Miranda Skoczek creates works of monumental colour and texture, offering respite and reflection in a busy world.
Image credit: Miranda Skoczek, Dreaming of Betty (Woodman), 2018, oil and acrylic on linen, 153 x 137 cm. Courtesy the artist and Edwina Corlette, Brisbane and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne
There is more to Miranda Skoczek’s paintings than immediately meets the eye. They are built intuitively and in layers, from colours, patterns and objects that she absorbs in her immediate home environment – and all over the world. They are often abstract, sometimes with figurative elements; they focus on paint and colour, process and time, to create a space that takes us somewhere other, outside the material world. Inspiration comes from art and antiquities, folk art and contemporary design – and through obsessive consumption of images. Skoczek describes herself as “a sponge,” confessing to VAULT: “I have 95,000 photographs on my phone.”
The surface of her painting Regeneration (the clever tree) (2021) – exhibited in The Celestial and the Madness at Nicholas Thompson Gallery in 2021 – she described on Instagram: “My paintings can’t be experienced from just front on – one must move around the work to really see them. Contrasts in shiny and matte, thick and thin applications of paint make for difficult documentation of my pictures. Bloody nuisance really.” Her observation (and its self-deprecating humour) highlights the holistic nature of her practice as not only immersive – her home is densely decorated with art, rugs, antiquities, fabrics and objects from the present and the past – but also far-reaching.
For Sydney Contemporary 2021, at Edwina Corlette, Skoczek contributed works inspired by Tantra Song, creating “large paintings which command attention – offering the viewer an all-encompassing universe of opulence, talismans and immersive landscapes. And some more playful paintings as well.” The works are reflective, focused on the practice of tantric painting as explored in the book Tantra Song by French poet Franck André Jamme. In the book’s discussion of 17th century tantric paintings from Rajasthan, collections of shapes, circles, squares, mandalas and stripes are developed into a language designed to shift consciousness. For Skoczek, in these “very abstract and spare images, often depicting the most simplified forms, I found a central focus. These elements have not really been recognised or seen in my work before and they expose a meditative presence.” They also tie in with Skoczek’s longstanding interest in India, a country she has loved since visiting at the end of her studies at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in 2004.
She first travelled to India with her father, who was born in India to Polish parents. “His mother walked from Siberia to Bombay,” Skoczek says. “My grandfather was in the merchant navy, and he heard about the women in the refugee camp in Mumbai. They went back to Calcutta together, where Dad was born. When I arrived in India I was overwhelmed. The beauty that I saw everywhere in everything was truly astounding. Nothing is considered too insignificant to be embellished and adorned. I have a supreme adoration for Mother India.”
Several of the paintings featured in Sydney Contemporary 2021 share their inspiration through their titles.
Mahadevi’s breast (2020–21) draws on the primordial Hindi goddess, a female creation force and subject of a recent biography by Mukunda Rao which casts Mahadevi as a feminist icon who walked “breast to breast with the cosmos” towards attainment of wholeness. Skoczek’s painting uses strong pinks and oranges to surround a circular breast, the whole painting pivoting from a central teal dot (or nipple). Abstract marks and patterning are layered across a surface that has translucent areas, developing depth and a sense of pent-up forces juxtaposed with an inner peace that exists within the circle.
Flying with Chagall (2020–21) is lyrical, with a central bird motif outlined in black echoed by a larger shadowy presence rippling outwards. Full and crescent moons and circles and figurative elements emerge dreamlike from layers of translucent pinks and pastel shades, and the glowing circular eye of the bird acts like a compositional anchor. As Skoczek suggests: “The bird choreographs or conducts the rest of the painting. I hadn’t looked at or thought about Marc Chagall for a while, and then a friend did a tattoo on my arm, of two lines that meet at a point, wings in flight. In this work there is the abstract with more figurative elements: I love to flip between the two. Others are pure abstraction, tapping into mysticism and spirituality and magic, elements that go against scientific understanding. In my works I want randomness and the automatic to exist with more familiar forms.”
In Flying with Chagall, Skoczek explores harmony between opposites, seeking light where there is darkness. Within her mature practice she looks for untapped areas, a culmination of her aesthetic interests and processes.
Skoczek’s paintings start with a few marks of colour “in a somewhat frenzied, automatic and performative manner. Then often the works enter their ‘awkward, ugly phase’ where layer upon layer adds to their material life. I then delight in finding harmony and a meditative presence.” This most recent series combines her interest in the celestial with a sense of a spiritual immersion in nature. “My works are often a fusion of culture and nature, with the latter not always so evident. Remembered landscapes are transformed when merged with intuitive mark making, personal mythology and disparate influences. I’m never guided by a single idea.” ***
As a school leaver Skoczek was keen to pursue fine arts, but parental pressure saw her enrol in what seemed a more practical option. After “three long years of graphic design,” during which she resisted the computer and hand-generated her imagery wherever possible, she went overseas for a year. She had an epiphany emerging from a train station in Venice. While she had travelled to the United States and New Zealand previously, Europe was the subject of her dreams. In that moment she knew that she could not return home to a computer and yet another design brief. After a year in Europe, gorging herself on art history (and food), she headed to Melbourne where she enrolled in a diploma of visual arts (completed 2001), followed by the Bachelor of Fine Arts at VCA.
In the years since she has carved out a steady income from her work. This has included prestigious collaborations with Gorman, as part of Gorman: Ten Years of Collaborating at Heide Museum of Modern Art in 2019, and The Design Files, who translated her work onto fabric and ceramics. Skoczek was also one of the first artists approached by Edwina Corlette when they opened in Brisbane in 2008. “She is a beautiful colourist,” Corlette notes. “When I first signed her, she was very much drawn to eastern European symbology. She was inspired by beautiful folk art, with a lot of that appearing in her work. It was interesting and fresh. She is always stretching out and moving forward all the time. Her love for decoration is unapologetic.”
Nicholas Thompson Gallery in Melbourne has represented Skoczek since 2018 and believes that the success of her work lies in her consumption of images, filtered through a personal aesthetic. “Miranda loves colour and making colour-driven paintings that are fed by travel, eastern cultures and her natural inquisitiveness. In 2021 I took three of her paintings to Spring 1883. Her work goes from strength to strength.”
As a single mother living outside Melbourne, working from a home studio and managing home schooling during the 2020 and 2021 Covid-19 lockdowns, Skoczek lives with “paintings strewn across the lounge.” Yet she attributes her confidence to this more settled phase of her life. At the centre of her work are images that “cut through the noise of my mind, and purposefully avoid social commentary. My paintings are a reaction to all that I seek and surround myself with. Despite issues with my mental health, I’m fiercely protective of, and committed to, the good, and enveloping all who wish to be enveloped.”
The mystical is evident in Skoczek’s hope that her paintings work like amulets for those who acquire them. Protective elements aside, in their sensual textures and influences, so powerfully evoked, these paintings emerge as poignant and poetic visual essays written to the past and the present.
Miranda Skoczek will be part of group exhibition Common Ground at Edwina Corlette, Brisbane in May 2022; is a feature artist for Edwina Corlette at Sydney Contemporary 2022 in September 2022; and will have a solo exhibition with Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne from November 23 to December 10, 2022.
Image credit: Miranda Skoczek, Mahadevi's breast, 2020-21, oil and acrylic on linen 183 x 122 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne
Image credit: Miranda Skoczek, Flying with Chagall, 2020-21, oil and acrylic on linen 94 x 125 cm. Courtesy the artist and Nicholas Thompson Gallery, Melbourne
Image credit: Miranda Skoczek, Constellation, 2018 oil and acrylic on linen 225 x 185 cm Courtesy the artist and Edwina Corlette, Brisbane
This article was originally published in VAULT Magazine Issue 37 (Feb – Apr).
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