Everybody Needs Art presents Maja Djordjevic's inaugural solo exhibition titled Everbody Wants To Be Somebody on it’s signature rooftop gallery, the ENA Viewing Space. We talked to Maja about her inspirations, the birth of the naked girl character and her previous project with Selfridges.
As far as I know, you prepare and design your paintings in Paint by making doodles. Why do you feel that in the end you have to touch the material and you have to actually paint your sketches using real materials?
This started during my university years – I was studying at the Fine Arts University in Belgrade. This is a very traditional university. If you study painting you need to paint oil on canvas. During those years I was spending a lot of time on my computer, scrolling through Facebook (still popular in those years), surfing on web and doodling in MS Paint… Ultimately, it is much easier and faster to doodle on your computer than to do it the old school way. By the time I would prepare all my materials I might already lose a bit of inspiration.
MS Paint proved to be the best way for me to record my thoughts – a sort of virtual diary. I had so many doodles on my computer, so it obviously crossed my mind if there was a way I could use them. That is how I decided to paint one of my virtual doodles in a conventional manner. I wanted to see how that small digital picture would look on a large scale canvas. How all these little pixels would look if done by hand.
It is a volume change. Do you scale up the drawings before you start to paint or do you just look at the „original” picture while painting?
I usually transfer the MS Paint doodles on my phone and paint them on canvas directly just by looking at them and remembering the drawing process. I don’t use tapes, standstills or projectors. I find it exciting and challenging to reproduce the digital image on canvas as accurately as possible. My primary medium, enamel on oil base, allows me to achieve that. These are quite intense colours which are also very glossy and are therefore a good way to simulate the digital colours on the screen.
I initially tried using oil paint, however, this didn’t work in the end as the texture did not look the way I wanted. I accidently discovered enamel paint during one summer when I was on a remote island where there was no way to procure proper artist materials. There was only a small shop with house renovation and industrial materials where I first bought enamel paint in lack of other options. I was immediately amazed with the texture, however, I was not sure how it will perform on canvas after many years. Later that year, I saw a Warhol and Basquiat show in Vienna and realized from one of the photos that Basquiat was using enamel cans as well. That reassured me and I said to myself “if he could use that I can do it too”.
Can you tell me a bit about the artworks that are on view in Budapest at your exhibition titled Everybody Wants To Be Somebody?
I’ve known Péter (Péter Bencze, founder of ENA Viewing Space) for 4-5 years now. I visited Budapest several times and of course this space which I find very interesting. I’ve discussed with Péter multiple times how to put this space to good use. We had all sorts of ideas. I’ve had this idea for some time to create an Instagram filter of my girl, however, I feel that people have beaten me to it, given how popular these filters are nowadays. Finally, I decided to make real masks so that everyone could be me for a while – she, someone, anyone! I think that Péter and I immediately started singing the song “Everybody Wants to be Somebody” when I told him about the idea. Therefore, I painted the walls of the rooftop in pink and wrote the phrase and title of the show “Everybody Wants to be Somebody”. I thought of a large crowd – men, women, children, all wearing my girl’s masks. As I was thinking about this, the idea of the drawings of how my girl is dealing with all of it also emerged.
But is it really about inclusivity in our society?
Yes, ultimately that was the idea that I tried to deliver through the lens of my girl.
We do live in a society where we see much more images. You are creating new images in a decade where there are already a lot of images. How does it affect you as someone dealing with visual culture?
Yes of course, it influences me. Everything that is around me affects me. Especially of course Instagram – I love to look at bizarre pages and contents. The more bizarre it is the more interesting it is for me.
Do you think that by the language you have chosen it is easier to talk to people about difficult topics, let’s say aggression, guns and so on?
It is a really good question. I think that’s the case. I intentionally use these cheerful colours in order to soften these difficult topics. This is also true about my nature – I try to see everything through pink lenses. I like that people at first glance often perceive my paintings as cheerful and somewhat childish – but I love the way I hide things behind the colours.
When you were a child – it is not such a big age gap between us – you had computers I guess. Did you use paint?
That is a really important question regarding my artworks. My white, naked girl is actually from my childhood period. As a little girl I used to love going to my friends’ who had a computer, so we could draw in Paint program. I also remember drawing dinosaurs, fairies, and some space landscapes, we drew what girls and boys have under their clothes. All this amused us despite the feeling that we were doing something terrible and forbidden. MSPaint gave us the possibility to delete our drawings quickly in case mum and dad would enter the room. If we had drawn on paper, we would have been revealed and we believed that we would get punished.
When I started drawing in MSPaint program five years ago, the white girl appeared again , probably unconsciously. I knew that a lot of people from my generation did the same thing as I did when I was a child. This is the reason why I kept her, and in time she became the main character in my paintings. In most situations she represents me but sometimes other people, too.
This space – ENA – in Budapest is not a typical gallery space. I have heard of your project with Selfridges, when you had a huge sculpture ont he shopfloor. Contemporary art met consumer society. Did you create that work especially for that space?
Yes. It is very important for me to see the space before I come up with what I would like to exhibit in it. That was the case both with Selfridges and ENA.
How did you deal with this situation that you are actually exhibiting your work between Prada, Dior and other high-fashion clothes?
I am in love with fashion! I was so happy that my first big scale sculpture will be displayed at the entrance of one of the world’s most famous department stores – Selfridges. Selfridges in collaboration with the Skip Gallery gave me the opportunity to place my girls in nothing less than a skip in the middle of a department store. For me it was a dream come true. I am a painter but I wanted to do a sculpture so bad. To be honest, I would love to do just sculputures...
The work was titled “Nothing to Wear Again”. Two naked girls sitting and lying on top of a pile of melted ice cream looking sad because they have nothing to wear again.
I was thinking that most of the girls are the same when they are coming to shopping malls. They see all the clothes and they need everything despite they have so many bags and shoes already. You always feel like: „I have nothing to wear, again.”
I even made a joke with the Selfridges team who were organizing the show. When they asked me why I chose this specific title, I told them that I was hopeful that Prada and Gucci would give me something for free.
Do you know how did Selfridges found you?
My Selfridges show was part of the State of the Arts project by Catherine Borowski and Lee Baker from Skip gallery. I was introduced to them through my gallery, Dio Horia, from Greece.
Do you enjoy these situations when you are just the designer of the artwork?
My sculpture for the Selfridges show was produced by a London based workshop. The whole process was very exciting, however, it’s definitely a different feeling when you know that you made something yourself, which is the way I prefer it. This is why I wanted to be as involved in the production as possible. I was visiting the workshop on a regular basis and helped in tasks such as painting of fine details or polishing – anything that would make me feel that I was the one doing it.
It usually takes me months to paint my paintings in a challenging process whereby I mostly paint while lying on the floor. Nonetheless, it’s a process that makes me feel satisfied as I can see my product gradually come to life.
Do you find inspiration in contemporary culture? Books, shows, pictures?
Of course! Both in good or bad art, good or bad shows, different artist, songs, books, materials that other artists use, etc. I am always in search of some small detail that will excite me and make me see further. But I have so many favourite young artists. I do not even know where to start. Botond Keresztesi, I love him. And David Shrigley is also a big favourite of mine.
Maja Djordjevic: Everybody Wants To Be Somebody
ENA Viewing Space, Budapest
On view: 14 december 2019 – 29 march 2020