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Jessica Zawadowicz on the beauty of flowers and language’s influence on art

In this Q&A for First Friday, Wit interviews artist Jessica Zawadowicz. As one of the artists whose work is currently installed in "Spring Up" at PII Gallery, Jessica talks about her paintings, choice of subject, and the future of her art practice. This interview is Artblog's first ever First Friday Q&A! As Jessica is currently in Moscow, Russia and not able to meet for a live podcast recording, these questions were sent to her via email. View Jessica's paintings at PII Gallery through March 28, 2020!

Selfie of the artist Jessica Zawadowicz super imposed on top of a picture of flowers painted by Jessica. Courtesy the artist.
Jessica Zawadowicz. Background: Painting by Jessica Zawadowicz. Courtesy the artist.

Wit López: I think your paintings of flowers that I saw at PII Gallery are beautiful. What led you toward painting flowers?

Jessica Zawadowicz: Thank you! That’s actually an interesting question, because now that I think of it, it doesn’t feel like there was anything specific that “led” me to painting flowers. Rather my continuous self exploration and search for how I can more truthfully represent life and energy through my paintings. And by “honestly,” I mean shedding away my ego or all of my very humanly thoughts when painting and observing life. I believe that it is possible to create our experiences with our thoughts, whether it be consciously or not. And the way that we think and more importantly that way that we feel about our relationship with ourselves, with those around us, and with our the physical environment, and how truthful we can be with ourselves can actually influence our perspective enough to create life in the way that we choose.

SO, RIGHT, flowers. Why flowers?

I think that in everything that I do, I’m always looking for beauty. For beauty in the physical and for what’s aesthetically exciting to look at, but also reaching for the sensation, the feeling, and for the energy that exists in an image or an experience. Or simply just in the moment when you’re face to face with something so beautiful, you simply have no words, but a sense of wellbeing and a sense of space. Like a pause to rest and finally just be, without having to do any one thing. In that moment, I believe its possible to let go of our separate sense of self, and to feel more connected with not only our own being, but also with others and the experience of life.

So for me, when in nature, or when looking at flowers in the studio – I feel Love. It’s like an overwhelming sensation of appreciation for that moment, for life in general, for the privilege to even be painting, and to be able to look at something physical and feel that there is so much more. Sometimes almost to the point of tears. When I paint flowers, it feels very fluid and natural to translate the emotive/ non physical quality that I perceive into another physical form- an image. I’m wanting to take this feeling, and transform it into something more tangible, something that people can grasp, and something that can be shared with others when viewing the painting. Like offering a moment outside of time, offering up a space through color and beauty, and offering the viewer time to rest. I think in these moments of rest, we might be able to begin to see life in a new way, if not just for a moment. And if I can give the opportunity for just a moment for people to look at a painting and become enveloped in color, then for a moment there is silence. And I think that even just a moment can be the pivot point for a new way of understanding.

That was a lot more than just flowers, haha, but nonetheless 🙂

WL: What first propelled you into visual art and this particular medium?

JZ: I think that I was alway interested in color and how different combinations of images or experiences, or even the way that we think can create connections within ourselves, and thus further ways of connecting with our environment.

But it wasn’t until that I reached the University of the Arts that I began to seriously involve myself in visual arts and painting specifically. I first went to school to play basketball and to pursue a path in chemistry. During the first year of school, I had two friends who both took their lives, and it wasn’t until this moment that I seriously questioned everything about myself and my environment. It was the first time that I honestly looked at myself and asked if I was truly meant to be there. Asking myself who I was, what I was doing and why was I doing it, and if it was bringing me joy was the turning point for myself and for also projecting myself towards art. Thinking back to that moment and perhaps in a round about way, I began to see life clearly for the first time.

This was a personal experience of clarity, but I am also looking to create similar moments for new ideas and shifts in my work. Generally, I am drawn to anything that is full of color. When I began to explore the different mediums of paint and ways of image making, oil paint simply gave me the most freedom to explore mark making and subtitles and nuances in color of texture. As well as the physicalness of the medium, having body is something that is important for the work. I think of the physicalness of a painting is a very humanly trait, offering more tactile connection, I feel like theres more spaces to enter the painting as a maker and a viewer, as well as simply having a lot of fun.

WL: What has inspired your current body of work and current art practice?

JZ: In short, the constant desire and search for more truth and compassion. I think that my art practice is synonymous or something of a “life practice.” I’m wanting to bring forward truth, in how we perceive aspects of ourselves and of our environment. Attempting to connect these thoughts and feelings together to bring a further clarity of life itself. I think that if we begin to understand ourselves and become more honest, life itself can truly transform. This is definitely an inspiring idea to me hahah, but also something quite exciting and exhilarating for me to contemplate and experience through art making and simply being a human.

I am constantly asking myself, if that the way I am feeling, seeing, and perceiving is true. If there is clarity, if there is space, if I’m allowing myself to get in the way of the making or if I am stepping back, coming from a place of focused observation, and allowing for the painting and the energy to come through the work. Through painting, I can literally see the way that I am perceiving, if I am viewing life the way it is, or through my own conditioning or beliefs. If I am processing the information in my environment truthfully. Through this power of observation- I am continuously checking if I can come to a clearer understanding of what is in front me, and thus how to move forward.

WL: Do you explore or have you explored other media?

JZ: I think I have something close to 25,000 photos on my phone hahah, if I am not painting or sketching, I am photographing and documenting moments in daily life that visually stand out or capture my attention. Often I’m taking photos of the sun or light, different variations and shapes in shadow and contrast or corners of buildings. Basically just observing how different components in our visual life, when placing a frame around them, how they interact and what new connections do they form when relating with one another. Its a kind of creating a visual archive but also just a very large collection of moments that at first glance seem totally arbitrary, but are entirely specific. I like the balance between the almost absurd, but then if you look a litter closer- your understanding of visual information can change.

I’m also beginning to incorporate physical movement of the body and dance into my practice, perhaps just as part of the process of image making for now- but I feel there could be something down the line with image stills/ documents from life and relating to movement. Image and movement. Color and body. Painting and dance.

WL: How do you feel your work is in conversation with the work of Francis Beaty?

JZ: Its interesting to consider, since I haven’t yet seen our work in the space together in person as I am out of the country. But from what I’ve seen through images and what I have read about Francis’ sculptures, I feel like our work plays really well together. And by play, I mean functions harmoniously, co-creating space together while also existing independently on their own. I really appreciate the language that Francis uses from their website to describe the work:

“I invite, “ask” the viewer to join me on a creative journey. I create engaging art that explores spontaneity, imperfection and chance. This evolving process is in line with my philosophical, ethical and imaginative goals. My goal is to transform a space into an energized environment that transports the viewer (participant) from the unfocused everyday gaze into a dimension of discovery.”

It seems like we are both after very similar things, creating space and an environment for the viewer to experience some kind of emotional, personal, or lager discovery. There is an shared wanting to offer something new for the purpose of creation, and I think the balance between (relatively) 2-D paintings with 3-dimensional sculpture can work to facilitate a more tactile or encompassing experience for the viewer.

WL: Do you have any other exhibitions on the horizon?

JZ: I have several applications in the works for residencies and open calls. I’m also writing several articles that deal with language, particularly the process of learning a new language and how that process can influence perception, in both visual and verbal communication. This is part of my research, (as well as language learning) of my time here in Moscow, Russia. I’m really excited to see how writing about language and travel will inform my painting and how the two will further come together in the future. These articles will be published as blogs and will be posted on my website in the next few months. For now, just waiting to hear back from applications and allowing for the natural unfoldment of life to take place. Remembering to exhale 🙂

Spring Up” with Francis Beaty and Jessica Zawadowicz, MAR 6- MAR 28, 2020, PII Gallery, 242 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106

Click here to listen to the Artblog Radio interview with Francis Beaty