Maruša Meglič and Anamari Hrup - Freedom is essential for creativity

Maruša Meglič and Anamari Hrup are postgraduate students of painting at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana. This is a period when they have been asking themselves whether to be innovative and shock the world or adapt to the taste of the majority and have fewer problems selling their work… Well, they are now convinced that art must exist for its own sake, that it must be sovereign, and that it is necessary to produce something new, something bold.

During their first and second years at the Academy, they mostly concentrated on figure drawing and perfecting their skills, while in the third year they began to analyse how to express themselves artistically and how to find, research and elaborate their own topics. The last semester of the third year was devoted to the preparation of their diploma work.

They remember this last year as a period of crisis, of desperate searching for the right direction, but also as a time when they were finally able to do things they really wanted to do. Graduating was among the best experiences ever. The first feeling was one of helplessness, but this soon turned into a kind of liberation and catharsis. They were finally able to do something of their own, something completely personal – they were developing their skills and imagination and exploring them. All this led them to work as freelance artists, a choice which has always been fully supported by their mentor.

Maruša Meglič

What does that mean exactly and how does one get to that position?

One needs to exhibit in order to become visible, they say, and being visible in turn opens up opportunities for new exhibitions and new projects. In these efforts, young artists are more or less left to themselves, but in this passage from academic studios to art galleries they have also, in recent times, been assisted both by the younger teaching staff at the Academy and by various public platforms, such as calls for applications for funds and competitions.

How did you decide on this study programme, which is by no means a common one?

At the beginning they did not know what to expect or what knowledge they would acquire. As they did not have any idea of what other art academies were offering, their expectations were rather modest. But the Ljubljana Academy would certainly, they say, need more space and should be better equipped with up-to-date technology. Two PCs, constantly in use, and tiny studios do not make for easy work. However, as they hadn’t had the opportunity to work in better conditions before, they comforted themselves with the thought that such restrictions might also have their advantages – in terms of stimulating creativity, for instance. "But of course it is up to each individual to decide for oneself how much effort one is willing to invest."

Plans for the future?

Lots of them and ambitious ones at that. "Yet if you are to survive as a painter, the only way is to be completely immersed in your work. If you want to have the status of freelance cultural worker, you need to have a certain number of exhibitions; the government pays your basic health insurance contributions, but you must find the work and projects yourself. This is not an easy task at all. If you really want to create something, you really have to work all day long. It‘s a way of life – there are no eight-hour working days, and you are all the time immersed in the creative process. Wherever you are, you carry this creative tumult with you. Besides, to be able to 'do art', often you have to do something completely different to make a living," they note.

During their studies, would-be artists tune their artistic expression and attitude towards art at exhibitions at the Academy, where they are able to see their work alongside that of their classmates. Currently, after the retirement of some of the older professors, the Academy’s attitude towards students’ exhibitions has changed for the better. Formerly, exhibitions during study were discouraged as a rule, while now students are encouraged to exhibit, in particular by the younger professors. It is of course not an easy task to have an exhibition while studying. But first they just observed how their predecessors had done it, where and how they started, where they exhibited, and then started to do it themselves.

Anamari Hrup

... found her way into the system through the annual painting competition Ex tempore Piran, which also welcomes young artists. The exhibition in the Herman Pečarič Art Gallery was her first solo show and a valuable experience. She also participated in several collective exhibitions in Slovenia, Croatia and Italy. In May 2013, her works were presented at the Essl Art Award Nominees’ Exhibition in the Museum of Contemporary Art – Metelkova in Ljubljana, while in June 2013, her diploma works were nominated for the StartPoint Prize 2013. Her paintings depict the frenetic pace of urban life. Her acrylic paintings give you the impression of undefined space and time. She creates somewhere between the abstract and representative, with effects creating optical illusions which trick the eye and by choosing subjects that mirror the contemporary world. This ambiguity, she says, reflects her personal attitude towards painting, and finding beauty in everyday images is for her a contemplation on issues linked to our perception of the world around us.

Maruša Meglič

... had a solo exhibition at the Bežigrad Gallery in Ljubljana, which hosts a programme of exhibitions of young artists. Miloš Bašin, chief curator of the gallery, who regularly visits students’ exhibitions at the Academy, invited her to show her work. Unlike Anamari, who paints the outside world, Maruša is interested in what is happening internally. Her work is marked by a process of self-observation and self-consciousness. She asks herself questions about what it means to be a woman, what is feminine, about her biological and social roles, about all the various aspects that determine our self-awareness. She wants to touch the deepest in oneself, that which is fundamentally childlike and becomes apparent only in the very production process. Her works create a visual effect that dares to transcend the boundaries of different media, appropriating them freely and playfully, and intuitively combining them.

Are you getting public help in your development as artists?
"Not at exhibitions, certainly, as they are viewed by only few people, who are, moreover, those who are particularly interested in the area. There is not widespread interest in art; although in Slovenia there are a lot of people who do photography, design or art in general, many share a common sense of the 'beautiful', which, however, art is not most of the time. We would like, of course, to see visiting exhibitions become part of everyday culture, so that artists could create works that would be seen by as many people as possible." But here there is a catch. Art actually wants to distance itself from the masses, as it does not want to please at any cost. It should follow its own expressions and criteria, which may provoke, shock, reflect… "Art must exist for its own sake, it must be sovereign and produce new, daring creations. In one’s creative process, a painter is always flirting with decorative features, but we were taught not to make decorative art, but to do things we enjoy doing and which awaken our curiosity. After graduation, all this theoretical knowledge somehow melts away, and you enter completely different dimensions," they note. Postmodernism is still alive and well and very much present at the Academy: "You have to accept the fact that almost nothing may be created from scratch, everything has been done – in one form or another – before you."

"Today the prevailing artistic practice in both society and the art world is visual art whose defining characteristic is interdisciplinarity, which is the practice of combining different media. During our studies we were encouraged to 'step out' of the painting, so that the very exhibition, the event, would become the medium." Art used to be a good investment, but now it’s quite the opposite. There are lots of works being created, and it is difficult to have a complete overview over what is happening and to distinguish quality from the mediocre.

Where do you see yourselves five years from now? 

Up to the eyeballs and beyond in our work, which is not the commonest job in the system. "This is a way of life that swallows you up. There is place only for creativity and work. You must not let time be your master – the creativity in you demands total commitment." Of course they would also like to make a living with their work; they would like to experience success, which is also something that fulfils you. But even if they do not succeed in realising their vision, they will not feel they have failed. They are aware that this is a demanding job which may bring one to the edge of despair, but each time this very moment delivers a newly born will to persevere. "There are no holidays or work-free days, and the question 'Will I be able to make a living from this?' returns with an annoying frequency. However, the limitations of the system may be used as an incentive to create from your deepest self, and in this process, being free is what counts the most. And freedom never comes from outside."

Text: Vesna Žarkovič
Photo: Personal archive