ARTIST INTERVIEW- Réka Ritt Laklia
Could you introduce yourself and your practice?
I am a Hungarian visual artist based in London. I work with many different media, mostly with painting, VR and installation, or a combination of a few of them.
I use materials, objects and spaces, often with folkloric elements, that remind me of my childhood memories. The creative process is to understand the narrative of these recollections, identifying the underlying patterns and dynamics that run across them, and the parallel patterns and dynamics that run across society and culture. Using the principles of non-dualistic philosophies from Eastern spiritual practices, and other systems of exploration, such as transpersonal psychology, mystical shamanic traditions and modern consciousness research, I perform curative corrections and adjustments in a symbolic manner, treating the artwork as a voodoo doll.
What is the process for using enamel and oil on copper sheets?
One of my most significant childhood memories is spending my days in my father's copper workshop in Budapest. I use copper as a base of my paintings to recall my memories and reflect upon them. I simultaneously use the reflection of copper as an integrated light source within the structure of the paintings.
As a starting point, I introduce the unpredictable, applying a particular chemical process that forms random cellular patterns on the surface of the copper panels. The next step is the examination of the cobweb of these patterns, exploring its nature, shape, colour and regularities. Based on these observations, I apply layers of translucent enamel, sometimes following sometimes altering the underlying patterns, creating a natural rhythm of control and surrender. The images grow cell by cell, slowly forming a coherent system. It mostly takes on the form of a floral ensemble or a scene from the surrounding natural landscape.
The translucent enamel covering the copper base has a special effect. When brightly lit, the copper behaves as a light-box, lighting the painting from below. When that happens, it becomes extremely vivid, bursting with colour. In low light, the dark and glossy surface and intriguing cellular texture take precedence. Due to this alternating nature, the images have their dark and bright manifestations.
Using oil on top of the enamel is a reasonably new thing. I love oil paint and the way it counterbalances enamel. Whereas enamel is translucent, glossy and changes dramatically with the light conditions, oil is opaque, matt and its appearance is stable. They are the perfect couple.
What is your workspace like, do you have any studio essentials?
I work in my studio at the back of my garden. I am lucky to have such a serene and peaceful space. It is surrounded by giant oak trees, and I often listen to the sound of owls when I work at night, being a night owl myself. I have the habit of collecting branches, dried flowers, tree bark, bones, and other interesting organic objects from the neighbouring forest that are now accumulated everywhere. I also have a swing hanging from the beams, which I sometimes use while pondering over a painting. It is so relaxing. Otherwise, the basics are an endless amount of enamel paint, copper foil rolls, copper sheet pieces and larger copper panels.
Could you share a bit about your piece 'Green Haven'?
'Green Haven' is a small enamel and oil on copper painting, 36 by 36 cm. It is the result of one of the first experiments where I used oil paint on top of enamel. Several layers of translucent enamel with the copper behind it created depth, the effect is reminiscent of staring into a pond. When it is brightly lit, the colours become extremely vivid; one can clearly see under the surface, all the way to the bottom. Without direct lighting, the glossy and dark surface mirrors the environment, and the cellular patterns become more apparent, like a broken looking glass. These patterns break up the pictorial plane so that it becomes still. Without continuous lines, there is no sense of motion in these deeper layers. The geometrical forms of the top layer created with oil bring back the movement, like ripples. They become dominant when the background is dark and reseed into it when it is bright.
How does living within an ancient woodland influence your work?
Since I moved there, my palette and style changed entirely. It has become more colourful, lush, but also darker. Whereas before I was more interested in urban spaces and cityscapes, my lexicon of imagery is now inspired by the surrounding natural environment, its beauty, of course, but also its natural ease with loss, death and transient existence. It is a wonder how the individual organisms of the forest’s ecosystem are connected, not trying to violate this transient existence on each other's account. Nature's closeness helps me tap into my own experiences in this realm and process those experiences through art-making.
Can you talk about how ideas surrounding psychology and folklore enter your practice?
Specific cultures, folk tales and folkloric motifs stream into my art randomly. For example, I find an old book of mine, one of the first ones I had in early childhood, about native tales of creation and other mythological stories from Cuba. Or I find an old photograph of my mother's traditional Hungarian embroidery covering every square inch of our apartment. Or I get entangled with nordic traditions on a shamanic workshop in Norway. Both the core similarities and the stylistic differences are fascinating when it comes to old ways.
Creating an artwork inspired by a folkloric phenomenon is the continuation of that particular folkloric tradition; it automatically becomes a part of it. I am not interested in folklore in a way that focuses on a specific culture. I have travelled worldwide, and I was also homeless in my country of birth, so I don't prioritise. London feels the closest to being a home precisely because of its cultural versatility. When it comes to folklore, I am more interested in the intact, unbroken lineage of it, the ways it distils cultures and the core similarities of distant folkloric expressions due to this distillation. Folkloric traditions create templates and patterns common in every human's narratives. These are the patterns I aim to connect to through creating an artwork. From this perspective, folklore and psychology complement each other, together they are like conscious play. One emerges from the ground up, out of experience, and communicates in a highly symbolic manner, including the artwork that is part of it, while the other is a contemporary, structured, non-symbolic reflection to the same experience.
Psychology is the tool I use to understand and structure both my life and my artistic processes in the sense that my art is not 'about' psychology; it is psychology in action. It is not strictly therapeutic either as it is often simply observational, a tool of reflection. In other words, I don't always dare to make the changes my process would require, or maybe it is just not the right time yet. Artworks are born on the way, gradually creating an awareness of what that change actually should be until it naturally grows into the creative process.
Finally, who are some of your favourite contemporary artists at the moment?
I love the work of so many fellow artists; I believe I am spoiled with
constant visual stimuli. Though, the real inspiration I find in some
artists' works is not visual. It is more abstract and philosophical. I
love the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe, Agnes Martin and Paula Rego and the sculptures of Rachel Whiteread. I have a deep admiration and respect for their work, and whenever I read an interview with them, I feel I've been there or want to be there. I find creativity without compassion empty, so I like to look at the artist together with the work.