Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Agnes Grochulska is a truly magnificent painter whose work is both representational and stunningly expressive. The cornerstones of her body of work are her portraits which are all beautiful and a fascinating combination of two different styles. The dominant features of the painting are the more clearly representational brought to life by bold, yet elegantly controlled brushstrokes that apply heavy amounts of paint. These strokes and the shapes they create really jump off of the page, often bearing a visible texture (a slight touch of impasto, for you art vocab nerds), yet they gently blend together so that the image appears but also so that no shape or particular area is too dominant. The other prominent style, or element, of Grochulska’s paintings are loose, gestural lines that imply the rest of the body shape. These lines are so fascinating because they lead the eye away from the heavily applied areas of the painting and allow the aspects they represent to just melt into the background. This technique is functional at all levels as sometimes it’s just a subtle ending to a figure before the edge of the canvas, sometimes it covers more space, sometimes it’s right in the middle, and I’ve even seen these lines spill into the more detailed portions of the painting and it’s always such an interesting touch that really represents the experience of the painting and the connection between the artist and model. The push and pull between the extremely dimensional areas and the loose, gestural areas creates such a dynamic and interesting painting every time.
Can you tell that I’m a big fan of Grochulska’s work? Well I was fortunate enough to get to interview and talk about her amazing body of work. Grochulska is by no means a one dimensional artist either, as she has a great collection of drawings that really highlight the gestural lines that can be seen in her portraits and she’s also a fabulous landscape painter. We cover it all and Grochulska gave some amazing answers! We hope you enjoy this interview and the deep dive into her work!
1. I always like to start off by asking about an artists background, so what got you into art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What makes you the artist that you are?
I guess it was always in me. I was drawing, doodling, and making things from a young age. I have always loved reading and illustrations fascinated me as a child. I remember flipping through books I already read and knew and staring at the pictures for what seemed like hours - making my own stories about them. And not just children’s books, but encyclopedias, poetry books, magazines… So I guess literature got me interested in art. Then theater. I was taking classes in acting and theater production - it turned out I was more interested in the scenography and all the art related aspects of the play then anything else, and ended up applying to an art school. I still wasn’t completely ready to become “an artist” - as the degree I chose wasn’t in fine art - but Industrial Design. I learned many practical ways and techniques there, but never had any actual drawing or painting instructions. We had an excellent program with a wide variety of painting, sculpture, drawing classes, but the approach was very relaxed, open studio style. Only much later, after not doing any art for years - years of first raising children, then a short stunt with a graphic design profession - I have decided that painting and drawing is what I really want to do and started to learn painting and drawing techniques on my own. I feel like I’m still on that endeavor as there is so much to learn!
2. Your work is highly representative, is all of your work done form life? Is there a decision making process to picking your models or subjects?
I do love working from life. The reality is, that since the people I’m interested in painting aren’t professional art models, they don't have the time and/or patience to pose for long hours at the time. I decide on a particular person or people, because of a specific impression they made on me - it could be something in their personality or a detail of their features that interests me. It is something hard to put in words, that particular “thing” that makes me think; “I’d love to paint this one!”. I’m thinking it’s a little bit like casting actors in the characters of your story. Except I don't even know what character they will be playing until I start painting them…
3. What drew you towards working with oils? Do you find that it lends to your style of really packing in color? OR was this style a product of working with oils for a long period?
I guess the artwork I had always most admired and felt interested in were oil paintings. I like the tactical way you interact with oil paint in the creating process, and the wide range of textural results - from thick, almost sculptuar impasto to smooth and seemingly non-existent texture of thinly painted work. Color is a funny thing for me - I don’t think I understand or feel color well, but I’m drawn to it , and love exploring all the possibilities it carries. I don’t usually plan my color palette beforehand, but rather go with what I feel the painting needs as I go along. Because of this un-organized method - the results vary: sometimes it works out and sometimes… well… I have to scrape everything down and start from the beginning. It’s a process.
4. You've got these amazing combinations of representational forms and loose, expressive forms coming together to form one image. So how do you decide what is represented and what is created gesturally? How do you make them interact effectively?
Thank you! In both - looking at and creating - I am drawn to art that suggests rather then fully explains. I like paintings that are somewhat unfinished or abstracted. Drawings in which not everything is fully realised. Art where the viewer can finish the story in their mind and in their own way.
While my work is anchored in representation, I try to not only focus on depicting the details of my subject, but also try to capture the essence of it. That particular “something” that drew me to that subject in the first moment. My paintings tend to transform a lot during the painting process and take a life on their own, like they want to be telling their own story…
There is a moment when I look at the painting and it “clicks”. This is the moment to step aside and realize the painting is finished. However, often the temptation is to improve just a few details, or make it look more polished - but in the end the initial autonomy and freshness would be lost.
I think I read somebody describe that moment as “when you look at the painting - and the painting looks back at you”. That’s it. That’s the moment that the painting is done.
5. Is there a narrative meaning behind the bold color outlines of some of your portraits? Or is it strictly an aesthetic choice? How do you decide what color is used?
The outline acts as a metaphor here. It suggests a frame. It incorporates and roots the portrait in the traditional art of portraiture. It also represents the contemporary aspect of the painting in its bold and vibrant expressive character.
The color choice is somewhat intuitive. I decide on the color at the very last stage of the process and just try to find one that works well so that I like how it looks on strictly decorative level as well.
6. Your drawing work is a far more expanded use of your more gestural lines. Does this process involve a lot of layering and refining? Or is it a very quick forming process? Or does it vary?
My life drawing process - sketching either figurative or landscapes - is very quick and gestural in nature. Gestural approach to drawing has a lot to do with emotions and allows me to draw more instinctevely.
More finished drawings usually involve both - gestural sketch to start the composition, then more refined and thought out lines and shading to finish the drawing.
7. Do you use your drawing style to form the base lines of your paintings? How do the two processes differ? How are they similar?
It depends on the painting, but I often start with loose, gestural studies for the initial composition. Sometimes I will start directly on canvas, other times I’ll make a couple of drawing studies on paper first, then transfer the most successful one onto my painting surface. By starting the design quickly and then relying on my instinct in putting the lines in a gestural way, I’m hoping to grasp the most important information, the character of my subject.
8. A facet of your work that I haven't mentioned to this point is your gorgeous landscape paintings. How does this process of painting differ from your portrait work? Does the expressive quality differ in each style or does it cross over well?
I think it’s somewhat similar in the way that I start a landscape painting with an expressive sketch - preferably a plein air study. Some of my landscape paintings are just that - plein air studies. Others are created in my studio based on plein air sketches and photographs taken on a location. Because I’m trying to depict a particular place with all the particular elements (atmospheric qualities, light and shadows) I think my landscapes tend to be more finished, more realistic than my portraits.
9. Your work presents itself much larger than it is (I thought some of these paintings were massive), but they're actually not overly large. Does a smaller scale present a challenge in refining some of the details or forms in your work (i.e. painting a head that's only a few inches in size)?
Yes, for me at least, it does. I prefer working on larger rather than smaller formats. Life-size portraits and figures feel the most comfortable, but I’d love to go bigger. The size of my paintings are mostly dictated by the size of my studio. I’m hoping to find a way soon to try some much larger formats.
10. Plugs! Any big projects coming up? Any new adventures in your work? Any shows? Where can people find you? Anything that you'd like to share with the people, let them know!
Thank you for the opportunity to share my art and the process behind it! I enjoyed taking the time to think about your thoughtful questions and looking deeper at the way I work and think.
My next solo show will happen in Spring 2021. I’m already thinking and planning for that. Meanwhile I have a couple of group shows and events scheduled, and the information will be posted on my website http://www.agnesgrochulska.com and social media https://www.instagram.com/agnesgrochulska/
You can also find my work in galleries:
Eric Schindler Gallery, Richmond, VA https://www.ericschindlergallery.com/#/agnes-grochulska/
Conde Contemporary, Miami, FL
Abend Gallery, Denver, CO