Something has to be sacrificed. Some days there is only a painting for dinner. ~Paulina Swietliczko
When Paulina Swietliczko was a teenager, she took pleasure in observing fleeting objects or moments: a cup of steaming tea on a cold winter morning, for example. She drew and painted, even as a child, and always wondered how to capture the images that she saw and the feelings they gave her.
Swietliczko believes that painting still life is important even in a time of advanced imaging technology. Of her exhibit, "Remembrance of Things Past," she writes, “Currently, there are so many electronic devices that can record an image and improve a picture by correcting all imperfections. Those devices change and influence our perception of the world. Human eyes are not just instruments to see objectively without judgement and without making a connection to the familiar. Our seeing is enriched by present and past experiences, memory, feelings and interpretation. Painting a still life is a way of contemplation, a way of capturing the time, the moment in which objects were left by people who went to their daily activities”
Why the kitchen: “The kitchen became my art studio during the pandemic," Swietliczko writes. "In quick two to three hour sessions, I painted whatever I found on the counter or table, or in the sink. I painted while helping my kids with virtual school, answering questions and often while doing dishes, cooking lunches and dinners for my family. The pandemic challenged everyone. It is hard to work with kids at home. My kitchen became my temporary studio. My kitchen, a little chaotic and full of stuff, gave me inspiration and a place to work. The title Painting for Dinner points at the challenges of being a mother and a professional artist. It is hard to do two jobs at once. Something has to be sacrificed. Some days there is only a painting for dinner.”
We are grateful that Swietliczko agreed to share her art with the readers of West Trestle Review. In her interview with Rick Ross, the artist discusses her inspiration for still lifes, the evolution of her art, and what's to come.
Rick Ross: I read about your exhibition, Painting for Dinner, and was inspired by your ability to turn the challenge of balancing your work as a professional artist with being a mother whose children were at home during the pandemic, into an opportunity to create this wonderful series. I think each piece tells a story on its own but the collection itself is a story of hard work, depicted in the dishes and food prep, but also a time of reflection to slow down and drink a cup of tea or appreciate the beauty of a pink flowering cactus.
When you approach a series, do you think in terms of a theme or are you telling a story?
Paulina Swietliczko: When I start, I never really think about the story that the painting is going to tell. Usually, I get interested in a subject and then I try to continue developing a series of paintings about one particular subject. When the pandemic started, we all had to stay home, and I decided to use that time for something good, and like most women my age and position in life, I tried to multitask. I had to stay home to make sure that my kids were learning and help them with virtual school when they needed help, but I also wanted to keep working on my art. Also, I had been planning to paint still life for a long time. The subject of still life always comes back to me. It is interesting that each time I start painting still life after a break, it looks very different from those still life paintings from the past. So, it always feels like I discover something completely new that I haven't done before. It probably has to do with me changing and being in a different part of my life each time I go back. During this time of the pandemic, lockdowns, and staying home, my urge to paint still lives, and all those things synchronized.
RR: You mentioned that each time you go back to still life, it looks very different. Can you describe some of those differences and how they are connected to different times in your life?
PS: The differences in my still life paintings come from me changing as an artist and as a person. What used to be interesting to me might not be interesting anymore. Also, I get older and that changes my perspective. My opinions change as I learn new things about life and myself. I think that it is a good thing to change all the time. In art, I like to experiment, and I am always looking for something. I can't even describe what I am looking for, but that thought of maybe discovering something new really drives me and makes my everyday painting sessions exciting.
In my recent still life paintings, I focused on single objects, and the scale of my paintings changed too. I painted smaller pictures. I was more careful about color and composition because those elements are easier to control on a small canvas. How does this relate to my life at the time? The smaller canvas was the result of having only two-three hours to finish a painting. I painted in my kitchen, so time and space constraints had an impact on my paintings, made me create more contemplated small works.
RR: It's interesting that the smaller canvas size is related to the amount of time you had to finish a piece. I imagine working in the kitchen, if it is anything like my kitchen, has its own challenges. I’m thinking of your painting A Tower. I don’t know if it is universal, but I certainly can relate to the tower of dishes that can accumulate next to or in the sink. What are you working on now? Are you finished with still life for the time being?
PS: I'm glad that you could find something familiar in my paintings. My paintings are based on everyday life, and I think that everyone can relate to some of them. I like to hear what my paintings make other people think or feel. It's always interesting to hear how somebody else's experience can relate to mine. This is what makes art important, or relevant. It connects people. We are all humans and have similar life experiences and feelings.
Right now, I am working on figurative paintings again and painting still lifes with my students only, but I find arranged still lifes a little boring. I like to find objects in my kitchen that have not been arranged by anybody, just randomly left by someone, and I paint them. I will go back to my still life paintings again soon. I wonder what they will be about this time.
RR: Thank you so much for sharing your art and your thoughts with us! I'm excited to see it published in this edition of West Trestle Review. We'll keep an eye out for your figurative work and wonder with anticipation at the subject of your next series of still lifes!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Paulina Swietliczko is an artist and educator. A graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland, her works depict scenes inspired from everyday life. Her preferred medium is oil on canvas, but she also uses a variety of other media including water-color, acrylic, and elements of collage. Paulina taught painting, drawing and the fundamentals of design at Reedley College and Fresno City College in California for five years, before moving to Roanoke in 2012, where she currently lives and paints. Follow her on Instagram @paulinaswietliczko.