Can you discuss your biggest success since starting your artistic journey?
Due to the distinctive creative process I employ, the greatest success lies in starting each new cycle of works, which is always preceded by exploration and suspension in a vacuum. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, sometimes a few months, and every time I manage to emerge from that void and begin a new thread in the paintings that will be continued until exhaustion or the emergence of the next one, I consider it the greatest success. Surviving several years after graduation and still being able to pursue painting as a full-time occupation feels like a tremendous success to me, especially considering that the initial few years were a significant challenge and required a lot of sacrifice and belief. The support of friends who are also artists and have gone through the same experiences was incredibly important.
What is your dream project or piece you hope to accomplish?
I am thinking about creating painted objects in public spaces. Sculptures made of metal coated with enamel polychrome, designed to exist outside gallery spaces without being affected by natural atmospheric factors.
As a winner, do you have any advice for artists who want to submit to awards, competitions, residencies, etc.?
It’s difficult for me to provide advice to other artists, as we each have individual approaches to art and creation. We all have our own unique fascinations that we develop and deepen through painting.However, if I were to offer some technical advice, it would be to explore different artistic techniques and mediums. When participating in a competition where the initial selection is based on photographs of your artwork, it’s crucial to ensure that the photographs are as accurate and faithful to the original as possible. This advice may sound simple, but it is incredibly important. Additionally, curating a cohesive group of works that tell a narrative or convey a story could be advantageous.
Lastly, I like to ask everyone what advice they would give to their fellow artists, what is your advice?
Don’t give up. Every competition is a subjective selection made by a group of jurors who have their own preferences. Just because you didn’t succeed this time doesn’t mean you’re inferior or not ready. Every award in painting competitions, and beyond, is a complex combination of various factors that are constantly changing. If it didn’t happen this time, there’s always the next opportunity. Keep going until your moment arrives, even if it happens when you’re in your forties or beyond!