Ana Vujić lives and works as an artist and curator in Basel. She studied art history, new media, and pedagogy at the University of Basel and Curating at the Zurich University of the Arts. Being known as a socially engaged artist she works with large-scale formats, using bold strokes and a black and white palette. She frequently writes about politically motivated art. Ana regularly organizes exhibitions and talks at Voltage — an atelier and an exhibition space in Basel.
IMATELIER: Ana, I’ve met you as a curator, a person running an off-space in Basel, however today I would like to focus on Ana Vujić as an artist.
ANA: Thank you. I prefer this role.
IMATELIER: How would you describe your artistic practice?
ANA: It's important to say that I was an artist before becoming a curator. I'm in and surrounded by an artist-run scene, so being an artist or a curator is more or less from the same field. I started to do art about seven years ago, although before that I have been painting and drawing a lot in the streets. I was fascinated by graffiti art and public interventions. Later, I started to paint on canvas and on paper using different techniques. In the beginning, I used spray cans and stencils. Then I became more and more fascinated by painting itself, also I was trying other techniques like charcoal. I like it. When working on paper or canvas I have much more time and completely different possibilities of painting than on the streets. There it's mostly illegal, so you have to do it very fast. Also there the message has to be very clear, because people are just passing by, seeing the work for a very short time. It is the major difference between street art and these paintings that I do for exhibitions, they're more complex.
IMATELIER: So you have plenty of your artworks around the city?
ANA: Some. I am about to start doing this again, I have a project on my mind. I had to quit street art for a time being because I got into trouble doing this in Switzerland, especially in Basel. I draw in a recognizable style with bold lines, rising political topics - so it is very obvious who is the author. The authorities always knew that it's me. Also, I went to other cities - to Leipzig, Humborg in Germany, Sofia in Bulgaria. I travel around and I do paintings in other places, it doesn't have to be here in Basel. I like traveling around, discovering new places, and creating artwork, particularly for the place.
IMATELIER: Your artworks are socially concerned, political. When you work internationally how do you get into the local context?
ANA: I would say that I work with the globally relevant topics, it's not about the country itself it's more about the common problems that we all have. For example, refugees or capitalism, or any other bigger topic that concerns every country. I have to look where I want to do the artwork. The topic is good to start with, but also I want it to be site-specific. It is important what you draw, how do you draw it, and in which size, however the most important is how it goes with a chosen public space itself.
IMATELIER: What about your experience working with galleries, being in a white cube situation. How do you work with the context then?
ANA: I am so fascinated with street art, working in the streets because then art belongs there, very close to people. There it is never a question if enough people will see my works. I like this idea of art which is very connected to society. When you have shows in galleries or exhibition spaces it's a different public that you have because visitors are mostly people related to the art scene. Sure, for me it's a good chance if I have exhibitions in art spaces. Then I can work deeper and longer on my work and I can spend more time enjoying the process, however it is not that connected to the public. The other problem is that I still do huge drawings influenced by street art. While in galleries they expect to sell your work, telling “Oh, I like your art very much and it's so expressive and great, but can't you do this in a format 40 to 50?”. You know, that's difficult!
IMATELIER: Talking about the scale of your drawings, they are big which makes a strong impression.
ANA: I like to work with space, with perspective. If you look at this one, with the chess [pointing out to the unfinished drawing on the wall]... the connection from the viewer to the painting is very important to me. I don`t want to create paintings, I want to generate settings. I need a huge scale otherwise it would be just something framed picture. As you can imagine, it's very difficult to sell my pieces, to find people who support my art. Some really like it, and they are impressed by it, but wouldn’t buy it. Often gallerists tell me “It's perfect, so maybe you make one huge drawing and then you make 10 very small ones so that we can sell some”. But it's very difficult for me to make special works for selling. Surely, it is good to sell, to have money for rent, living, art supplies, etc. But it's not natural for me - to produce art for sale.
IMATELIER: Not convenient art?
IMATELIER: The distinct feature of your art is only a black-and-white pallet. Was it a conscious choice or an intuitive calling?
ANA: For me it was always clear that it has to be black and white. I started with black and white photography because I wanted to make the photos by myself, developing them, printing in a dark room. I was very much into those old photographic techniques. Also, I was interested in manipulating photographs not digitally in Photoshop but using some old techniques. That's how I started. Those photos were only black and white. With color films, it's much more difficult to process them. Like that, I got into this black and white world. Later keeping it that way with drawing, painting, charcoal. Black and white is very timeless, sometimes hard to say if it's new or is it old, it plays with memory.
IMATELIER: Do you still working with photographs? Your art is quite figurative do you base the drawings on the photos or is it from your imagination?
ANA: In photography, I was more into abstraction, into the “blurry” images. Once I took a course in photography, I have drawn my teacher mad. He was saying that it was too much light. But that’s how I wanted it. For me, an artistic expression is not in a perfect image, not in reality, but in the way, one can make it crazy. Also, I like the process of printing images, how the light goes on paper, how the image reveals - really magic. Now it's different - I'm not so interested in doing iPhone photos or something like that, I don't feel so much in it. With film it was more magical or mystical and also I never knew if it is good, I had to wait. So I don’t use photos as a reference. Also, I never do sketches. I have an idea of a painting or a drawing and then I start it somewhere and it's growing. I don't have this fixed idea of how it should look. It is not that I have a sketch in small and then I make the drawing in a big size, it's not like that at all.
IMATELIER: Going with a flow?
ANA: Yeah! And that’s how I like it. When the painting gets its power then it's really exciting. If I paint someone, let’s say a woman, and this woman gets an aura as if it is not only the painting anymore - it becomes something more, it becomes real.
IMATELIER: Talking about the power of an image. Where do you look for your new ideas, for inspiration?
ANA: I always had plenty of ideas. Actually, I have more ideas than I could paint. It is always with me - how and what I want to paint. That was never a problem - it's like an obsession. If I don't do it then I feel very bad. I have some images in my head, not the final image but just a notion. Like with these chess, I just woke up and I know what I want to do! I want to draw the chess pieces and the explosion. For me, this chess are like the society, the order of the society. It is a symbol for me. I want to rearrange the society, that's why there is an explosion on this chest desk. It was completely clear to me. However, I didn’t know exactly how the explosion will look like or the figures. Later it grows, develops. It's always different how I have it in mind and then how I draw it. I have to think about composition and things like that. The image in my head is only about the idea.
IMATELIER: Maybe that’s why I feel this energy coming from your drawings, they’re alive.
ANA: That is great if the image becomes dynamic when it takes space, you know.
IMATELIER: Are there any upcoming exhibitions we should know about?
ANA: In two months there is a solar exhibition in the Gallery Daeppen from 21 of August.
IMATELIER: Would you advise us to visit some Swiss artists’ studios?
ANA: Hard to tell, I'm connected to so many different artists!
IMATELIER: OK let's just limit you to 3 names, from Basel.
ANA: Funny, I'm interested in completely different art than I am doing. There are plenty...Ok, I truly like Pawel Ferus. He’s making sculptures, a great artist. Another artist and a friend is Ariane Lugeon. She works with textile and performance art. I also like the work by Daniela Brugger who is analyzing the digital space.
IMATELIER: Ana, thank you so much for the interview and the tea!
Thank you for coming!