Interview by Agata Matusielańska
Mouth covered in blood or merely smudgy lipstick? A young artist Katarzyna Kubiak talks about her final year works in which she depicted her second nature and, as a result, created a puzzlement at her Academy in Zielona Gora. She tells us why she photographs strangers, why she is fascinated with female nature and what does Friday Kahlo and Jacek Malczewski have in common…
You only paint women. Often your figures have their eyes or mouths covered. Why women in such situations are the main theme of your art?
I search for beauty and I enjoy observing women. They are beautiful and mysterious to me. I am a woman so it is easier for me to understand and express women’s emotions. Why I cover their mouths or eyes? Sometimes you cannot express things verbally, to feel it you need to see it.
Are you concerned with feminist subjects? Do you tell stories about women and their situation in a symbolic manner?
No, but for me as an artist it is interesting what you are saying. I think that I am still learning. I have an impression that I’m at the beginning of my path, and these works are a test if I am able to paint human anatomy properly and simultaneously tell some stories through my art…
So you mean that the works which you produced at the end of your studies are a result of improving your skills? While painting these portraits you focused merely on the form?
It is a self-portrait with my best friend Paulina. A lot of thing in life happen by accident. In my works produced at the end of my studies I decided to paint myself. It was a test for me. I was studying anatomy secretly, my professor didn’t know about it. He was very surprised when I showed him my paintings. I have always been a calm person and that is how people perceive me. When I suddenly showed these paintings, people got interested in my art, they were intrigued. I reveal my second nature in them.
You are saying that you would like to intrigue people with your art, but what does this state aim to achieve? Would you like to influence your viewers in some specific way?
I simply want people to give my works some extra attention. I can compare painting to telling a story, it is great when somebody listens to us and even better when does it with curiosity. I have been once thinking: what makes me standing at the front of some works longer than the others? Why did they remain in my memory? Why did they awake my emotions? I try to understand these things. I am interested in the relation painting viewer and I like to observe my surroundings. I certainly want my works to awake emotions and arouse curiosity but I don’t want to do it intrusively. I am not interested in provoking, I am not like this.
Your paintings are very realistic, polished up and clean-cut, they seem like photographs… What is a painting for you?
I like portraying people. Through painting I ‘document’, meaning that I tell stories of a portrayed figure. I start with sketching and collecting ideas, often in a form of photos. Then I lay them in a form of a collage and start working. Because I don’t create a painting in one day, but in several days, during painting I change my initial ideas, a history builds itself up. It is an extremely interesting process.
Who are your models? Do they pose for you?
I mostly paint from photographs. Sometimes these are pictures of my friends, and sometimes of people with interesting appearances, whom I ask if I can take their photo. When I portray my friends, I organise photo shoots but not in a traditional way. Often I set up my camera to take ten photographs and go out of the room leaving them alone with a camera. I ask them to act freely. It is very interesting because I don’t ask them for specific poses. It is noticeable afterwards on the photos that people are firstly stiff but then, after a while, they start to open up…
And when you paint a self-portrait, what kind of a model are you for yourself? Do you also open up in front of a camera, like your friends, whose photographs you transform into portraits?
This opening-up doesn’t always happen. I’m not always able to achieve what I wanted to. Sometimes I discover something what I didn’t expect. When I paint self-portraits I am braver. I know my appearance and I allow myself to be more creative.
You have Jacek Malczewski’s painting, painted by you, hanging in your room. What do you admire in his art? Are you inspired by his technique or maybe by the content of his art?
I admire everything in his art. It was a love at first sight. I saw his paintings in high school and back then I thought they were perfect, ideal for me. When I lack inspiration, I always come back to his art. I envy him his technique. Maybe one day I will be able to master paint in the same manner, but I have a long way to go. This thought inspires me and motivates to work.
You painted Frida Kahlo’s paintings, too. Do you think that you borrowed this fascination of women from her? Kahlo was famous for her realism and her art was often full of suffering… maybe like the women you painted.
That is a good point. I think that Frida paints for real, authentically. She just sat down and painted whatever she thought she had to. And that is what I like about her, this authentic approach.
What do you understand by honesty in art?
Being honest in art means broadcasting your emotions. It can be compared to leaving one’s diary open. I think that painting one’s inner pain may be a form of therapy, a path to self-acceptance, but also a mean to receive a compassion.
When did you discover that you want to be an artist? Have you always known that you wanted to create art?
Yes, I have always known that I wanted to be an artist. My first memories are linked to painting or to a desire to paint something. This desire has never died out in me.
From what you are saying it seems that your paintings are produced out of wrestling with certain formal tasks. Is that true? What is a challenge for you right now?
I am aware that my workshops is not as good as I wish it to be. I try to study anatomy to be able to paint a human body easily. I work to depict certain stories on a canvas but, at the same time, to keep the integrity of my art. When I paint, two forces influence me. One wants an artistic untidiness, while the second one wants a muffled form. Formally, that is how I paint, highlighting and turning down some elements. It is hard to describe it, when I work I hardly think about it, I work intuitively. Right now I start a new series, I want it to be consistent and to refer to the previous one, my works produced at the end of my studies.