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‘London is punch-drunk. It's always slightly too much, but it's also never enough.’
Gems in this
When artist and creative director Oksana Valentelis moved from the post-Soviet state of Lithuania to the vibrant streets of London, she was charmed by the considered architecture of the city and the warmth of its close-knit creative community.
Even after her flourishing career took her to Sydney for a stint with advertising agency, The Monkeys, she was called back to the British capital by the abundance of London's inspiration. From surprise discoveries made while wandering through East London, to walks around Olympic Park and drinks at her local pub, Oksana’s inquisitive eye always finds something to marvel at. Now a Creative Lead at TikTok, Oksana continues to tap into the eccentric and lively creativity of the world and her adopted home of London. We chat with Oksana about her memorable travel moments, unexpected lockdown discoveries, and her Travel Playbook for exploring London.
On where you’re from
I was born in Lithuania, and lived there until I was 16. Lithuania wasn’t part of the EU, so when I moved to London I couldn’t afford to study graphic design at uni straight away as the fees for non-EU students were ten times more. However, some universities didn’t apply the same rule to international students, so instead of not studying, I studied philosophy at Heythrop College. A year into the degree, Lithuania got accepted into the EU and I was able to re-apply to Central Saint Martins.
On moving to London
The first two years when I was in London were a proper headache, mostly because my English was terrible. Understanding people was a struggle. When I first arrived in London, to Liverpool Street Station, I remember thinking how huge and overwhelming it was. I came from a post-Soviet state, where everything looks like what you see in the Chernobyl series — part of the series was actually filmed in my neighborhood. From there, we traveled by tube to Queen’s Park, and it was so different to anything I’ve ever seen. There were certain bits of architecture that really stood out and made it seem like a different world altogether — a world that was considered.
On your start in advertising
I didn't have a plan, I still play by ear. I'm not really good at planning, I'm pretty spontaneous in general. When I graduated, because I studied graphic design with film and advertising, I gave myself three months to see if I could get a job. If I couldn’t, I’d go into film. I got a job in two months. I worked for five-and-a-half years at Fallon, the first company I joined. It was an incredible experience because everyone at the time was just a next-level creator. It felt like an incredible environment. I am still really good friends with almost everyone who I worked with at that time.
On where your creativity has taken you
I lived in Australia for a year and a half. Moving there was a bigger decision than coming back, because it was changing everything all over and starting from scratch, as it were. But the work in Australia was great. To me, Australia is still a testing ground for lots of clients, so you’re allowed to do more — they’re more open to crazy ideas, ideas that are riskier and a bit more out-there.
On your art projects
I’m currently exploring different linocuts. I’ve just finished this massive plate of the 3 Mills Studios, and I’m looking forward to test printing them. I’m testing ground on different art techniques as I feel I’ve done a lot of mask explorations, and I want to move away from it and try something new. Usually the way I approach something is to go, ‘What am I not good at, and kind of hate, and how can I change to love it?’ I’ve just bought a whole bunch of different things, and I’m going to experiment with it and see how it feels.
‘Nothing beats learning about different cultures from locals, especially if you're sharing a local beverage at the local bar.’
On how travel influences your creativity
You look at things differently. Once you're used to something and you look at the same thing over and over again, you stop noticing it. When you go abroad, you notice things that you don't notice in your local street. I also like spending time with local people, talking shit about life and whatnot. I discovered we're all pissed off about something. Also, nothing beats learning about different cultures from locals, especially if you're sharing a local beverage at the local bar.
On a memorable travel moment
With travel, there are so many moments that are interesting or different. Before Covid, I was sent for a weekend shoot in Nepal, to document local music talent. It was a two-day shoot, and one day I literally just spent a whole day sitting outside a dingy little studio in the backstreets of Kathmandu, playing with a stray dog that came to hang out with me. I was in this incredible place in the world, but not able to see it. At the end of the day I went out with local clients on a tour of different bars. That was really interesting and different. They ended up in this football bar where everyone was wearing a red Liverpool shirt. I was like ‘Are they English expats? What’s going on here?’ And they were like ‘No they’re locals. We love Liverpool’.
On the creative community in London
There’s definitely a community. When I first came back from Australia, I shared a studio in Dalston with a friend who’s an amazing photographer, called Tara Darby. Coincidentally, artist and illustrator Malika Favre was also sharing the same studio. I loved her screen work and the way she works with colors, and how she eliminates shadows. This is also the beauty of London — you're always really close to different artists.
On exploring your own backyard
I live right next to 3 Mills Studios, this old-school production house. One evening I was passing by and they had an exhibition opening with intaglio print work. It was held in this little gallery space, run by local artists, older people who feel passionate about documenting surrounding areas. It’s really lovely. The woman who ran the show, pointed me to the local printing press rental studio. I hold her responsible for me wanting to explore linocuts now!
On where to see culture in London
London is ever-evolving. You used to go to Shoreditch because it was this brewing ground for new creativity, but now it's very commercialized. I like art that’s done by local people, inspired by whatever they’re reading or thinking. So I like going to small galleries. Nelly Duff does lovely stuff, they also sell my work so I'm biased. Then you have Jealous Gallery and the London Print Club that do really nice stuff. When the Royal Academy of Arts does its annual Summer Show, you can see a mix of art that’s high-end alongside more affordable lower-end stuff. It’s just so beautiful to walk around and explore. Last year, my neighbor Hormazd Narielwalla had his art collage book on display. He’s a wonderful artist.
‘The 10 Cases in Covent Garden have a really good selection of organic wines from different regions. It has good food as well.’
On showing a friend around London for the day
I'm probably the worst guide. I’m lazy so I’ll hang out at my locals. There's this pub called Galvanisers [Union]. It's the most ‘contrast-y’ pub ever. From outside it looks like a shitty 70s development, but inside it is just like any other pub. It has a nice vibe and it has a good range of beverages. I was lucky because in the middle of the pandemic, this really nice restaurant opened up close to me. It has such a nice atmosphere. It's called The Print House, and it's located on Sugar House Island.
On where to enjoy natural wine
There's this one place I discovered called The 10 Cases. It's in Covent Garden on Endell Street. They do a really good selection of organic wines from different regions. It's rare to find good orange wines in London, but 10 Cases has a really nice selection. It has good food as well. I think you can have different meats or cheeses.
On where to get coffee
Getting a good coffee is really hard. A lot of places serve coffee, but a lot of places serve really shit coffee. I like a nice long black, and for that you need to go to places that know how to make coffee. There's a few of them pocketed around different places in London. Ozone in East London does really nice coffee and they roast their own beans. They also do beautiful food. This is one thing I loved in Australia — it was near impossible to get shit coffee in Australia, whereas in London you have to actually go through a few places before you find a place that makes good coffee using good beans.
On nature escapes in the city
I'm really lucky, I live really close to the Olympic Park. It’s vast, looked after and has pockets that look a bit more wild. The beautiful thing that I noticed during the pandemic — because this is my local walk — is that they continuously change the flower arrangements and update the shrubbery throughout the year. Every time you walk, there will be something new. Lately it's been so warm that we have daffodils everywhere and they've planted them so densely that it’s like yellow rivers.
‘London is like a pond — it’s full to the brim of the most unexpected and often contagious stuff. It’s wonderful.’
On your relationship with London
London is like a pond — it’s full to the brim of the most unexpected and often contagious stuff. It’s wonderful. When I lived in Australia I missed London like crazy — that’s not to say that Aus had nothing of the sort to offer, you just had to go out of your way to find it. Even without trying in London, you’re continuously inspired — it’s just impossible to walk somewhere and not see something that’s interesting. There's always some kind of pop-up or show happening. Cafés exhibit artworks, people are making stuff, there’s lots of street art happening. Everyone's doing something.
On a window or aisle seat
A window seat. I’m always on the lookout for an alien spacecraft. But mostly because then nobody can disturb you. No one's gonna climb over you to go to the bathroom. I usually just sleep on the plane — this is my all-time favorite place to sleep. You can switch off from the world. You’re also not in control of this thing, so whatever happens you know it’s not your fault — if it's gonna crash there's nothing I can do, so I might as well enjoy the time.
On a song that best represents London for you
When I lived in Sydney, I had one track playing at the back of my head: ‘London Calling’ by The Clash. But now that I’m back here, it’s ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ by The Velvet Underground [and Nico]. This song talks about a girl who continuously has to find something to wear to the next event. She's always in a rush and slightly hungover. This is what London is like — you're always going somewhere, you always have to look a certain way, you have to present yourself a certain way, and you have to turn up regardless of how you're feeling.
On London in one word
It's always slightly too much, but it's also never enough. It's almost like you're continuously drunk, but also wanting more.