The idea of what each of us are like when the 'On' button is 'Off' is just fascinating, says Berlin-based illustrator Martina Paukova. You may have seen her illustrations of Mary Anning and Maya Gabeira in the first Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls book (there’s a second coming out). She also works with clients such as Google, Converse and the New York Times.
Martina has an exhibition coming to London for the first time on February 8, simply titled 'Girls'. The Slovakian born illustrator tends to draw a lot of girls ("the hair shape is more interesting and the overall air is somewhat sweeter and more organic," she says) especially in relaxed settings; usually involving a sofa, cup of coffee and laptop in hand.
But if you look a little closer, more sinister events take place, like a woman seemingly finished with ironing a man and hanging him on a coat hanger along with her clock, wine and glass and plants.
"I've realised that when it comes to my non-commercial work I do usually tend to draw girls," she tells us.
"Some male element is usually present too, usually to suggest certain relationship or the lack of. So when [exhibition curator and director] Liat Chen from the Book Club reached out to me with an idea of an exhibition, showing my girls in one place seemed like a natural idea."
Martina creates a world of awkward, lanky characters set within flattened domestic environments, filled with everyday furniture and objects, yet with a twist of humour – a "not in your face humour, but more of a 'Hey, look for me' humour". This is coupled with bold line work and colours that lighten the tone. She manages to make these scenes enjoyable, and just relatable enough with a hint of mockery.
"The characters are paused and leisurely, often tending to the most mundane tasks," Martina says. "Phones and computers are almost compulsory, and so are the coffee cups – I guess these are here to emphasise the world in motion that still exists outside."
It's usually when we’re in the safety of our homes that we are our most natural selves – we're essentially "off duty".
In a society that encourages women to to be glamorous, to pose and perform, Martina refreshingly celebrates the mundane down-time and how most of spend our time in the evening.
The choice to illustrate this aspect of life wasn't an overly philosophical one for Martina. She simply draws women because, well, she is one.
"I don’t think my pictures are about the importance of showing women in [domestic] situations; I am attracted to concept of the off-duty, banal, non-performing self in all of us," she says.
"Especially this time and age, when everyone’s skin is out there, polished and curated and self-published and regrammed."
This notion of 'performance' is something Martina is well aware of, and perhaps cautious about.
"Sociologists say modern self is performing self. We all have a certain public face, public persona. We all want to be perceived as ambitious and having fun, being perpetually happy."
Martina's illustrations often have a little "demasculinized metaphor present", even in the simple fact that Martina’s women tend to wear trousers with simple tops, but it wasn't a conscious decision to push her characters to represent modern femininity, or feminism itself.
Martina says she doesn’t have any concrete inspirations besides perhaps a bit of her own life and Instagram. She’s hoping to find more time to create her own, non-commercial work this year.
"I’d also love to step away from the computer (I am such a slave) and utilise my hands either with drawing or plasticine or ping pong," she says.
And fair enough too. She’s recently been working on a number of projects, including an extensive editorial for MIT Technology Review.
Next to come is illustrating the whole supplement for German Die Zeit newspaper, and after that, a series of pictures for an Australian property developer.
Martina studied politics in Slovakia, but was attracted to "all things pictorial" so she moved to London to study graphic design, followed by Illustration at Camberwell College of Arts.