Written by Jenny Griffin
Vienna-based Minted artist Alexandra Dzhiganskaya grew up in a historic city bordering the Danube River called Izmail in the Odessa region in southwestern Ukraine, a vibrant and multiculturally rich stretch of cities and towns along 300 kilometers of the northwest coastline of the Black Sea. The maritime, transportation, and tourism industries fuel the area, and people flock from far and wide to relish the sun, food, and locally produced wine. It’s an environment that has indelibly made its mark on Alexandra. “It has the starriest nights I have ever seen. The sky is so black and deep, and the stars are like diamonds. I think this is reflected in my work, because I love the space theme and painting night skies,” she says.
Alexandra’s physical environment deeply influences her, and her artistic work in illustration and graphic design is visibly shaped by both where she’s lived and where she’s been drawn to. An inveterate traveler, she has pursued an educational path that has taken her to the Kyiv National University of Construction and Architecture in Ukraine’s capital to study fine arts and interior design and to London as an exchange student to soak in the vibrant design scene as part of the European Union’s Erasmus program.
After graduating from university, she found herself still searching. Unsure if she was ready to pursue a career in fine arts or interior design, she decided to veer slightly off course. “I started searching for new challenges for myself, trying to figure out what to do in my life,” Alexandra explains. “I thought it might be a good idea to go study abroad and try something new. That’s how I ended up in Vienna. I arrived in 2012 and initially focused on improving my German. I needed to prepare for the entrance exams to pursue a second degree in Vienna in graphic design. I also started working as a freelancer, combining it with my studies.”
Vienna deeply appealed to Alexandra. “I had been in Vienna once before for a holiday and immediately fell in love with this city. It’s very international, open-minded and cultural. There’s always something to do here, but at the same time it is green and not stressful. The Alps and other European countries are within just a couple of hours drive. And it became a perfect choice for my study abroad since the education here is very high quality and also free,” Alexandra explains.
We talked to Alexandra about life and work in Vienna; about why travel stimulates experimentation and artistic growth; and about her design influences. Heads up or warning (depending on how you look at it): You’re going to want to go to Vienna.
Minted: We’re fascinated by your geographic background and mobility. You were born in the Ukraine and are now living and working in Vienna. And you studied in Kiev, London, and Vienna. How is each of those places revealed in your work?
Alexandra Dzh: I think the environment that we live in makes a huge impact on us. My work is a big part of my life, so I can surely say that these places influenced me a lot. I also love traveling, and I cannot stay at one place for too long. In my imagination I often return to the places I have visited and lived. I guess it is just my biggest source of inspiration. I’m always in need of movement and new impressions. I think this also reflects in my work, since I’m constantly trying new materials and techniques, different styles and subjects.
Can you share examples of the new techniques or insights you’ve picked up in your travels?
I think the most life-changing experiences come from living and studying in a different country. When I was an exchange student in London, I tried some new printing techniques, such as risoprinting and monoprinting, and I can definitely say that it gave my work a new direction. I have also learned more about the research methods and on building connections, which also helps me in the idea-finding process. I think I’ve also become more confident.
What’s the energy of Vienna in 2018?
It has an energy of a modern European city that respects its traditions, but isn’t afraid to try something new. It is a very relaxed city in general. The all-day cafes and parks are usually filled with people drinking coffee and reading books or newspapers. There is no rush and people are enjoying the moment.
It’s also a great place to be an independent artist. It’s rather a small city, compared to other European capitals and maybe the art scene here is not so vibrant as in London, for example. On the other hand, the city is much more affordable in the terms of living costs and distances, so there is no struggle or pressure for earning money just to survive. And you don’t waste your time in traffic jams, which gives you more time left for art. A lot of artists work on their personal projects besides the client work: selling prints, painting murals, meeting for sketching sessions, etc. I’m finishing a second degree in graphic design Vienna, and my classmates and I try to collaborate, travel to design conferences or field trips together, or just exchange feedback.
Where would you direct us to see exceptional design in Vienna?
The Museum of Applied Arts is a good place to start. It follows the example of the Victoria and Albert museum in London, but is smaller. It has a good collection of arts, crafts and design, and also excellent temporary exhibitions. One of the trendiest hot spots for design and art lovers is the MuseumsQuartier with its museums, shops, cafes, festivals, etc. Definitely not to be missed while visiting Vienna. There are also a lot of small designer shops and galleries, which you can spot while strolling around the city.
Who are your top design influences? And which artists do you specifically admire and why?
I follow so many. I try to look for inspiration in different areas—not always related to art and design—because it is hard to create something new if you are constantly looking at the works of artists and designers you admire. You can get influenced too much. Most of my favorite illustrators are represented by the Heart Agency: Luke Best, Laura Carlin, and Yann Kebbi. I also admire Saul Steinberg and Christoph Niemann for their humor and observation. My favorite design agency is probably Pentagram. They have created many great projects around the globe. And Nobrow Press makes really cool picture books and comics on various topics. I’m also just a fan of Dominic Wilcox and his crazy ideas.
One thing that strikes me in listening to the names of those who influence you is how many of them are illustrators and or storytellers of some nature. Many also have a graphic approach to their work. You define yourself as both a graphic designer and an illustrator. Do you see a link between the two disciplines?
I think illustration and graphic design are very related disciplines. It’s all about the visual communication. I think the idea is what is the most important, no matter what field you are working in. For me the most appealing aspect is that I can make a difference with my work and shape the visual culture in some way. I enjoy that every day I can do something that I am passionate about and can express myself creatively and work on things that I care about.
Alexandra’s Top Design Resources
- Lecture In Progress and Creative Review for design inspiration
- Books by Steven Heller
- Fundamentals of Graphic Design on Coursera, a free graphic design online course for beginners, taught by Michael Worthington, Faculty, Program in Graphic Design at California Institute of the Arts
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jenny Griffin is a print and broadcast journalist and the founder of Silverplume Press. An avid art lover, she’s also a museum educator at SFMOMA in San Francisco. She lives with her husband, three kids, and two cats in San Francisco. A rescue dog named CeCe has just joined the family.
Published September 20, 2018Comments Off on Minted artist Alexandra Dzh fuels her creativity by living and learning abroad in Vienna