Ewa Wilczynski is a London based painter who has become renown for her beautifully raw contemporary self-portraits, inflected with the materials and techniques of old master painting. Not to be missed, she will be performing her LIVING PAINTING series at Frieze New York, Randall’s Island Park, May 5 – 8, 2016.
“Some collectors have even have hung these C H A N G E works from their ceiling, draped and pinned them as sculptural tapestries and I personally choose to wear them as a living painting.”
Ewa is a both a deeply cerebral and technical painter, and is unafraid of interjecting images of femininity, truth, and a certain bodily rawness in her work. This most recent series combines the artist’s self portraits which are stripped from the stretcher and work, her own image coming alive expression of Ewa’s conviction that art is “an all-encompassing concept and I live my life on canvas, beyond the canvas and enigmatically in-between.”
The artist’s style might be characterized as a baroque expressionism punctuated by a flashiness that reads like the most interesting of haute couture. She describes this intriguing performance and painting series as a way of using her body to embody art:
“by literally wearing the paintings as a skin, membrane, or veil illustrates those philosophies of identity, persona, masks, duplicity, and the self-seen in my work, and how they collide, diffuse, and become one and the same.”
Ewa represents a new generation of women artists and creatives, there is a certain lack of regard for socially inscribed ideas of gender as well as hierarchies of art and creativity. Essentially, technique remains at the core of her work, and as such, she is the most painterly of artists. The bald women in her portraits are meant to portray absolute nakedness, and recall archetypal figurations, awash in narratives of journeys through the body. Ewa’s work principally expresses the whorls of her mind, and her experience of living in a female body.
It occurs to me that it is of great interest to see that the response to Ewa is predictably sexist, focusing on her personal appearance. Nevertheless, Ewa at her core will have none of this. A deeply serious painter with a sharp mind, her work is related to the tradition of feminist performance. Ewa’s imago is an expression of her lived experience as a woman and an artist, the power clearly in her hands. Complex work like this does many things, aligns with socially inscribed ideas of sexuality, expresses feminine experience, abundance, power and pushes and pulls between genre.
RB: You moved from canvas to painting on brocade and fabric, I am interested in this new choice, as there tends to be a sense of movement in the arrangement of the folds, very baroque. How did this idea come about, and can you tell me more about your process and technique?
EW: I shifted from canvas to antique brocades and vintage fabrics to create my new series of CHANGE paintings. The idea is that the piece itself can be changed, transformed, and hung in a multitude of ways to create many paintings in one. Even the iridescent and duo chrome finish of the fabric connects with the philosophies of metamorphosis and transformation seen in my compositions.
You hit the nail on the head when you mentioned the baroque influence- I am very much from the school of ‘more is more’ when it comes to my art on and off the canvas. I am drawn to the theatricality of that period, as well as the lavish and luxurious finish of the art, fashion and design during that time too so I incorporated those elements into the paintings.
RB: Your practice is steeped in historic and masterful traditions in the sense that you paint in oil in a formal way, but your work is very contemporary, how do you work towards combining these elements so successfully?
EW: With my work, I like to think I have one foot in the past and another in the present. I look to history when it comes to craft and technique, in particular medieval alchemy recipes and old masters’ techniques, which I adapt with my own secret recipes in a very modern way.
EW: It is so important to bring the artisan back to the forefront, even more so now in this digital era where everything is not only quick, disposable but in my opinion so sterile and mediocre it bores me! If I am looking at a work of art, I want to see something that stops me in my tracks and makes me go ‘wow’. I want to see the hours of labor, blood, sweat, tears, and imagination in the work and something, which cannot be imitated.
EW: This is what I strive for in my paintings. Each brushstroke, pigment or antique material I paint on has a unique lineage to a past and a human history, which cannot be replicated or simulated. I then connect it with my own experiences and imagination through painting. I think it is this connection to something that is very personal and resonates. This is something that cannot be deleted with the click of a button.
RB: Much of your work has figures that appear at least in some sense to be self-portraits, even on a metamorphic level. Tell me why this is such an important part of the narrative?
EW: Originally, I painted self-portraits out of convenience, as I am an introverted person and when I work, I need to be completely alone, but as time progressed the exercise of painting myself took on a much deeper and multilayered meaning. The philosophies of appearances, masks, characters, metamorphosis, and transformation have always fascinated me. Some of my biggest influences come from glamorous and flamboyant artists such as Warhol. Glam in the true sense of the word, being something beyond nature and beyond the realms of reality. I live my life in-between the realms of reality and fantasy. So as my ideas developed I began to live these philosophies on and off the canvas: ideas of creating your ‘self’ to find yourself and the changing nature and clash between identities.
RB: The element of a journey or a struggle, often quite physical is at the center of much of the work, with images and stories that mirror birth and life cycle imagery, and of course, the color red, the color of life.
EW: I am always drawn to suggestive dichotomies and I depict those moments ‘in between’ in my compositions. This is true whether it is the skin between the image and the self, or the place between horror and magic. Within the drawings, I incorporate hidden sacred geometry, which again stems from my interest in history, alchemy, and religious art. The movement, energy and passion is injected in the work through color, as you mentioned that red, and gesture of paint.