Anya Mielniczek, Material Girl
Sometimes I don’t even surprise myself anymore. Seeing as my interview with multimedia artist Anya Mielniczek was in Thornhill and being the oblivious “big city” girl that I am, it took me an approximate three hours, two wrong bus tickets and one dead cell phone to absent-mindedly wander my way through randomly placed highway crossings into the correct neighbourhood. An hour and a half late, I mustered the little dignity I had left and rang the doorbell of a quaint house, only to greet Anya with the passive-aggressive apology: “What type of street name is Mistysugar Trail anyway!?”. Failed punctuality aside, I had made it: and there I was a few minutes later, cross-legged in the middle of her home studio, sipping a tea from her seemingly infinite tea collection and completely enthralled by our conversation. Anya is a bubbly, energetic human being and her creative passion is absolutely contagious. Talking a mile a minute, she breezed from idea to anecdote, managing to turn the interview onto myself before I even knew it.
What’s one of the latest projects you’ve done and most enjoyed?
In the summer, I painted a utility box in Etobicoke through Street Art Toronto and their Outside the Box program. I gave them options when I entered the call for submissions and ended up picking the one with the most intricate details, which surprisingly was the one I liked the least out of the three designs. It was both challenging and awesome. I love being outside, so just to spend a week in August painting outside and having people come up and chat with me was amazing. I feel like studio practice can be super isolating sometimes and this was my first “street art” project. Seeing people get excited about your art and be supportive makes the art more interactive and a whole different experience, it was really inspiring.
At this moment I tie my hair up and Anya interrupts herself to comment on my undercut. The conversation turns to tattoos, her Polish background and how one side of her family is very traditional.
Where in Poland is your family from?
My mom’s side is from Warsaw and my dad’s side is from Krakow. I want to go back so badly! I visited a bunch when I was younger but once I started to get older the visits became less frequent, from once a year to once every two years… I’d love to go back this summer if I can, travel around there for a couple months. Although I’ve grown up here, having travelled and gone on exchange I don’t think I’ll actually settle in Toronto, it’s not where I’m going to end up, you know? I love Europe. The cities, the culture, there’s an entirely different feeling.
The European vibe is incomparable. Where do you see yourself the most?
I really like Australia, actually. I lived in Melbourne for six months when I was on exchange a while ago. When I applied for the exchange, the only schools that had programs for me were in Australia and it was almost like a sign because I’d always wanted to go since I was a kid. Melbourne is young, super innovative, there’s a big graffiti scene and everything is just so creative there. There are galleries at every street corner, you even see it in what people wear! I packed clothing to go backpacking every weekend and such and suddenly I get there and everyone is so trendy! (laughs). It’s also different from here in the sense that Toronto is so spread out, but the pockets there are so developed. Every section has their own local coffee shops, boutiques, small, privately owned. It’s so beautiful.
Have you showed around the city?
In the summer I was doing various art exhibits, like the one I met you at, the Queen West Art Crawl, I showed at Kensington as well. All the experiences I’ve had this summer were very positive. Worst comes to worst, I don’t make any money but that’s not the point. That’s not what I want to achieve at the moment. I just want to put myself out there.
How do you deal with living in your studio space?
You work so many months in your studio, alone for the majority of the time so it’s nice to get out there and see people actually respond to what you’re doing. It all starts to make sense. Working in my room I’m in head all the time and I’m not able to have conversations like this where I see how everything connects. It’s mostly about balance. It’s being able to step back and get away from your work.
You work with a lot of abstracted portraiture. Are you planning to take it to the next level?
The portraits go through serious transformations, you know. I usually start with mapping out the eyes, nose and lips and then filling out everything in between. I’ve also always been very into mixing mediums. Paint markers, acrylic, a bunch of watercolour, pencil, some oil pastel, acrylic crayons, whiteout, literally everything. I want to push them further, though… I feel like they’re pretty clean. There’s a certain tightness to my current work which makes me want to do messier, more obstructed faces. It’s usually when I get most frustrated with a face and don’t give a fuck about it that I go off on it and that’s when something happens that’s not calculated. Those miscalculations are what make me feel like I’m actually going somewhere. I also want to go bigger and make large-scale pieces.
At this point, we change spaces and go downstairs to Anya’s garage to see more of her work. Surrounded by shelves of paint, miscellaneous scraps and garbage and some of her abstract commissioned work in progress she continues:
The portraits are super fast and spontaneous so I sometimes find myself wanting to focus more. I’ll craft on one thing here (pointing to one station), another here (points to a wood piece propped against the wall) and then upstairs I’m also working on a bunch of things. I feel like one side of me is all about portraiture and faces and then I have another side to me that’s more material and texture-based. It’s something about the materials, the vibrancy and energy of the lines that gets me going.
You finished up a painted skateboard series recently as well. Tell us about that!
I was in contact with this dude who’s the editor of Concrete Wave, a skate zine that’s always in West 49. I met him in Kensington Market while I was showing a series of longboards I had built and painted in school and he told me to give me a shout. I love building things but it was a seriously physical process and when I moved back home I couldn’t be working in my garage all the time… So I bought some skateboards and contacted him with an idea to create a series focused on endangered and almost extinct animals.
What got you into the longboard culture?
I grew up snowboarding, I used to be an instructor. I tried skateboarding in high school and could not do a kick flip for the life of me so I just decided it wasn’t for me (laughs). Once I tried longboarding it was perfect! It’s just so smooth and all I wanted to do was cruise anyway. Soon enough I had made my own because it was cheaper than actually buying a deck and I also liked the idea of making one. I then went to Australia, switched my shit up, came back for fourth year of school and was not only becoming more environmentally aware but I also discovered a massive longboard community that I could reach out to at Queen’s (University). I saw that I could design and build these longboards and paint elements on them that I think are important, that I want to talk about, like these animals. I like how decks can be a fine art object but they can also be part of street art. It’s a whole other realm of people to reach out to.
How do you keep true to your style?
We’re constantly comparing ourselves to others but there’s no “right” way to do it, you know? Your way is yours, mine is mine. Knowing that and reminding yourself of it, because it’s so easy to get lost in the middle. It just comes back to being. It is what it is, there’s no formula. My art is what I do, I love it and sometimes I just stop to think what actually matters to me. Like the decks themed with endangered animals… My portraits are good, they look good, but are they doing anything? What can I do with my art that actually has a purpose? No-one is going to hold your hand. You’re pushing your art one way or another, it’s up to you.