The ring clad Australian artist of Polish descent never goes unnoticed with her signature tribal jewelry, oversized glasses and daring outfits. Miranda Skoczek’s love of fashion and commitment to beautifying her surrounds almost rivals her passion for her profession as a visual artist. Coming to painting via graphic design in the failed pursuit of attaining a ‘practical’ vocation, her love of organic visual composition gave way to studies in the Visual Arts. During this time she stayed true to a decorative style, despite her lecturer’s efforts to mould her intuitive practice.
Her inspiration and influences are located abroad from travels ‘off the beaten track’ in India, Morocco and throughout Asia. In addition to an innate fascination for the exotic and the rituals of ancient cultures, this free-spirit counts her mother – “a walking history book” – as a crucial motivation for pursuing a creative path. Now as a mother herself, managing her studio time between exhibitions has become a juggling act and spontaneous expeditions are less possible. We explore Miranda’s studio and apartment in Elwood, a space that belies her commitment to supporting the work of other artists and love of designer furniture and interior furnishings – something she continues to justify as “informing her practice.” Here her deft and intuitive use of color extends beyond her paintings to her interior living space with splashes of greens, pinks and blues: a carnival of color. Above all her abode is a place where the self is restored, dreams are actualized and identity is guarded.
This portrait is part of a series with Vitra. Visit Vitra Magazine to find our more about Miranda’s design pieces and other individual interior concepts.
Miranda is this your newest addition to the family?
Yes this is Norman our ten week old kitten. He is destroying everything in my house. Little Norman is a little terror, completely gorgeous, but he is constantly pulling threads out of my sofa and clothes, most frustrating is his love of my pot plants.
Can you tell me about your new work? I understand you recently had an exhibition in Sydney?
My show ‘Antiquities to Psychedelia’ was quite the departure for me – I’ve moved away from animals and further explored my love of history and ancient cultures. I referenced motifs from Hinduism and ancient Greek mythology floating in abstract fields of color and shapes – still with a similar pastel, jewel-like palette and my signature mark making. My painting technique has become a little looser and gestural, perhaps as I am relishing in the large scale of the canvases. The venue was an exhibition space within the Sydney store Koskela, an industrial space run by furniture designers and retailers, so it was a little bit different than showing within an art gallery.
How do you feel about your work being aligned to more of a decorative aesthetic?
I think my work is a hybrid of art and design. I don’t have a problem with it, it makes sense that my work would be viewed in this manner as I am hugely informed by the decorative arts and design in all its forms. I unashamedly reject intellectualism within my practice and do not feel the need for my work to be steeped in theory or grand statements. Having said that, I do very much hope to have a meaningful place in the art world. My paintings are explorations of unrestrained fantasy, they create a space to enjoy beauty, the exotic and escape from the harsh realities we are bombarded with daily.
The opportunity to collaborate on new projects is quite an exciting one don’t you think?
Yes indeed, I love to work in a cross disciplinary way – it’s such a great opportunity to acquire new skills and processes and it’s enabled me to reach new audiences. I once customized a pair of shoes for wonderful Australian fashion designer, Gorman, created window displays as part of Melbourne Fashion week and I have collaborated with artists for curatorial shows. In Australia there has been a huge boom with DIY-ers and people who are a lot more aware of beautifying their homes and accessing art on all different levels.
Can you tell me about your working process and painting technique?
It is very automatic, very spontaneous and organic – one mark, one color informs the next mark and color. When I begin a new picture I don’t think too much. In these early stages it is very physical. Often working on the floor with thinned paint, I constantly turn or move around the canvas, capturing that sense of action, building up its history. I delight in the pure process, the act of doing. With the building up of layers I become more considered in my actions and begin overlaying the fields of color with images and shapes. My process is one of adding and subtracting, one that embraces accident and intuition.
How did you start out on your artistic journey?
When I finished school in 1994 I studied graphic design for three years in Canberra. I was always very much interested in fine arts but my mother didn’t think I would make money and pushed me into studying graphic design in order to be ‘practical’. I didn’t detest it at the time, but I remember using the computer as little as I could. I would always hand generate my imagery and apply text afterwards. When I look back I can see that those years gave me a good sense of composition and I think it affords my work with a graphic quality. After I finished, I went to Europe for a year and was blown away by the beauty of the world. After having seen and experienced so much I couldn’t possibly go home to work to someone else’s brief.
Is this when you enrolled in the Victorian College of the Arts?
After I completed a two year diploma in Visual Arts I went on to study at the VCA. They tried to mould me and tried to break me, steering me away form the decorative. I was very stubborn and stuck to my guns. I have always produced very honest work. I want to create works that are beautiful and positive in daily life, works that are accessible, despite being largely of my own language and experience.
Your color spectrum is extremely vibrant and is a constant in your work.
I use color very intuitively. I am not a color theorist at all, but color alongside composition are things that come very naturally to me. I understand color and what goes well together. I delight in finding new combinations. This interest in color is not limited to my practice but also extends to everything that surrounds me, my furniture, my art collection and my clothes.
Did you have family influences that supported and encouraged you creatively when you were young?
My mum was responsible for introducing my brother and I to the arts. We were exposed to the theater, galleries and museums from a young age. She instilled within me a desire to discover and experience all that I can.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Melbourne and lived there until I was nine. Then we moved to Canberra and I left after the age of 21. To be honest I was happy to get out of there, although the cultural institutions are fantastic. I did love going to the National Gallery of Australia and the National Library of Australia. Canberra was always about nature, it is a big country town basically.
Your surname comes from your Polish heritage, is that right?
Yes, that’s correct, dad moved from India with his Polish parents at a very young age, and mum from Krakow when she was about 13.
Perhaps some of your interest in different cultures has been informed by your family heritage and history.
Oh indeed, I always loved to hear my mum and dad’s tales of their adventures through Europe. This most definitely sparked an interest in travel from a young age. Of course there is a natural pull to investigate one’s roots.
Where have your travels taken you?
I have always loved getting ‘off the beaten track’ and have traveled extensively through India and Morocco, and some parts of Asia. I have a real affinity with India. I think I might have been an Indian Maharani in a previous life. I am so drawn to Mughal architecture, their traditional dress, the colors. Nothing escapes being beautified. They will paint their buses and cows. I adore India.
There is a lot of diverse input within your work. Whether it be an embellished Hindu costume or graphic shapes appropriated from a Paul Klee painting.
I gain inspiration from everywhere, most notably my travels and engagement with different cultures, and almost the entire history of image making. My practice is an appropriative one and I love the challenge of bringing together the most disparate of imagery, in a harmonious and hopefully beautiful way.
How do you divide your time between home and studio and what is it like being a mother and artist?
It is a challenge, but I am most fortunate to have a supportive family and my work never feels like a job. It is made easier by the fact that my working life and home life are so intrinsically linked. I am in the studio full-time five days a week, but I’m not a morning person, so it’s always nice to start the day slowly with my son, eating breakfast and building lego architecture.
Becoming a mother has honestly been the best thing to happen not only to me, but also to my art as well. It has made me more focused and determined, but most importantly, afforded me with a confidence in what I do. As a mother I seem to have a stronger sense of self and purpose and I think that comes through in my honest and open work.
So your environment is very important to you?
Home, according to Alain de Botton in The Architecture of Happiness “is the guardian of our identity,” it is where the self is restored and dreams are actualized. I spend so much time here, so it is very important to me for it to feel a certain way. Your surrounds inform your being.
Looking around your home I can see you have acquired quite an art collection.
Yes, and it’s growing! I have just acquired a new Jacqui Stockdale work. I own two of her photographs. I adore Jaqui’s work. I have also been extremely influenced by Rhys Lee’s works. I own a large painting of his that holds a prominent place in my living room. His practice is such a part of me and it has spoken to me so much over the years. I first saw a show of his 14 years ago at Helen Gory Galerie. My first proper art purchase was a work by Rhys at the age of 22 – I put it on lay by. I feel a real affinity with his work. I am also about to purchase my second large scale Emily Ferretti painting.
So you are an artist that supports other artists?
I have been so fortunate to sell my work really well in the last few years and I always feel this need to share that love so to speak. I always make a decent art purchase when I make an income from my own work. I am very passionate about supporting my fellow artists.
This obviously extends to purchasing furniture and interior furnishings as well. You have a fantastic furniture and rug collection and that bedspread is amazing!
Yes it is a Moroccan wedding blanket, known as a Handira. It is incredibly textured and thick. It is mainly cotton and wool with little metal sequin-like embellishments attached. It weighs a ton!
You also have an impressive jewelry collection.
I have some special rings that mean a lot to me. This Afghan turquoise ring is extremely chunky and heavy and gets a bit of attention, although my Berber men’s wedding ring that I bought in Morocco five years ago is bigger and more cumbersome – I have to take it off to write. I am a definite believer that beauty is pain. I admit: There is not really anything practical about me.
What can we find in your wardrobe? How do you define your overall style?
A gallery owner once remarked that I am half Northside half Southside. I love combining high end fashion with op shop treasures and interesting jewellery, and of course great spectacles. For example I love the Australian fashion designers Scanlon & Theodore, Bassike, Gorman and Ellery. For as long as I can remember I have always worn tribal jewelry and I don’t think it is just because I have man hands! I love that sense of history and the large imperfections and inherent qualities of tribal jewelry. I also have a bronze bangle from the Hansa tribe in Ethiopia. I love wearing weird and wonderful pieces. Having said that, I do love pearls, and I would wear a diamond, but it would need to be big!
What is your neighborhood like?
I live in Elwood. I have been a Northside wanna-be for years, but the Southside is just too easy and familiar. I love the proximity to the water. Elwood beach is a ten minute walk from my place. I love the open green avenues of trees. There are lots of parks. We live a two minute walk from the St Kilda Botanic Gardens and that acts as our backyard. Our apartment is an Art Deco apartment from the 30s. There is obviously a great cafe culture here even though I try to steer clear of Acland Street – it is just so busy. Balaclava and Elsternwick are close by and so is my studio.
Where is your studio?
My studio is a three minute drive from home, near the corner of Barkly and Carlisle street. So it is really handy and easy. It is housed within a former knitting factory and is a shared space with other artists segmented into private studios. The building has high ceilings and a tinned roof, so it is hot in summer and cold in winter!
Do you have some local tips on places to get a great bite to eat or a special cocktail?
Fonda is a great and very casual Mexican restaurant. For coffee I go to Beaver’s Tale Social Club. It is a one minute walk from my studio and they make a great coffee. For a good drink, definitely a glass of wine or three from the City Wine Shop in Melbourne CBD. Be sure to sit at the bar.
Your favorite thing to do in Melbourne?
To stroll through The Royal Botanical Gardens followed by a walk around the National Gallery of Victoria. They are my favorite ways to pass time with my son and are free!
Miranda thank you for the beautiful afternoon at your home. To find out more about Miranda’s work, visit her website here.
Photography: Stephanie Bailly
Interview & Text: Rachael Watts