Thursday, April 29, 2010

Her Name Is My Name Too - Artist Interview with Kim Piotrowski

I'll be starting a new project here on the blog, consisting of artist interviews. As a painter and lover of the fine arts myself, I happen to know a lot of artists, so this is a good way for me to re-connect with them, get inside their studios, and find out what they've been up to lately.

To commence this project with a bang, I thought I'd start fairly close to "home" with painter, Kim Piotrowski. No, not me, but another artist from Chicago. I've encountered "the other Kim" in a phantom-like manner numerous times and in different ways through our interconnected art world. Not only do we share a name, but we share a connection through abstract painting. I later learned that she had known about me as well.

To mirror my first question posed to her, I first realized there was another Kim Piotrowski the year I was still in graduate school and interning at the New York satellite office of Maine's Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. One day, I walked into the office and everyone congratulated me on winning a prestigious grant for which I applied that year. Everyone saw the results posted in the back of one of the popular art magazines, but I didn't know anything about my supposed win. I thought I surely would have gotten a letter confirming the prize.  I grabbed the magazine and, sure enough, there was my name. Was it a typo? When I got home, I immediately called the foundation asking for some sort of validation. That was when I first found out about Kim Piotrowski- only she was based in Chicago. Ever since, we (or our work) are often confused for one another. What are the odds of having a doppelganger by name and profession and painting style?

A couple of years ago, my mom and I took a short trip to Chicago to visit some relatives. I decided that it would be fun (and interesting) to look up "the other Kim", and finally meet each other face to face. Going into the unknown, we made a plan to meet for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised that Kim was just as eager to meet me, and got a kick out of the whole scenario. We had a lively discussion during our initial meeting, and now keep in touch fairly regularly finding it quite amusing when others get their wires crossed about us.

Kim "the Elder" (a self-imposed title) is coming fresh from a painting residency away from distractions and life's daily demands. She was also more than willing to help me tell our funny story and thoughtfully answer my burning questions!

LUV U!!!, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 40 x 26” (left) and
Twirl Fool, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 40 x 26” (right)

-When did you first realize there was another artist out there with your same name and similar work?

It might have been about five years ago. I had bought the domain name but didn’t have a website. Things were tight, so I let the domain lapse for about six months. When I finally got a computer and was ready to make my website, the address was taken. I couldn’t believe there would be someone else who would want this domain. So, I investigated and found Kim Piotrowski – Brooklyn abstract painter. Really, what are the chances?! Hence my website is now and I’ve been very glad to make your acquaintance.

-How long have you been painting? When did you know that you wanted to pursue art?

Growing up I was a bit of a loner and misfit. I gravitated to drawing and painting all through my childhood. It was in high school where I had a wonderful art teacher who became my mentor. He never experienced the art world himself but pushed his students to get there. I skipped every class I could to be in his art room. This gave me a sense of solitude and a place to practice my skills. At some point, I got turned onto a program at the Albright Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, NY. They had afterschool portfolio and drawing programs. I was all over it. It was a window to the outside world for me and my first glimpse of what art could be. I took three buses three times a week after school sometimes to get there and loved everything about it. That’s when it happened. It is there that I was exposed to the Modernists and Abstract Expressionists. In the drawing classes many drew from Realism, while I methodically worked on crazy drawings made from abstraction. Another important revelation for me was seeing women artists in a museum collection; Joan Mitchell, Georgia O’Keefe, Marisol, wow! An art scholarship to college put me on course from there.

-Are you a full-time artist? What is your favorite time of day to work?

I wish I could work full-time on my painting right now, but I have a husband and two wonderful daughters that command time and support. Additionally, I have worked the last ten years at an administrative job to help support the family and my studio practice all while maintaining my career. Ideally, I would be able to work full time on my painting career and family. I am very ready for this to change if I can make it happen. My favorite time of day to work is anytime.

Kim's latest work from her recent painting residency (April, 2010)

-Your husband is also a painter- how did you meet? What’s it like having two working artists in the house? Do you feel a competitive painterly spirit with him in this regard?

My husband is a terrific artist and we met twenty years ago when I was working as a part time bookkeeper at the gallery where he was showing. We have been so fortunate that we have been able to mature as artists and mates together. He is ten years older and already had a firm footing on his career when we met. I have to credit him with allowing me to go through the growing pains of my own work and career without interfering. He knows I am very independent and backs off in a very intuitive way that I appreciate. We are at the stages in our lives and careers that we can be each other’s confidants and sounding boards. Our relationship has a foundation of mutual respect and tolerance and we have an unspoken way of asking each other for help. It works amazingly well. As for the competitive spirit you mentioned, I think we always have wanted what is best for each other. I truly believe there is room for every artist’s work. Discipline, determination along with a splash of luck can make great things happen.

-Is anyone else in your family creative? Do your daughters like to paint?

My mother liked to copy fashion illustrations from the newspaper ads when she was young. My brother is a very good architect in Germany, and I have a younger sister that is talented as well. Both of our daughters enjoy painting but approach it differently. They are immersed in our creative lives. It is their “normal”. The oldest is nine and has a thoughtful and methodical way of making art. Our youngest is seven and is more carefree yet is engaged when she paints. She is very expressive and I remember myself as a little girl when I see her working. Both of them are now familiar with our life of painting, traveling, and exhibiting and have become quite helpful in the studio.

-Who or what is your work influenced by? Do you have particular favorite artists?

My work is influenced by unpredictable combinations of current events, memory, autobiography and art history. My selection of favorite artists grows and changes constantly. A few favorites would be Paul Cezanne, Chaim Soutine, George Braque, Arthur Dove, Willem DeKooning, Louise Bourgeois, Robert Smithson, Eva Hesse, and Agnes Martin. Ask me again tomorrow, and I’ll have a new set of names.

In Them Hills, 2009 mixed media on synthetic paper, 60” x 48” (left) and
Pucci Blowout, 2008 mixed media on synthetic paper, 26” x 20” (right)

-What is your work about?

I think I finally figured out that my work is essentially about experience. I make many sketches and comb the internet for images that might be from current events or I’ll simply stumble upon subject matter that lies on my conscience. At some point either a sketch or image, or both, speak to me and provide me the necessity to go forward and make a painting. My work starts with an image and the process of abstract painting allows me to create the bridge to new meaning. The viewer then has the visual platform to read on and glean from it what they may.

-Your work seems to be biologically based. How did you become interested in integrating science into your paintings?

My work does have a history in biomorphic abstraction that has stood in as a reference to body and nature. I have always been fascinated by the strength and fragility of our bodies and the many transitions that happen in the course of a lifetime. I have also marveled at the significance of artificial constructs such as plastics in the practice of medicine that allow us to prolong our lives.

-Can you generally describe your artistic progression over the years?

My work has always had an affinity to the visceral and physical qualities of paint. The flow, and defining lines of pools can describe so easily and so openly, the mood or form of an image. When I began to show work I used a heightened and acidic oil palette that described abstract landscapes. Over time, I have explored through abstraction surgical anatomy, plant life and most recently figures. In the last five years, I’ve been bridging drawing to painting in an exciting way by working on paper. I guess my progression remains slow, steady and investigative.

- What three words would you use to describe your work overall?

Abstract, physical, bold

-What is your favorite piece of all time that you’ve created and why?

It’s the last one. It’s everything up to the minute.

-What is your workspace like?

I used to have a large studio before we had our daughters but then we did the typical move to the suburbs and my space was reduced radically. I still manage to do my large work in a tight space but it gets difficult to see anything after awhile.

Do you listen to music while working in your studio?

Yes, I listen to music mostly rock n’ roll; REM, Stones, Neil Young, Patti Smith, Dylan. Putting on the headphones is the only way for me to shut the outside world while working in our home.

-Where do you like to go for inspiration or find sanctuary? (A favorite museum, your own work space, or enjoying nature, etc.)

Sanctuary is an interesting concept. I guess going to the internet to open my mind in fresh ways is rewarding. I’m pretty restless and find relaxing a challenge, so I look to what I don’t know and find inspiration there. Seeing an old painting in a new way is always inspiring.

-What is your artistic future? Do you have any specific projects or exhibitions coming up in 2010-2011?

What my artistic future will be and what I want it to be could very well be different things. I think I’d like to see my work mature at a healthy pace that would allow me to enter a larger arena with each body of work. Ultimately, I’d like to be included in museum shows and part of the contemporary dialogue of painting. In September, I’ll be part of a three-person show at JK Gallery in Los Angeles, and I’ll have a rather large solo show at the Hyde Park Art Center in Chicago in October. Currently, I am talking to a few people about shows in New York and Germany. We’ll see if anything happens.

-And finally, (as an artist, this should be a hard one) - do you have a favorite color?

My daughters always tease me that I don’t have one favorite color. So when the question arises I do narrow it down to two or three colors that are relevant to my work that day. Today, the colors are blue for open, and black for empty.

Thank you for being my first official interview, Kim! Sometimes the world is a small and funny place, isn't it?

Kim Piotrowski and Kim Piotrowski - our initial meeting for lunch in Chicago, 2008

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