Interview: OPEN:FORMAT & Mali Koopman

Australian artist, Mali Koopman chats with us about experimentation and longing for home. 

Can you tell us how you would describe yourself on paper? It seems like you do so many different things, it's hard to put it into just a few words, but maybe you've got something clever you can share with us :)

MK: I’m primarily a screen printer, although incorporating my print works with other mediums and practices has informed how I screen print these days :)

OF: What are some of the places you find inspriation for images and textures to incorporate into your work?

MK:  Over the past few years I’ve been collecting a lot of second hand books, mostly stealing my parents books from Australia, to find full bleed pages of imagery that I could screen print onto or work into my prints. It all lead me to sourcing books solely on pattern making, block printing, sculpting, floristry. I wanted to use these references that I was collecting more and more and I think designing patterns and graphics can be a natural counterpart with so many other practices. It took me awhile to figure out how to screen print over a curve, but it meant I could start to work with sculptural elements, glass and resin. I began testing my prints on varying textures and learnt how ink could mold itself to even more unconventional surfaces. Bridging all these practices that I’ve admired and referenced into one piece is almost a luxury, I’m never bored when I can switch between rolling clay, resin coating and burning new screens.

OF: What are some of the concepts you're working through currently?

MK: I think it’s something to do with home. I’m homesick most of the time and have found that working with materials that are familiar to me and working around practices that are a consistency within my family are drawing me in. I still bother my family with ongoing calls and texts, asking my mum about her clay works or my brother to pass on his resin knowledge from glassing surfboards. It’s all slowly filtering down into what I’m making right now.

OF: You gave us a little background about where you grew up - it sounds amazing. Does your work reflect parts of your childhood and the aesthetics of those early surroundings?

MK: I most likely talk about Australia too much but it was pretty lovely growing up there. There are always pieces of work that my brothers or parents made dotted around the house, mums pots that she made in high school or models of homes because there are now too many architects in my family. A lot of painted gum nuts and eucalyptus leaves, and big charcoal renderings of the bush too. My parents did a lot of bush regeneration and propagation in the 80’s so our house has a true affinity to hosting native flowers. The first pots I made were for them, it was what I could picture in the living room with some banksias. I think my focus on making these vases grew from that, something to complement those big bouquets.

OF: It seems like you've been trying a lot of new mediums and techniques over the last 4 months since we've known you. Are you learning through trial and error, youtube tutorials, or did you have some friends get you started on some of it?

MK: It’s a big medley of all those things. Mainly trial and error, as I now have an accumulating graveyard of coil pots and resin works that never worked out.

OF: Do you find yourself wondering or worrying about how your work will be received by others?

Early on I did, I thought about that quite a bit. I think its inevitable for that to cross your mind and I’ll always be interested to hear peoples thoughts on what I’m making. But now, I start something new before I can even think about what I just made. Working on this collection, my focus has veered more towards how my pieces will work with each other and keeping up the momentum of making.

OF: What's your relationship to failure like? We've been listening to a podcast about pushing yourself to the edge of your limits and allowing yourself to fail as part of the process…

MK: I try to work on more than one piece at a time, if a vase collapses on me or I smudge a screen print, it helps to then shift my efforts onto another piece. It vaguely alleviates my frustrations that there's absolutely nothing I can do about it.

OF: What have you missed most during covid?

MK: I miss going to see pop up shows and people presenting their own works in their apartments or backyard.

OF: What's something about you that most people don't know or wouldn't be able to guess? (It could have nothing to do with your art)

MK: I have a pretty strong fossil collection back home.

OF: What's your favorite tool or material in your studio?

MK: Right now, its resin. It’s strangely malleable, sometimes a little finicky, but it can be sanded, molded and the process of layering it reforms and exaggerates certain aspects of my vases.