Born in Beirut in 1975, Ilona Szalay completed an English Literature degree at the University of Oxford in 1997, before undertaking further studies at Central St Martins (Byam Shaw School of Art) from which she graduated in 2002 with an MFA. She's the recipient of the ORA Contemporary Art Prize (Italy), a finalist for the prestigious Threadneedle Prize (UK), and with an exhibition history that includes the Royal Academy, the British Painter’s Association and the Barbican; her work has been extensively exhibited in cities including Milan, London, Miami, Basel, Rome, Zurich, Toronto and New York.
Through a range of media from canvas to tracing paper, LED light to glass, Szalay engages the multitudinous dichotomies that make up both collective and individual subjective experience in restrained, poetic visual language. It is in liminal space – that between sites of dominance and submission, or power and vulnerability – that the figures in her work encounter one another.
The contrast between the subject she paints and how it is painted is never sharp or demanding; the heavy, looping strokes and soft lines made by her brush point towards something much more ingenious and intuitive. These are contrasts that are gestured at, never insisted upon, and allow for a kind of dialectic with the viewer: a set of techniques more native to the literary arts than to the visual medium in which she works.