Modern Emulsions: Magda Assaf

Interview by Dami Fadipe.
Photos by William Geier.

Dami Fadipe: Would you like to tell us your name?
Magda Assaf: My name is Magda. I am the owner of Modern Emulsions.

DF: How did you come up with that name?
MA: I didn’t, my husband did. He just sat down and started naming things, and for the next half hour I was like, “Nope, nope, hate it, hate it, hate it,” until he said, “Modern Emulsions” and anything else after that I didn’t like and that was the only one that stuck out. It’s perfect because my artwork is modern—it’s abstract work, not a landscape or anything like that.

DF: What kind of materials do you work with?
MA: My most important product that I use is resin. It’s an industrial adhesive. It creates this really durable glossy kind of finish. That’s what I use to mix all my other paints into, which would be acrylics or inks and different mediums depending on what kind of look I want. I blowtorch the entire process and, in doing so, it takes out these bubbles and it creates this really glossy finish.

DF: You blowtorch it throughout the entire process, you said?
MA: Yeah, a little bit during and it has to be blowtorched a couple times afterwards to flatten everything out.

DF: I had to research this beforehand, but what is emulsion?
MA: Emulsion is a mixture of liquids put together.

DF: At what point did you make that kind of transition into painting?
MA: At the end of 2015, I ended up quitting my job. By that time, I was also working 80 hours a week. I was super stressed out, losing my mind, and so I quit. I didn’t know what I was going to do next. For the next three months, “Don’t even talk to me about work”, then I painted something. I painted something because I needed something on my walls. [It was] my husband’s birthday [and] we [were] gonna have a big party. I have this big naked wall, so I was like, “I’ll just paint something.” So I did, and my friends really liked it. But your friends are always supposed to be nice to you, so I didn’t take them seriously. I didn’t paint for another two months. I ended up having a job interview, and I didn’t get it. I was really kind of upset with myself and I didn’t know what to do so I just went home. I still had paint to spare so I said I’d just paint something else. And for some reason that hit. It was that all encompassing feeling on the inside that things are just perfect. That month I decided that I’m going to start painting.

DF: Is there a piece that’s particularly special to you that relates to what you’ve learned about the city?
MA: The first big one that I created and it was my first sale. It’s called “Phoenix Noir.” It’s the rising from the ashes; it’s rebirth and restarting. Ever since I started doing art, I’ve been meeting with so many awesome people; it’s the same journey where you have this realization that there’s something more. Community is the biggest thing in Calgary and everyone is so kind and supporting and loving to one another [and] when it comes to small businesses, everyone comes together. I really appreciate that.

DF: What’s the best thing about what you do?
MA: Freedom. Nothing will beat it. I love the emotional release; I love meeting with the people. I get the freedom to do what I want, when I want. If I want to paint at two o’ clock in the morning, I will. If I want to meet with people, I will. Everything is a choice. It’s not on anyone’s time but my own. Freedom is everything.

DF: What are some tips that you could give to others who find themselves in a structured business and they want to break out into more creative work?
MA: If you’re going to do this part time, it’s always gonna be a hobby and you’re never going to take it seriously. At the same time, I don’t consider myself an artist. I consider myself a business person. My business happens to be art, but I am a business person first. You have to have marketing, you have to have your research. I make sure to network, I make sure to reach out to people and I make sure to ask, “Can I have my artwork displayed here, can I do this, can I do that, can I donate?” Can I donate my art to a fundraiser where people can see it for exposure? There’s a deadline. You make your own deadline, but you gotta do it. If they really, really want something, quit your job and go crazy. But, you have to put in the 12 to 14 hours every single day.

DF: Is there an interesting story that’s come from a commission?
MA: Just recently, a couple of weeks ago, I painted a circle. I’ve been thinking about this circle for the past month. I don’t know why, I’ve been so busy trying to do other commissions or deadlines. I’m supposed to do this commission piece for a client of mine, and she’s already been waiting for a week, so I have to get something in paper for her. I can’t get this circle out of my mind, so I’m just like “screw it, I’m just going to paint this circle.” I just needed to get it out. So I posted it up on Instagram, as I do with all my other stuff, and Instagram explodes. I have four offers for the painting, including one from Lethbridge, one from B.C. and a lady from Las Vegas that wants this circle. The feedback that I’ve been receiving is tremendous. It’s crazy and it’s amazing, but yeah, it’s that intuitiveness that I’ve been trying to get into more. I know that if I force myself to paint something, it just doesn’t come out.

WG: My mom does abstracts too. She listens to music to inspire her. Where does your inspiration usually come from?
MA: I listen to a lot of music, and the type of music depends on what kind of feeling I want to present in the painting. If I want something more subdued then that’s the kind of music I listen to. It’s the way I prepare myself. So it is 100 per cent about feeling. You’re not portraying a subject; you’re portraying an emotion. When it’s more of a darker or more passionate piece then that’s the kind of music I listen to. I’m not a sad person, which is not great if you’re an artist. But if I do want to have an element of that emotion, then I will listen to really sad music. I get myself to feel that way.

Follow Modern Emulsions on Instagram: @modernemulsions