A mixed media artist from Poland – lived in Britain, Switzerland and Spain. We find out how it all comes together.
You are a mixed media artist working with a variety of materials – how do you achieve harmony between such vastly different elements?
I started experimenting with mixed media at university, particularly within my figurative work where I would regularly use pastels and acrylics together. Since registered as a full time self-employed artist I have really dedicated my practice to refining my style and developing my own techniques, in particular with the inclusion of gold leaf. I’ve found out that each technique has it’s own impact and interactions with the others. There is always an element of randomness in each of my works where I will allow the medium to temporarily dictate the direction that the painting will take. For example, in “Exploration 4” I used an acrylic base to create the underlying structure of the landscape then allowed the watercolours to flow as it chose in order to capture a sense of natural liquidity.
Your figurative works demonstrate your interest in representing female expression?
I consider myself to be an abstract expressionist artist and am most fascinated in attempting to represent individual moments of experience and capturing a sense of the mood of the subject. I am not trying to achieve hyperrealism and although I regularly paint nudes, I rarely work on paintings that I would call erotic. My figurative paintings tend to be quite personal and whilst they are certainly not self-portraits in the traditional sense, they usually represent some aspect of myself. I began working on figuratives at university. This was a particularly difficult and turbulent period for me and my figurative paintings from that period are consequently quite dramatic and in some cases also quite dark. The faces of the women that I painted during this time were always covered by a streak of white, representing bandages covering my personal internal wounds. My recent figurative works have lost their bandages and are far more positive and uninhibited and hopefully appear more mature and refined.
Land and seascapes also form a part of your portfolio, alongside flowers and portraits?
I am very aware that having a recognisable style is essential in the art world. I enjoy maintaining a presence in both the abstract landscape and figurative genres as it allows me the creative freedom that I need and feel that my style in both areas is unique. The diverse nature of the subjects means that there are different audiences for each but I have found that my core audience appreciates the variation. In short, the variety of subject matter is essentially a historical artefact due to the manner in which I have trained and developed as an artist. I am proud of my earlier work and still happily paint the occasional floral or maritime scene for a commission, but my focus is no longer on these subjects and I always try to draw attention towards the direction that my current work is taking me.
You are from Lublin - what are your greatest Polish artistic influences?
I feel that my art has been strongly influenced by two particular aspects of Polish Art. On the one hand, I love more the traditional, representative art yet on the other hand I also love non-traditional media, textures and use of colour. Polish pre-expressionism, from the late 19th and early 20th century was a movement that began to shift away from highly traditional representative painting, allowing the artists the freedom to express themselves whilst still maintaining a sense of reality. Paintings from this period tend to use stronger, more expressive colours and bolder brush strokes. Wojciech Weiss and Jan Stanislawski are two of my favourite artists from this period. Art from post Second World War Poland, especially the 1950s/1960’s began to move away from traditional painting techniques and media and started to include much more in the way of sculptural form and textures. As a textile artist, this obviously resonated with me whilst I was studying at college and gave me a degree of confidence about incorporating unusual mediums into my work. Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 – 2017) was a Polish artist/sculptor and fibre artist, known for using textiles as a sculptural medium. One of her most recognizable works is a 3 dimensional fibre work called Abakans and also her figurative and non-figurative series called Humanoids. I have found her work inspiring ever since I was in Art College studying textiles as she was merging textile art and sculpture.
You have lived in England, Switzerland and now Spain. What is the experience of an artist in a new land?
When I first moved to Cambridge in 2005 I barely spoke a word of English. I had never tried selling my own paintings before and had high expectations of instantly being able to make a living as an artist. I quickly learnt that dreams and reality can take rather longer to coincide and that the contemporary art galleries in Cambridge were, for some reason, not particularly interested in representing an unknown, unsolicited, uninvited and often quite damp and bedraggled artist wondering in off the streets clutching a nicely decorated album of photographs of my paintings.
With the help of my husband, I managed to secure a few local exhibitions before being introduced to the Nantais Gallery by a friend. All of this was happening at the same time as the arrival of our first child and I even managed to find time for a graphic design and advanced computer art course and English lessons at the local training centre. It was a difficult period for me in many respects, but it boosted my confidence about my language abilities as well as providing me the opportunity to continue to be creative whilst trying to figure out the complexities of being a first time Mum in a foreign country.
After my husband received an irresistible job offer in Switzerland, we packed up and moved
to a small town near Zurich. This time I was slightly more prepared for the language change, although German will always be something of a mystery to me, and after a bit of settling in to the new environment, I found time to get the paints out more and more regularly. History repeated itself and in 2011 I found myself nursing my second child in another foreign country. I continued to paint for the Nantais Gallery and also for myself and my work began to take on a more abstract form, possibly influenced by the quite noticeable Swiss trend towards minimalism. With the help of a close friend who had been a curator for the Henry Moore Foundation, I held a well-received exhibition focussing on my figurative work. Just before Christmas 2014 we found ourselves choosing between staying in Switzerland or heading somewhere more suited to our dreams of living a self-sufficient and artistic lifestyle, so we headed to central Spain. It was supposed to be a temporary stopping off point whilst we figured out exactly where we wanted to be, but as these things tend to work out differently from how we imagine them, we’re still happily here.
How has knowledge of various countries impacted your work?
Every country has left its indelible mark on my work. Each has it’s own unique cultural idiosyncrasies, artistic preferences and heritage and I’m very aware that I only scratched the surface of what each country has to offer.
My work in England was very much influenced by the weather and landscape, with blue being a particularly dominant colour, especially with flower paintings.
Switzerland imparted a far more abstract feel to my work and set me on the path towards being more restrained with my choices of colour for an individual painting.
Spain’s influence is by far the most noticeable in the contrast between my works of different periods. We love exploring remote areas and have experienced some of the most amazing scenery I’ve ever seen in our regular trips into the various Spanish mountains. The incredible cool turquoise waters of the Alto Tajo, quite literally took my breath away as we all plunged in for the first time. The tranquillity and spectacular scenery of Asturias, on the northern coast, provides a never-ending source of inspiration. And of course, the sunshine. My use of gold leaf in most of my recent work is in no small way due to the need to try to represent the sunshine that dominates the land I now live in. Culturally, Spain’s surrealist history also plays a strong part in my figurative work. Whilst there is a strong hyper realistic art movement at work here, the enduring influences of Dali and Picasso provide a wonderful framework for enabling artists to experiment with alternative forms of representation and I have found that my figurative work has much support here.
You are featured in the Saatchi Art catalogue – must have been a boost?
When I first went full time, I hadn’t realised just how hard it would be to get noticed. The small successes that are visible on social media are dwarfed by the phenomenal amount of effort it takes to achieve them. I have been lucky enough to have work regularly included in RiseArt’s curated collections and that always helps to raise my visibility but being featured in the SaatchiArt Catalogue was undoubtedly one of the largest boosts my career has had to date. It was an honour to be selected for the catalogue and it has started something of a chain reaction as I have now also been featured in their New This Week series and am scheduled to be included in their forthcoming Artist of the Day series. SaatchiArt’s Instagram post of my painting “Blush” attracted over 3000 likes, which definitely helped!
What types of Interior Design projects are you looking to get involved with?
Whilst I am always delighted to work on any project, I love getting involved in larger projects, as it tends to compliment my natural way of working where I’ll work on a number of related pieces concurrently. My paintings are generally quite organic and peaceful and also a little luxurious; I think that this combination of qualities may find particular relevance within the healthcare, real estate and hospitality industries. I would like to think that my work brings a peaceful sense of the natural world into a space. I hope that it offers designers the opportunity to incorporate something familiar yet also highly contemporary and a little exotic into their projects and that my work can be used to accentuate their designs with a joyful yet considered sense of playing with colour and light. I believe that my work can provide an attractive focal point without being too overbearing or demanding.
What exhibitions do you have coming up?
I have actually just about finished a pretty intense period of exhibitions all over Europe, including Cambridge, Florence, Marbella, London, Madrid, Alkmaar and Cologne.
A selection of my work is permanently on display at the Darryl Nantais Gallery in Linton, near Cambridge, England, Corte-Real Gallery in Paderne in the Algarve, Portugal and by the time this goes to press, also in Galeria Retxa in Ciudadela on the island of Menorca.
I’m currently in discussions with galleries in Lisbon, Madrid and Cuenca regarding exhibitions later this year and early 2018. I shall also be exhibiting at a solo stand (24) at Malaga Contemporary Art Fair from June 30th – July 2nd and will be represented by the Darryl Nantais Gallery at the Edinburgh and Cambridge Art Fairs, both in mid November this year.
What are your favourite places in the four countries you have lived in?
I have many fond memories of Cambridge, but Jesus Green stands out particularly as I used to walk there beside the river every day with my daughter. My favourite place in England is West Dorset; I love the rolling hills and Jurassic coastline and have spent many weeks there staying with my husband’s parents.
My hometown of Lublin has a lot of history and I still love the cobbled streets and vibrant atmosphere of the old town. My favourite spot, however, is about 30km East of the town, beside the fishponds sunk into in the gentle hills where I used to spend my summers as a child. I still take my own children there as often as I can. Switzerland is renowned for it’s spectacular scenery, in particular the central line of the Alps, however, my favourite spot has to be the tiny fishing village of Gandria, located in the Ticino region in the south, on the edge of Lago di Lugano. Exploring the maze of narrow streets with an excited 5 year old and husband was a wonderful experience!
I adore Spain. Whilst I do enjoy the occasional day on the beach, there are spectacular hidden gems all over the country that I definitely prefer. The mountains north of Cuenca, to the East
of Madrid, hold some of the most beautiful river scenery that I’ve ever seen and there is something absolutely magical about floating in the almost deserted turquoise waters of the Alto Tajo on a hot summer day. The other area that I fell in love with immediately was Asturias, on the northern coast. After crossing the mountains heading north from Leon, there’s a moment when Asturias simply unfolds before your eyes. The mountains gradually become orchard covered hills that could almost be mistaken for a slightly more extreme version of Dorset, if it weren’t for the palms and banana trees! Keep travelling north and you reach some of the most amazing coastline I’ve ever seen, with a mix of sandy and rocky beaches, caves and cliffs. I hear that it’s busy during the long Spanish summer holidays, but if you manage to go in early September, the weather and the water are still easily warm enough for swimming and there’s no-one else there. Bliss!