Meet the Winning Artist: Liza Libenko

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.

photo: Eva Kelety

What inspired you to utilize painting as a medium?

I was born in a provincial industrial city of miners with very dull landscapes of a gey-black-red colour palette, where I didn’t want to have a trivial life… I wanted to lead a bohemian lifestyle, hang out with eccentric people, create art and to do other razzle-dazzles. The image of the artist seemed blessed to me and also painting was the most affordable medium at that time. 

How would you describe your work? 

Paintings of restless presence. 

Can you discuss the inspiration and thought process behind your winning work?

Three years ago in late fall I was driving through the fields of forgotten and dead sunflowers. This landscape immediately caught my eye and stuck  in my memory. In my case it usually takes some time to process the experience and understand how to realize the idea on canvas. When the war broke out, I remembered this motif and it seemed more relevant than ever. I have always been inspired more by melancholic and decadent things… Classic sunflower is the symbol of the sun, vitality and life. My sunflowers are burned, they are opposite to the normal ones and they bow before the dark sun. 

What do you hope to communicate to an audience with your work?

I do not consider myself as a prophet or orator and I do not in any way take it upon myself to teach people right and wrong. My art is visual  poetry, for example like the poetry of Georg Trakl, you know?  It’s a melancholic epitaph and reaction/view on the world/nowadays reality through my own prism. I’m trying to reflect my own world and immerse the viewer into a special atmosphere…

Have you experimented with other mediums?

I have experimented with materials mostly and now I’m on the cusp of something bigger… Experimenting & development are an integral part of the creative process, it’s a lifetime journey. 

Can you talk about your biggest learning experience during the process of creating your work?

My biggest learning experience and invention in painting was when I realised that painting has no limits and I can do it as I want without any rules or limits, there is no right or wrong… It’s not a mistake to make a mistake, as my teacher Jiří Petrbok says. When I started painting I used to cover every centimetre of canvas with a thick layer of oils. It’s hard to describe my state of mind when I realised that some parts of canvas could be untouched, some elements could stay unfinished… Contemporary art is about freedom and there is  nothing better than to realise that you are free!

Can you discuss your biggest success since starting your artistic journey?

It’s hard to answer, I don’t think in terms of success in my work… What is your dream project or piece you hope to accomplish?
Hopefully soon you will witness this! 

As a winner, do you have any advice for artists who want to submit to awards, competitions, residencies, etc.?

Very hard to answer this question because most kinds of art awards/competitions etc. are very subjective, the jury selects the winners between so many different tendences and movements in one nomination when mostly you can’t even compare them..  However, I have a feeling that if you want to win, of course you need to be politically correct and fit into the contemporary agenda, tendencies, trends, historical context,  etc… without this it will be really difficult… Or just be sincere, be yourself.  

Lastly, I like to ask everyone what advice they would give to their fellow artists, what is your advice?

Now is a very sensitive time, so be gentle, be safe. Don’t offend anyone under any circumstances, be sensitive to all social groups. Keep track of what’s going on in the world and don’t read René Guénon or something like that.

If we were to rummage around in your studio, what art supplies would we find and what key colours would we see on your palette?

I use a wide range of industrial materials such as bitum, enamel, different varnishes and so on. My colour palette now  is quite limited, I work with dull earthy muted colours. 

How did you feel when you heard that you were selected for the Strabag Art Awards?

I was very excited because I just tried  and it worked, it felt really good and inspiring.

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