When life gets too much a well needed simplistic overhaul can solve all your woes, Introducing Marta Oktaba. Marta lives for the simple life, beautifully conveying scenes of loneliness, heartbreak and self-gratification with an easiness and humour built to charm. We got hold of Marta to chat about mental health, social media and the importance of being alone.
Hi Marta, I want to know when you first applied pen to paper and thought, I could probably get used to this?
It took me a long time to think that I could possibly learn to draw. About four years ago while I was backpacking I started drawing in a journal. I didn’t think much of it until I came back to Australia. I found myself back home in a familiar place but I didn’t feel the same. The need for creativity had creeped into my life so I took a leap and enrolled in a Bachelor of Visual Arts. I remember crying happy tears the day I got accepted and I haven’t looked back.
Your illustrations are very consistent in their simplicity, what is it about this minimal and linier style that appeals to you, would you say it reflects your personality well?
I feel a calmness in the process of not having to go beyond the line work. It allows me to strip my everyday emotions into simplistic expression. If I dig deeper it possibly reflects my desire for a simple life. I’m happiest when I’m surrounded by less things.
Some of your work focuses on mental health, is this something you’re vocal about outside of your work or is illustration a specific means to express something that can be so often stigmatised?
I’ve been struggling with anxiety for a few years now. For a long time I saw it as a burden in my life but didn’t realise that because I had the anxiety my life was taking a new direction. I’d begun making changes because I was uncomfortable and these changes are what lead me to drawing. I want people to see the positive that can come from hardship. Illustrating these feelings seems most natural to me but I am very open in everyday life about my anxiety. If you have met me in real life you have most likely had an anxiety conversation with me.
You published a collaborative zine Perfect Match, a collection of reflections on past relationships, what prompted that and why was it important for you to create it?
It was at a time that I was filtering out all of my emotions from the ending of a romantic relationship. It had been my life for so long that I didn’t remember how life was without this person. Journaling became a strong outlet for me and I thought that it would be beautiful to create that platform for others. A place where we could all get together and let our feelings out. It was a very special project.
Although a lot of your work focuses on intimacy with another person, something I love is the singularity of some of your characters situations, there is something so self-gratifying about them, from dog walking, yoga or potting their head in a plant pot, your girls look like they’re having a great time alone
It really is a reflection of my life. I illustrate memories of past lovers or daily interactions that warm my heart. However, I consciously decided to spend a few years in my own company. Prior I hadn’t been single since I was 17 and now at 29 I’m finding that being alone has allowed me to grow mentally and spiritually an incredible amount. The relationship that you build with yourself is important and I think that’s what comes through in these singular characters. Most of the time these characters come to life from what I have done that day or a really intense dream that has stuck with me all day.
As I mentioned I’ve been eyeing up a few of your girls as possible tattoos! You sell a Virtual Tattoo Hug which allows admirers to support you while using your work. It seems that when designs are used as tattoos without showing you any support seems all too much like companies saying, “It will be great exposure!”
It’s impossible to control what happens with your work once it hits the internet. I can only put my work out there with the intention that people will respect it. Putting the ‘Virtual Tattoo Hug’ on my online store was a way of me putting it out there that I’m okay with people getting my work tattooed; with the intention that they would appreciate what I have created and want to show me some support. I know my simple line work translates very well on to skin and it’s very heart-warming to see people connect with it to the extent that they would permanently mark their body with it.
Plants are continuously adding a little greenery to your designs, what’s your favourite type of flora and are you any good at keeping them alive?
I grew up with a father that was continuously mending to his garden. The house was always surrounded by plants. It was a suburban jungle all year round. I’ve taken this into my adulthood. I have so many plants inside my house that I’ve run out of corners to put them. I would say the green thumb runs in the family. Sunflowers seem to warm my heart. I’ve travelled to locations just for the sunflower fields. I keep a collection of the photographs above my bed and always plant a small patch of sunflowers in the garden during summer.
You’ve spoke previously of taking a step away from social media and going to art galleries for stimulus, how do the presence of apps like Instagram apply to you as an artist, in terms of benefits, pressures and inspiration?
Instagram is the world in your pocket. I find if I don’t go out exploring for the day I get dragged into social media for too long. I hate the days I can’t put my phone down. A good daily walk and a session at the Skatepark keeps me grounded. When I can get into the city I usually do a huge day where I hit all the galleries in one go. I come back feeling wonderfully inspired, however, I can’t do it every week so having that little instant gallery feed on Instagram is a wonderful injection of daily inspiration. If I haven’t posted anything for a couple of days I do feel a tiny bit of pressure to keep up so I’ll go sit in the garden and draw something up. Sometimes it’s those moments that I create the simplest line work that challenges what I previously though was refined.
Your illustration of a knife stabbing a Banana really jumps out at me, is this a phallic symbol, or do you just really hate bananas?
This is what I love about illustration! The imagery can spawn a thousand meanings depending on who is viewing it. I live on a plant based diet and I remember reading a study where scientists were saying that plants can feel pain. I suppose it was my way of putting this into an image. Can the banana really feel pain?
How do you see your work progressing, is there anything you would like to take a stab at that you haven’t tired yet?
I enjoy making with my hands. I draw by hand and try to limit working on the screen. I see myself moving into larger sculptural work. As time goes by my patience for creating work has grown. I would love to translate my minimal style into larger time consuming works.
What are you working on at the moment and do you have any exciting projects in mind for the future?
I’m currently working towards my first solo exhibition that is coming up in May at Off The Kerb Gallery located just outside of Melbourne. Most of my time at the moment is going towards that. I also have a personal side project where I am creating sculptures in the form of earrings. My current collection is an exploration of mental health and the emotional ups and downs of life.
As for the future, I want to continue my conversation about mental health. Doing this through my drawings and by creating everyday objects that carry this positive energy into human life.