Vibrant Matter: An interview with Sophia Vigne-Welsh and Pia Mršek

Lara Curran interviews the Irish painter Vigne-Welsh and the Slovenian sculptor Mršek about their upcoming exhibit at Galeria Augustine in Santa Apolónia and learns how two different approaches gelled in Lisbon.

An upcoming exhibition at Galeria Augustine in Santa Apolónia promises to be an exciting exploration of form and color. Irish painter Sophia Vigne-Welsh creates large, abstract canvases that are alive with color and movement. Slovenian sculptor Pia Mršek uses strong lines and bold colors to create sculptures that draw heavily on architectural forms.

We sat down with Mršek and Vigne-Welsh to discuss their different practices: the chiming resonances, and the points of deviation.

Vigne-Welsh’s practice is deeply rooted in fine art, whereas Mršek’s sculptures draw heavily on the principles of design. These different sources result in a dynamic conversation between their works that is both curious and exciting…

Mršek: Our approach and work are very different. We use different mediums, which allow us to express ourselves in different forms. Through discussions, we have noticed some similar interests in finding inspiration for our works. Visually, our works really complement each other, which is allowing us to create a great vibrant show, where space is filled with flow, play, and interesting contrasts.

Vigne-Welsh: My first reaction when I saw Pia’s sculptures was that some of the shapes she’s using, the forms that she makes in her sculptures are very similar to some of the forms I use in my paintings.

The way we each use color is interesting… There are similarities, but quite a lot of contrast as well, in that Pia’s work is more monochrome — she’s just using one sort of feature color with the acrylic. Whereas I’m obviously using a lot of colors… There’s a playful element, and that’s something that I used to really struggle with when I started painting. People would say, “Oh, they’re so fun, they’re so colorful,” and it used to make me feel that they weren’t taken seriously… For a while, I leaned away from using so much color, and over the last couple of years have leaned back into it, as I’ve developed a stronger understanding of how to use color in an effective and, I would say, more discerning manner.

There are some striking similarities in their practices, particularly in their engagement with the physical world. Both artists cited a careful observation of the forms and shapes of their environment as an important source for their work…

Vigne-Welsh:

I take a lot of pictures of the gaps between bodies, just people walking along together or between buildings, and how forms interact out in the world. And yes, I’ll make quite a lot of sketches from those photos, and they often don’t end up as that in the painting, but I’ll take a lot of inspiration from those aspects of negative space and gaps between things. I find a lot of ideas come into my head when I’m walking, so I’ve got just like hundreds of mostly nonsense notes on my phone, and I often go back through them if I’m looking for titles or just some sort of inspiration.

Mršek: Moving through space and being surrounded by architecture and domestic furniture allows me to get inspired by forms and compositions. Architecture is an important element of my work. Through the interior, I draw inspiration in the sense of functionality, human needs, and routine. My work always starts with function, and to this I apply elements of art and design.

Moving to Lisbon has had a huge influence on each artist’s work. Mršek relocated to Lisbon in 2021 for her MA at Faculdade de Belas- Artes da universidade de Lisboa. Vigne-Welsh also arrived in Lisbon in 2021, to live and work as a painter full-time.

Mršek:

Lisbon really influenced my work. Life in a city next to the sea, with such a rich culture and many beaches, inspires me and my work every day. Belas Artes offered me a space to work and grow as an artist. All these different elements and people really inspired and influenced me as an artist.

Vigne-Welsh:

Yeah, moving here has had a huge effect. The main one being the practical one: that I can actually do this full-time. Before I moved here, I was painting in my bedroom, working full time alongside that.

And the longer I’ve been here, I realize the impact of the city on my work — the paintings that I’ve made here, especially the ones from last year, have these stacked elements of form, and I think you can kind of see the layers of the city, the way the streets come together… everything joins up, but in a sort of mismatched way. And I think those layers definitely come through in the work.

The works on show in Vibrant Matter are all pieces that have been made in Lisbon, and the city is present in each piece. The forms and structures of the city are embedded in each brushstroke, each ceramic composition. From inception to completion, the rhythms and vibrations of space and substance infuse each work.

Vibrant Matter opens July 15 at Galeria Augustine (Rua Leite de Vasconcelos, 3A, 1150-303 Lisboa).

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