“As soon as I started making art, I never questioned it,” Antonia Mrljak says. “I didn’t take it for granted either; I understood it as a gift that had to be committed to.” But it took a while for the Sydney-based artist to make the transition from her former career as a fashion stylist. While she started showing her work in 2008, it wasn’t until 2010 that she started a Diploma in Fine Arts; currently she is in her third year of a Bachelor of Visual Arts at Sydney College of the Arts. However, Antonia was brought up in a culture of making, growing and building, she says. “Creating has always been present in my life.”

“My turning point came when my frustration was overshadowed by my ideas, life at home resulted in a major realisation: I am, at my core, an artist, I had rejected this idea long ago,” Antonia says. “I didn’t realise that by dismissing the art as a career option, I had dismissed my own identity.”

Since focussing on her art practice, Antonia has been approached by Sarah O'Neil [read her interview here] of Small Spaces to represent her art. And most recently she has created a selection of works to exhibit in a show with friend and fellow creative, photographer Maree Homer [interview here]. The joint exhibition, Dwell, focuses on what it means to be in a space. The duo met when they were teenagers, working for retailer David Jones. Antonia was an assistant fashion stylist while Maree was a darkroom assistant in the advertising department. Dwell is showing at Sheffer Gallery in Sydney’s Darlington until April 9.

Which five words best describe you? Open, resilient, optimistic, zealous and ready.

How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? My dear friend Carol came to my home one day after years of being unable to ground myself proposing painting as a mechanism of change. Painting has been integral in my life catapulting a journey of discovery, mentoring, teaching and creating and I am forever grateful for this.

What’s the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? That through the processes of art and motions of life, the people and experiences that you gather are insurmountable.

What’s your proudest career achievement? One that stands out was when I created an educational program - Exhibition practice - for the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre, a centre for high-risk girls 18 years and under. I was allocated a group of girls and we created drawings, paintings and made ceramics with two other artists Jodie and Peter who volunteered. The collaboration and outcome was wonderful. An exhibition space only for the girls was created, leaving them with a sense of accomplishment and to exhibit the art works on that day. It was an emotional experience especially when I think about the girls and their circumstances.

What’s been your best decision? To go to university. There is so much to learn about in this world, and university gave me the tools to educate myself. I worked hard because my parents worked hard and I sincerely value that lesson from them. I am getting an education because I want to broaden my prospects and become an empowered and positive role model for my children.

Who inspires you? Garry Foye has been my mentor over the years and has never said never, the man can hardly walk, but he still paints and creates whenever he can. Another person would be Nanyce Emerson, a senior stylist at David Jones. She is such an elegant woman and was someone who was insightful and motivating as I entered into fashion at a young age. Anyone that tries, in any field, to make a difference to other people’s lives can be influential.

What are you passionate about? Paul, my husband, all of our family and friends, making and makers, community and culture, sharing and giving back, traditions and food, our habitat, education, human rights, mentoring youth, fulfilling goals, beautiful things; this list isn’t exhaustive but my passions stretch far and wide and support my undying passion for art. 

Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? I would love to talk to family members who have passed on. I don’t think our conversations were ever long enough, and David Byrne - he is such a cool human.

What dream do you still want to fulfil? I am always dreaming of making and creating and traveling to the fullest potential, I yearn to always make and exhibit and give back.

What are you reading? I speed read - I find a good book and with four kids to take care of my head hits the pillow before I get a chance to slow down and read. Most recently I’ve read Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space, and I need a copy of Stravinsky’s Lunch - I really want to read it, but it’s hard to get a hold of.

images courtesy of antonia mrljak; photography maree homer