Adrian Mesko: Nostalgia Meets Nationalism

Photographer Adrian Mesko’s diverse upbringing and artistic influences collide in his new gallery show titled Astray, a project that is a culmination of the artist’s interest in graphic forms, warm pastel colors, and still lifes that capture scenes from around the world. Milk Made spoke to Mesko about pinning down some of the specific influences behind this new project and to what extent his upbringing truly has on his work today.

What’s your earliest memory of being interested in photography?

Growing up in a family where photography had a fairly momentous legacy meant there were a lot of cameras around me when I was very little. What I conjure up [from memory] is a beautiful shiny twin-lens reflex camera.

There is one photograph my uncle (Ladislav Bielik) took, one of the defining moments in the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. It was of a man baring his chest to a Russian tank outside of the University in Bratislava, just around the corner from where my Grandma lived. In addition to being an incredible photograph, setting a benchmark for meaningful photography, it also captured a moment of an event which ultimately lead to my living in exile and being culturally shaped by that experience.

What or Who is the largest influence on your work?

There are in fact too many influencers on my work: My mum, photographers I assisted like Michael Thompson, Annie Liebowitz,Cedric Buchet, and those I study, like Bruce Davidson, Andreas Gurski, Capa, Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and William Eggleston. Ranging from technique, aesthetics, theory, subject matter right through to discipline and lifestyle in various degrees of intensity at different stages in my life.

As a European who lived in Australia but is now based in U.S, is there any way to project a solid perspective of nationalism in your work?

Moving to Australia at the age of 12 resulted in my assimilating quickly into Australian culture, but remaining an outsider although not in plain sight having lost my accent quickly in high school. The same can be said of my 6 years in London, it was home for a time but not setting roots there. Conversely, I don’t quite feel at home in Slovakia when I visit my father and the rest of my family. The displacement allows for a lot of freedom to do what you want and leads to a unique perspective of those places that I lived for half a decade at a time.

You said the central piece [titled “84280018”] touches on narcissism because it displays the first letter of your name and was made the year you were born.

What I was consciously drawn to in the piece was the negative space of the blue sky, the subject wasn’t the sculpture nor the ‘A’ it suggested in my composition at all.

The narcissism only became apparent when I began talking about the work. I think a small amount of it is not only healthy, but also unavoidable. The fact that the piece was made in the same year as I was born is a pure coincidence but perhaps reveals a not so random connection with something much bigger than me.

How do you name the images in this series? What do the numbers stand for?

Considering the triptych being a part of larger body of work, it felt inappropriate to name the pieces individually nor name the triptych itself. The numbers are image files allocated randomly during the initial film processing.

Your diner still life has a really nice balance of pure color. Are there any color pairings that really throw you off and don’t fit with your taste?

There are some constants in my appetite for color however some do change, shift and develop, although I can’t imagine a color pairing that would throw me off. In fact if it did throw me off I would probably be drawn to it as it burst through the clutter of symbiotic perfection. I think it was Picasso that said a little ugliness is vital.

The photographs in this triptych span from Hong Kong to New York to San Francisco. Are there places you haven’t gone to that you’d like to shoot?

There are too many places to name where I haven’t shot and would like to do so. There are also many places I have been where I would like to revisit to create works–some due to subject matter and some purely based on light qualities on their geographic position in the world in relation to the our sun.

If you could shoot a still life of anyone’s personal objects who would it be?

I imagine Hunter S. Thompson would have had some pretty shiny, interesting, covetable objects, and boys toys laying around, which would make for an interesting mind map as a project.

‘Astray’ is on display through November 2nd at Chasm Gallery, 56 Bogart St in Brooklyn

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