Victoria Kwasinski holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design where she graduated class valedictorian. She has over thirty years of experience as a Professional Artist and has worked as a Corporate Graphic Artist, Freelance Illustrator, Gallery Owner, Fine Artist and Art Instructor.
Victoria considers herself an ‘interpretive abstract’ artist. Her goal is to create an abstracted visual interpretation of a thought, feeling or idea through the interplay of color and form that is often interwoven and connected with line. Her fine art paintings are exhibited and collected internationally.
I sat down for a lengthy yet delightful conversation with Victoria about her work, her life as a painter and teacher, her creative process and her views on all things “art”.
When did you first feel the desire to draw or paint?
Probably when I could first hold a pencil in my hand; three or four years old. I remember when I was five years old, I’d wait at the front door for the Sunday newspaper to arrive, so I could draw the “Snoopy” cartoons. That’s why I still love “Peanuts” to this day.
Do you remember the first painting you did?
I remember getting a formal award for a drawing I did in 1st grade. It was a drawing I made of “Peter Pan”. I got a first place award. I still have the award. It was a drawing with colored pencils.
As a young artist, who had the greatest impact in motivating or inspiring you to pursue your art?
When I was young, (elementary school), I remember getting one of those “paint by numbers” sets. It was oil paints. Mom would buy me those and remember I would open up the containers just to smell the paint. I knew then I was hooked.
The first person who made the biggest impression on me was at Gove Junior High School, Edward Marecak. I own one of his paintings. He was quirky – he would wear plaid pants with a striped shirt and paisley tie. He taught art classes. He took me under his wings and pushed me hard – double triple the work other students were assigned. It was pen and ink work.
My greatest mentor was Pam Starck. She also took me under her wings. I made sure I got all my academic requirements done my first two years at high school so that my entire senior year was spent just attending art classes. She got me into some scholastic programs where I won a few awards.
What were some of the first mediums you studied and attempted to master?
Drawing, pen and ink was first. Then a lot of print making work at East High School. I did their posters – which back then was silk screen printing. And then I moved on to acrylic paints. I painted oils on my own – kind of taught myself oils as back then they didn’t really want oils in the classrooms.
After high school, I worked in the Graphics Department at Mountain Bell. I was doing secretarial work. I mentioned that I did art work and my boss asked me if I could draw a logo for them and I did, and he came back and asked me, “what are you doing sitting behind a desk”? He got me into the art department at Mountain Bell, and then I became a manager for the graphic arts department at Mountain Bell. Then the Bell System decided to outsource all their graphics.
It was then that I made the decision to leave corporate America, and started my own freelance logo/graphics design business. I did that for a couple of years and I realized I needed computer graphic skills and that’s what took me to college.
I first went to the Colorado Institute of Art where I was going to work on becoming a graphic designer until one of the teachers there pulled me aside and said, “you don’t belong here – you’re too talented to do this”. She recommended that I go to Rocky Mountain School of Art to study illustration and fine art. So I transferred over there. I graduated from Rocky Mountain School of Art in 1995, valedictorian of my class.
What was the first painting you sold?
When I was teenager, it was a pastel floral that one of my Mom’s friends bought. As a teenager I did a lot of floral pastels. I sold a couple more paintings here and there.
After graduating from college, I did the art work for a book written by a friend, Justin Matott, “My Garden Visits”. It was all watercolor florals, and people loved my work. I was asked by a number of people to teach watercolor. So, I began teaching watercolors which lasted about 10 years. It was the medium that I worked on during that time. But I always wanted to smell the oil paints. I always wanted to go back to oil painting.
What is your favorite medium to paint with?
Oils. I loved and studied the life and work of Georgia O’Keeffe. She said she got to a point where she put her watercolors away in the closet and said, “I am done with watercolor, I never want to look at them again”, and went back to her oils. That’s exactly what happened to me.
Would you go back to painting with anything else?
I still teach other mediums. I like working and teaching in mixed media. Acrylic, charcoal, pastels…you throw it all together on paper or canvas. That’s fun…I enjoy it, but if I had to stop painting in oils because of health reasons because of the fumes, I would go back to acrylics and such.
When you’re looking at a blank canvas, do you have something in mind before starting to paint?
I haven’t a clue when I begin. That’s the most exciting part of a painting – having this beautiful and big, huge white canvas in front of me. It’s like endless opportunities. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You could create a masterpiece or not, but that first mark on the canvas is the most exciting for me, because I don’t care. I pick up my brush, and maybe intuitively, pick out my paint and start scribbling all over the canvas until it starts to take form. It’s almost like I’m having a dialogue with the canvas. I put a mark down and the painting tells me, and I stand back and look at it and so I kind of respond to the mark, depending on how the painting is progressing. So, I’m really not in control. I really believe that – you’re going to laugh – I believe in the muses of the art spirits. I believe that there is a creative energy that when you go into what we call the ‘zone’, that someone or some energy comes in and you just go into this creative experience that is unlike anything else. Just like the zone, and hours go by. That’s the first part of the painting.
I might have an idea of the style of painting I want it to be, but I don’t know how it’s going to end up. “Style” meaning whether it is going to be a landscape, abstract or whatever. And sometimes I don’t even know that. I may start painting and I start to see rocks, or water and I’ll take the painting in that direction. I respond to shape and color and the kind of the interaction of those things between shape and color and line, and of course, with all my teaching…to make sure I have good composition, the right values, making sure of the colors and all that.
I like to have 2 or 3 paintings going on at one time, because they’re in different stages. I then step back and evaluate for a while. Then my analytical brain kicks in and I see that maybe that color isn’t working with another color or that shape doesn’t work with another shape, and so it becomes a creative analytical process that’s not as much fun as going in and going crazy with paint but it’s part of the process. But I have several paintings going on so I can still enjoy that free form part. Then, the paintings kind of start feeding off each other. So, I’ll have a painting that I’m halfway through with and I’m thinking something is wrong with it. I’ll put it aside and start something else. Quite often I’ll find that another painting I’m working on will solve the problem I saw in the other painting.
The other thing I’m learning now is to give myself more space in that process. I have a tendency to want to fix things that are wrong immediately. I’m afraid the “art doctor” is there lurking over me telling me to get it done. Now, I’m really trying to give myself more time because the painting is actually fine, I’m just not in the right space mentally. One of my college professors said “when you get to that part of a painting, you need to ask yourself if the change I’m going to make – will it make the painting better or different? If it’s better do it, if it’s just different, let it go.” So, I’m trying to slow down and not do that. If I leave the current painting and start in on a new one, I can see that the original one is fine. You get so emotionally involved with your paintings and get tied in with them.
Since you also teach painting, does teaching affect your work?
Absolutely. Both good and let’s say – challenging. Good in that I immerse myself in Art books, constantly re-educating myself to stay up on current Art trends or techniques. I also read a tremendous amount of Art history, so that I can keep imparting knowledge. That’s the good part of it. The challenging part of teaching and how it crosses over to my painting is that I’m super-analyzing my work. I’m telling myself the same things I tell my students – like your composition isn’t right and such. With this new process of letting go and trying to silence the teacher voice, I’m trying to just go to the creative side. You’re working with left brain and right brain. You’re trying to be in balance. If I’m teaching too much, I tend to get too analytical, whereas if I’m painting for 5 days in a row, that teaching voice goes away and I start to trust my own output. It’s just like anything else in the creative process – if you put in the time, you’re going to get a lot out of it.
If you don’t paint enough, you get rusty. It’s kind of a weird thing where if you don’t paint enough, you almost forget how to paint. the muscle memory is still there. But you just get out of your rhythm.
When you first started out painting in high school, or college, were there artists who had an affect on your works?
Oh yeah, huge. I was totally in love with the Impressionists, Renoir, Van Gogh, Monet, John Singer Sargent…all of them. I studied them and read their lives. Then I got into Georgia O’Keeffe, partly because she was a woman and was successful. Then a shift came when I started painting abstracts. I fell in love with Richard Diebenkorn. Part of the reason was because his works were so free and the colors were amazing, which led me to exploring the Abstract Expressionist painters. The whole Abstract Expressionism period was about expressing yourself on canvas. They had content. They were highly educated and very philosophical. That whole time period – if I could go back in time and live, it would be during that time period. They were so alive. Dirt poor, but alive. They dialogued continually in their community and it was a new Art form, when we in the United States, as Americans, put our name on the Art world. Before that it was Europe. The Abstract Expressionists broke the mold and set New York as the center of Art.
When artists get together and talk shop, what do they talk about?
It use to be philosophical, more content of the painting…what are you trying to say. Currently, it seems to be more about marketing. I think that’s because there are now so many more artists than 30 years ago and it’s more difficult to market yourself. Although I think that may be changing where artists are now talking more about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it – that type of thing. Artists need community, they need a drive. An artist is in their studio alone so much of the time that they need to need to talk to other artists to work through issues, such as being in a rut. The Abstract Expressionists had that. They had their little tribe, their family to count on.
Do you have any artists you follow currently?
Yes, there are a few I follow. I will do web surfing to see new works. I’ll pick up art magazines to read interviews of artists, to get an idea of new trends across the country. But I don’t religiously follow any particular artist. Right now, I want to be free from influences. I want my paintings, my work to be what I want to say as an artist versus what everybody else is doing. If you fall in love with another painting, you typically want to paint like that, and that isn’t allowing yourself to be free to paint what only you can paint. Sometimes though, you will need to get out and view another artists’ work, especially if you’re in a rut. It will stimulate and inspire you to start again.
Have places you’ve visited, or other places you’ve lived, impacted your work?
Oh yes. In fact, in my paintings – you can see how they were different during my travels. When I
was spending a lot of time hiking in the mountains, you see that reflected in my work, with paintings of rocks, plants, trees and such. My brain becomes a camera and takes pictures of what I’m seeing and experiencing. I don’t paint from photographs but what I’ve seen comes out on my canvas. The same was true with trips to Oregon – lush, green, ocean, misty – it comes out in my paintings.
As a painter, are you inspired to paint when you see an interesting person?
Sure. I love teaching and painting the human figure. It’s a whole different process. It’s interesting when you’re painting another person – you develop a connection with that person. You pick up on their energy. You begin to have this unspoken dialogue with the person you’re painting. What happens to me with life experiences and being around a person, say an elderly person – what I find when I approach the canvas is that either color or shape comes out in the painting in such a way that I’m doing more of a portrait of an elderly person just by what I do abstractly versus a physical likeness of the person – it’s more of a feeling. I title my paintings in such a way to give the viewer just a hint of what I’m trying to say or what I was feeling when I was painting it. Even politically I will sometimes make a statement of what I’m thinking or feeling in some of paintings. It’s a way for me to say what I believe in without any words being spoken.
When you paint something that is abstract or semi-abstract, it is left open to the viewers’ interpretation, correct?
Yes, of course. I obviously know what I was trying to impart when I created my work. Now, if a person viewing one of my paintings has a completely opposite impression of the feeling I was trying to portray, I just think to myself how interesting it is…how fascinating their viewpoint of my work can be to others.
Are there any certain themes you’re currently working on?
Right now, well, I usually try to have 2 or 3 series I’m working on. One is my interconnection series which can be viewed on my website and that’s more about my response to nature, even though I approach it intuitively, it still has a nature base. I have an expressions series where I just paint more free form with what comes out on the canvas, and then I have an unraveling series, that I’m hoping to get more into where it’s kind of a release and let it go. Yet I do strive for there to be continuity in the body of work. Committing yourself to a series, the paintings feed off each other and you end up learning more, instead of one day painting an abstract then the next day painting a waterfall or the next day a portrait. When you commit to an abstract series, as an example, you learn more of what to do and what not to do, you grow and become a better painter versus shifting. And for marketing purposes, galleries want a body of work that is in a series. Now, if one becomes quite a famous artist, then the public will want to see all your work, not just the works in the current series you happen to be working on.
Oh, so many. Really, really hard to pick favorites. But if I had to pick, maybe I could do three. Richard Diebenkorn, John Singer Sargent and Joan Mitchell.
Any advice to the young artist?
Listen to your own voice. That’s been one of the hardest things for me to learn. So, yes…listen to your own voice.
For more on Victoria and her work, please visit her website ~ www.victoriakwasinski.com
Photographs of her works presented here done with permission from Ms. Kwasinski
**This work is licensed under: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/4.0/**