Zsalto is a rising Hungarian artist living in California, but she’s not your typical illustrator. She splits her time between creating and being a postdoctoral biologist researching cancer. The unique relationship drawn between her intricate mandalas and cancer research are that each allow her to explore returning abstract growth patterns to balance. Not surprisingly, she loves both. Get ready to be mesmerized by the timelapse of her bold piece Amazon and relaxed by the therapeutic element of her incredibly detailed process.
How long does it typically take you to finish a piece?
It really depends on the particular piece. I used to work only on small scale, like 5″ x 7″, and those took me one or two days. Now, I make much larger pieces which can take up to one or two weeks to finish. I use watercolors and gouache which is a quick technique, but my style is very time consuming.
I am also a biologist, sharing my time between my academic job as a postdoctoral researcher in cancer biology and doing art. Working in academia is very abstract, sometimes you only get results after years of work, and usually the final output is a few-page-long paper in some journal. So, it’s refreshing to be able to have something done in a few days with an actual material object as a result.
Your pieces are insanely intricate, what happens if you mess up? Does it make you nervous?
I put a lot of thinking (and reading and sketching) into the process of coming up with the general ideas, characters and scenes. However, the patterns and mandalas are completely different. It’s like I’m not even there, I don’t think about it, my hands do the job. The pattern itself builds up organically, so there’s no “messing up”. It’s like the growth of a tree: although the individual branches grow irregularly influenced by weather, injuries, etc., the big picture will be harmonic and the developing structure balances itself out to be functional.
How do you approach creating your pieces? They’re all so beautiful and odd and fantastical, are you inspired by Folklore?
Folk stories and legends are definitely influential; I love all kinds of ancient stories and rituals. They’re not invented by a particular person, rather they are passed on by a series of different personalities for years or hundreds of years and are shaped by this strange evolution. They are always full of weird and completely unnecessary elements, just like my works. I don’t aim to minimize my compositions to portray the core of the message, to make it clean and well-designed, I let the patterns and details cover over my stories. It’s more human to me this way.
What do you do to zen out after such intense concentration on a piece?
Painting is actually my zen-out from other parts of my life, it’s often a flow-like state. Also, being in nature, backpacking and camping, is how I can completely switch off for longer periods.
What’s the last dream you can remember having?
I have crazy dreams, it’s better if you don’t know the details. I often dream of strange creatures, surreal buildings, messed up physics and colors. I wish I could paint those images, they are much cooler than my actual pieces!
What is one thing you wish you could tell your younger self?
Marty McFly taught me that’s a bad idea, however, it would have been nice to be a little braver with my artistic ambitions. I waited ten years before I actually started to show my works!
Is it strange to live in California, compared to where you’re from in Hungary?
Moving to a new environment was not too unusual for me. My husband and I have nomadic tendencies; we lived in Budapest, Boston, Barcelona and Berlin before moving to California. That being said, living in the US is very different than living in Europe – there are huge cultural differences.
What was the strangest way someone described your work?
“I love your work, please follow me here and here!”
What was the nicest way someone described your work?
I am proud that a lot of people recognize the Eastern-European feel to my works. I don’t exactly know which specific element brings them to that conclusion, but I guess they can kind of sense a certain layer of gloominess.
Describe your work in 5 words or less.
Big wide eyes.
What are you most proud of?
I am always very proud and happy when someone decides to buy one of my pieces to hang in their home.
What was the last best day you had? Who did you spend it with?
Definitely hiking in Redwood National Park. I spent it with my husband and some gigantic trees.