Incisions by Marianna Magurudumian-O’Reilly

Born in Russia, of Russian and Armenian descent, with both parents artists-designers who were often working on their projects from home, I was surrounded by art books, architectural models, paintings, and design projects. I was feeling very much a creatively equal part in this artistic household, learning practical skills from an early age and getting ad-hoc art history lessons from my dad: I loved nothing more than sculpting objects, drawing imaginary worlds and creatures for hours, taking myself away on fantastic travels aided by pen and paper.

I started receiving formal art school education from the age of 12. I then went on to study at St Petersburg Stiglitz Academy of Fine and Applied Arts, taking what was considered a more practical Interior Design degree there as one of the youngest students on the course. Having grown more and more disillusioned  with the political situation in Russia, I had an opportunity to continue my education in the UK, where I decided to switch my degree to Fine Art Painting at the University of Brighton, a beautiful seaside town. Having graduated with a First Class Honours degree, I had a great chance to continue onto a 3 year postgraduate course at the Royal Academy Schools in London straight afterwards, eventually settling there for 15 years with my family, before moving to Spain.

My art practice since has encompassed a lot of different mediums: from drawing and painting to making art videos, experimental website design, creative writing, sound design, exhibition curation, and interior design. I’ve collaborated with my husband Daniel, (also an artist and writer,) on The Unstitute – a conceptual art website/online art laboratory which includes various online gallery spaces with monthly curated exhibitions, one-off projects, artists’ residencies, and a ‘zine. We developed a unique digital aesthetic with complex cultural dialogues, promoted and exhibited video artworks by over 130 artists from 33 countries, connecting to a global network of artists. The Unstitute also produced a number of independent short and feature films screened internationally. The Unstitute is free to visit and explore:

My creative inspiration lies in all that excites me to try my hand at myself, a deeper exploration of my interests through practicing a new medium, learning and understanding the character of this practice and developing my own language in it. The themes I have looked deeply into are: French New Wave cinema (Godard, Truffaut, Resnais, Varda), post war Italian cinema (Fellini, Pasolini, Antonioni) and existential philosophy (Sartre, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard) which influenced a lot of video works, surrealist paintings (Carrington, Varo, Ernst), and the writings of Kafka and Deleuze – as well as other numerous sources. The fantastic architecture of Gaudi has been referenced in my design work, classical and experimental dance music has inspired my own sound design projects and developed my sensibilities. I like to mix disciplines, and I don’t feel the pressure of tying myself to making one type of thing; when it becomes a chore it lacks a particular kind of energy, an excitement to harness the subject, and to communicate in that language it needs to be left alone to breathe for a while. 

Having come full circle, I’m now developing ideas through drawing again. Drawing, a very immediate medium, enables me to play with the material and with my mind. I use various surfaces around our old Catalan house with a 100 years worth of thin plaster washes that are rich in texture, cracks and chips, a detailed history of use that is translated into some faint, random marks, by rubbing the surface with graphite on paper. Sometimes, I close my eyes and choose colours and draw shapes at random, or I just scribble something on paper absentmindedly. Thus, I’m presented with a series of opportunities for ‘communication’ with the work. I get into a meditative, slightly detached state, letting expectations go as much as possible before letting the drawing speak to me, to open my mind to suggestions. I see frottage – the initial rubbing – as a basic skin or gauze that is tied over an already existing image; it’s a game of recovery of the image.

It’s like the whole of humanity, the natural world, the cosmos, all my sources and histories are squashed together in a tight bundle of stuff that constantly mutates and changes in a continuous movement, a dance that is hidden under the surface of drawing paper. You never know what you are going to find by scratching the surface. By gently drawing on this skeleton of marks, repeating its forms over and over, I start slowly beefing up the initial image, or I take layers off, exposing that image underneath, akin to archaeology. I can recognise various marks, characters, memories of small details like a gesture or a shine on the nose, and the stuff from daily life starts to poke through this initial wild collage of bits, merging and mutating in my unfocused eyes. By gently excavating a partial image with a soft brush as it were, by gentle strokes, I nurture that image into the light, extracting, distilling it from the initial marks. As if stroking the skin of paper over and over, massaging the organs, getting the inner machinery as it were to start kicking into action. This process produces a clearer idea of what the image is and what it wants; it starts working itself out, the cogs fall into place. When I feel that an image I’m working on is becoming independent, it starts constructing itself with that inner machinery confidently and becomes almost confrontational in its new independence, then my work is done. Art for me is an organic process which continues evolving in the eyes of the beholder.

written by © Marianna Magurudumian-O’Reilly

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