Ewelina Bocheńska: Gypsy Sun, Desert Moon
My paintings are definitely more often questions than answers, where the emphasis is more on not knowing than knowing.
The paintings for your last New York solo show were made while traveling through the American Southwest on a roadtrip. Are there aspects of that nomadic studio practice that have carried through to this series of work?
The paintings that I make are very much infused with the energy of the places that I am inspired by. For example, the paintings that I make while I am in Poland are very different to the ones I made for this show, which is in the Southwest. I have always been a gypsy and so my paintings are an accumulation of all of the places I have been. Nowadays I don’t have to physically travel because I travel ‘within’ the painting. Every painting is like going on a different inner journey, it is an inner nomadic studio practice.
In addition to canvas, you sometimes paint on other supports like leather, felt, carved wood, and tapestries. What about these surfaces attracts you as a starting point in the construction of your works?
All those elements give a painting more of a physical presence, they make it more anchored in the physical realm and create more of a haptic, multi-sensory experience. Those type of paintings seem to have a stronger gravitational pull. They make the reading of a painting fluctuate between two states, the physical and the the ethereal, where two or more intertwined realties occur at the same time. I also like how those elements become hidden within the structure of the painting, when they merge with the paint to the point where they become almost invisible.
I also like to question the boundaries of what defines a painting or what can I get away with and still call something a painting. In a way it is more difficult to paint on a carved or stitched / embroidered surface because it is not a blank canvas and those elements predetermine what will be possible. In a way, they limit the parameters of how far I can ‘travel’ within the painting. The embroidered elements refer to my Polish roots and my love for folklore and folk art, wall tapestries and all of the textures, patterns I was surrounded by when I was a child.
I get the impression that you work in fits and starts, or even that you are relearning your own practice in a sense. In other words, maybe your paintings are more often questions than answers. What role does discovery play in your process and how do you create space for surprises?
My paintings are definitely more often questions than answers, where the emphasis is more on not knowing than knowing. I am more interested in questions than answers, because questions create an open space / open window, an answer is like a closed door. My most favorite question is Heidegger’s question: ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’. I am intrigued by the space between representation and abstraction, that liminal space of things coming in and out of existence. It is important to me that the aspects of my paintings are on the verge of becoming and/or disappearing. Not all of them but most of them.
The surprise element happens when I surrender all of my expectations of what I want the painting to be like. It requires a state of being relaxed and yet hyper-focused, very attentive throughout the whole process (including cleaning brushes) and approaching the painting with an empty mind. It is a Taoist practice, entering the Great Void, which can birth Universes.
Sometimes, it feels like I need to, metaphorically speaking, climb Mt. Everest or two, before this surprise element takes place, so it takes a lot of stamina / mileage to actually come across it. Therefore, it is like a gift when it happens but it is not my priority to look for it, it is a part of the journey with art. My priority is to put one foot in front of the other and keep on climbing / painting.
Nowadays, I spend a lot of time just looking at the painting, observing it, at different times of the day, and making my painting’s decisions based on those observations. My favorite time of the day to paint and to observe them is when day turns into night. And when I’m not looking at it, I think about it as I am going about my day. It becomes like an extension of my Being.
The painting process is a bit like forging steel, it has to be a certain temperature for it to be malleable. It is like tending a fire throughout the night to make sure it does not go out.
For me, painting is a very sacred way of bringing something into existence, where the linear notion of time collapses and everything exists all at once, a quantum realm of infinite possibilities.
Your palette often contrasts natural tones with vibrant colors. Do you ever paint from photographs or observation in an attempt to capture a place or are you more concerned with memory and experience?
I did paint from photographs and observation a long time ago. Once in a while I try to paint my ideas or paint from an image, but every time it ends being ‘flat’, it does not have the same presence / essence as to when I paint out of color. I am very much focused on the inner to outer (invisible to visible) relation in my work.
When I paint I think through color and navigate the different possibilities in which the painting can go, using my imagination and intuition. I let the color dictate how the painting evolves, like a composer writes a symphony. I paint with my eyes as much with my hands. And even though I make small paintings I feel my whole being is engaged, including my physical body.
When you’re not painting, how do you spend your time?
I like to spend time in nature, hiking, sitting by a campfire and soaking up the moonlight, and connecting with the elements — the fire, air, water, earth, space, the Sun, the Moon and the Stars — our ancient ancestors.
Ewelina Bocheńska (b. 1979, Łódź, PL) lives and works in Tuscon, AZ. She received a MFA from the New York Studio School and a BA fro Goldsmiths College, University of London, England, UK. In addition to Sean Horton, her work was featured in a solo exhibition at Fortnight Institute, New York. Her work has been included in recent group exhibitions at JDJ, New York; Giampietro Gallery, New Haven, CT; and Lesley Heller Gallery, New York; among others. Her work has been discussed in Art in America, NY Observer, office Magazine; among others.