The former model turned photographer and life-long image obsessive, Belgrade-born artist Misha Milovanovich´s latest project, Misha World − her range of limited edition furniture and fashion − takes its inspiration from her childhood under communism in former Yugoslavia and the western consumerism of her adopted home London, where she has resided since the late ´80s as a student at the National Film School and, then, Central St Martins from where she graduated in painting in 1995.
After art school, Misha modelled and worked closely with some of the biggest names in fashion such as Moschino, Yves Saint Laurent, John Galliano and Martin Margiela. Moving from in front of the camera to behind it, her photographs were published in numerous publications like Tank, Dazed, ID, Sport and Street Collezioni. In 2005, her show of the international cage fighter subculture, Poetry of Destruction, was exhibited at the Spectrum Gallery, London − winning Misha the Next Level LEICA award.
The life-enhancing, joyful, celebratory confections of Misha World with their riotous cacophony of colliding clashing colours and exploding poppy psychedelia − whether paintings or adorning scarves or furniture − take design and visual imagery to the next level. Influenced widely by Fellini, Scorsese, Caravaggio, El Greco, Jean De Buffet and Martin Kippenberger, the poetry of Allen Ginsberg, 60s prints and Japanese anime, her exclusive collection of high-end products opens this week at Damien Hirst´s shop Other Criteria in London.
It´s an interesting transition to go from photography to product design. How did that come about?
I´ve always been a painter. I graduated from Central St Martins art school in 1995 where I studied painting but when I originally came to England in 1988, I was a film student at the National Film School. So both of these elements so to speak have always been in my blood. I´ve always been in the art world and surrounded by artists. A couple of years ago, I decided to go back to my own work and to put photography a little bit to one side as it was really a means to an end. As you know, I was raising my daughter on my own and had to find a way to make money − but still be creative.But it was time for me to leave that field as I am much more happy to be in the world of painters, rather than the world of electronic lighting and equipment. My daughter has now left senior school and she can do her own thing. So I went back into making art − and two years ago I started making furniture.
Is your painting like the images on your scarves and furniture?
My paintings are very pop. It was me going back into being a painter and working from the field of collage and colour. I went back into layers of my history and layering that onto the canvas using the Photoshop techniques that I had developed with photography. I was using the language of photography but actually being visceral with the media rather than clicking away with the camera. I use my fingers and hands as a painter but I do it through drawings and smaller work. In a way, I have never really stopped painting with my photography because of the way I was using light. But I realised it was time to change the medium. It was fun to go back into colours because I love colours −I always have.
Did you start making the furniture first or the scarves? What was the progression?
No, I actually started making paintings and then some pieces. I made some tables and I sold them to some art collectors and then I realised I could make a small limited edition. I had already made limited-edition handbags with her which I sold to places like Browns. Susie Forbes wrote an article about them in Vogue and Kylie Minogue´s stylist bought a bag for her. I was brought up brought up under communism in former Yugoslavia but we had access to information. When I was growing up, my mum was always buying clothes and Vogue − as well as other fashion magazines. If you have flair or style and you had money, you went abroad or you made your own clothes − that´s what we used to do. So we still could look really cool. I´ve always been interested in clothes because I wanted to have beautiful things. I have always made my own stuff and I have never stopped.
A few years ago, I decided to make a dress because from own fabric because I was going to the Miami Biennale and I made it in silk. It looked amazing. I thought, "Wow, I should make some scarves". And basically that´s how the scarves came about.
Do you do the screenprinting yourself?
Not at all. I have found the most amazing manufacturers in Italy that make them for me with the highest end quality silk and the highest end finish. They retail for a lot of money all over the world and has been sold to some really cool shops and Other Criteria has exclusive rights to them in the UK. My new range of limited edition products is launching there on March 16.
Do you make the tables from scratch?
No, the tables that are on the website are all vintage and I had them remade and reconstructed. I made the designs myself that decorate the tables. Then I pass them to a factory where they put a kind of car finish on them. The pieces are old but once I take them they get remodelled entirely − they are a new thing but they have a history. It´s an homage to my communist upbringing and the people I grew up with because everything there was always recycled − people have been recycling there for over 30 years ago − this has always been important in communist cultures as people there were trying to be as practical as possible.
Is the table covered with a film or is it painted?
It is reworked in enamel and dipped back into enamel so it gets perfect finishing. The very, very top is covered in a giant sticker that is made from industrial vinyl and the people who do it for me do it for jets and aeroplanes. This is done in Germany.
Do you have any other ideas for product ranges?
Yes, at the moment I am working on handbags in printed leather which are also going to be a limited edition − like my art work. For my opening at Other Criteria, I am having a suit made out of my fabric by a Savile Row tailor called Nick Hart of Spencer Hart. I am thinking about making limited edition suits like art pieces for women for 2013.
What inspires you in terms of your colours and designs?
When I wake up every morning I´m so happy − this might sound really strange − just to be here to be alive and healthy when the sun is shining that is so amazing. The curiosity of being present and alive. London inspires me because of all the amazing people that I am able to meet and all these opportunities that are out there. This might sound strange because I went through the period of war in my country but I am very grateful and so lucky for myself and my family to be alive. That really is a big inspiration.
Being here, being now. Being curious about this little world we live in and being able to learn a lot and find out about so many different things. What really, really inspires me is happiness, optimism, having this kind of fast imagination in my head that I can draw and make things. I am constantly amazed that I come up with things. Then I say to myself get real this is a job. I take it a little for granted.
How did you get involved with Damien Hirst´s shop Other Criteria?
My very good friend Philippa Adams is a director of the Saatchi Gallery − she has been incredibly supportive of my work − saw my stuff and said I had to sell it. She made a phone call and the next thing I had an appointment with the director who really liked the scarves. Then they said they liked what I do as an artist that they would love to have some of my art works, drawings, sculpture and scarves and prints. I was very lucky and hopefully I will be able to build on that.
How many pieces will you have in the shop?
A large drawing, a sculpture and limited edition silk scarves in 10 designs and a table … it will be Misha World!