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Meet: Ilona Szalay

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Published date 29 November 2016

Ilona Szalay graduated from MA Fine Art at Central Saint Martins in 2001.

Since graduating, her work has been exhibited at numerous galleries including the Royal Academy, Rebecca Hossack, Transition, Standpoint and Whitfield Fine Art.

In 2013 she won the Italian contemporary art prize ORA. Her work was also selected as one of the six finalists for the prestigious Threadneedle Prize, and she was chosen for the Barbican Arts Open Exhibition.

In addition, Ilona was selected as one of the fourteen worldwide artists to invest in, by Rebecca Wilson, head curator at Saatchi Art.

Ilona, who has become renowned for her trademark oil on glass paintings, has featured in many international publications including Wall Street International magazine, The Independent, The Times and Dazed and Confused magazine.

What was the most important thing you were taught whilst studying at UAL?

I had exceptional teachers during my time at UAL. I learnt many things of course but one or two stand out as particularly important. Firstly and most importantly I was taught to value my own creative voice, by which I mean that I began to understand that I have a unique form of creative expression, and how to evolve and develop it.

Secondly, that this creative ‘voice’ can only exist within the complex context of what has come before and will contribute to what comes after – the interdependence of all creative acts upon each other.

How do you think your time at UAL has impacted your life and work?

It had a huge impact as it made me take myself seriously as an artist and allowed me to begin to think of myself in those terms. I learnt a lot from a technical point of view as well as an academic one.


You have had a very interesting career since graduating – can you talk us through your journey from graduation to where you are now?

That could take a while! Suffice to say the road has not been without twists and turns. It has certainly not been a linear journey from a to b. There have been quite a few diversions and moments of difficulty in getting to where I am now. So much of being a ‘successful’ artist is about what happens outside the studio once your part of the job is essentially over. This can be very challenging as exposure of that work to the public is obviously crucial but not necessarily within the control of the maker of that work.

What has been the proudest moment of your career so far?

I feel proud when I am able to look at something I have made and see value in it. This moment of evaluation happens every so often and is an extremely important ‘reward’ experience in the overall process of making work.


Where do you find inspiration today?

As humdrum and banal as my everyday life is it really is my inspiration. Ultimately all of my work comes from that source – my life, my experience of being a thinking, feeling human being.

Tell us more about your current exhibition Milk, Smoke and Bones?

Some of the drawings exhibited there are a visual diary that depict that moment between waking and sleep. I was quite unselfconscious when I drew these as I didn’t think there would be an audience for them. They are quite personal and images such as mermaids and octopuses recur frequently as a codified way of expressing other things. The process of keeping this visual diary really helped me a lot.

The exhibition also includes some of my paintings on glass. Glass can seem to many people as being churchy and stuffy – but I think it can give paintings an extra dimension, particularly the shadows that they create.

Some of my paintings on wood are also featured. I started painting on wood as a break – as glass can be very difficult to work with. I like the fact that the wood looks almost like velvet.


What are your plans for the future?

I will continue to produce work! I am showing pictures at the London Art Fair in January and have another solo show in the pipeline for mid 2017.

Ilona’s current exhibition is on at the Leyden Gallery until Sunday 11 December. Find out more here.

See more of Ilona’s work here

Find out more about the study options available at UAL here