Interview with Aleks Bartosik

Line Gallery: Why do you think drawing is important in contemporary art or as a practice?

Aleks Bartosik: I think that drawing has always been important in art and art criticism; however, drawing was never really viewed as a finished or complete ‘work of art’ until recently. Drawings show so much about the artist and the rawness of that artist simply by the technique’s simplicity. Drawing has existed forever as a means of communication, and I think this still exists and is essential.

 

LG: There are a few works that we have included in the exhibition that walk a very close line to being seen as paintings. Can you say a little about where that line is between painting and drawing for you? Do you see them as different practices? Does drawing offer different outcomes or possibilities? How do you define the differences between drawing and painting?

AB: There is no line between painting and drawing for me. I view both mediums as equal, or more importantly, as co-existing with one another to make complete thoughts. I can’t help but mix both practices on my surfaces that I work on. There is a sense of completeness in a painting for me even if there is still a skeletal under-drawing visible, or there are drawing elements worked into that painting as I create it. The same occurs when I make drawings, they feel incomplete if there is no paint present in them. Since both mediums exist only when they co-exist, then it is hard to say that one is more important than the other. However, it is true that there are different outcomes and possibilities between a work of art that is dominantly a drawing and a work of art that is dominantly a painting; that is depending on the choice of the surface on which I work on. The difference between working on canvas and on paper creates that opportunity for different outcomes and possibilities for a work of art.

 

LG: What do you think drawing (or a work that is dominantly a drawing) offers you in term of outcomes or possibilities? Does it offer a different voice or way of communicating to your viewer?

AB: I like being able to draw. I think that through drawing I am able to reveal and share ideas that are in my head the quickest because the act of drawing comes to me more naturally as a form of communication rather than speech itself, and truthfully, it’s faster than painting. Drawing directly on walls with my willow chalk is the most direct approach for me. Not only am I able to run away with my thoughts, especially when collaborating with a musician, it’s also very accessible for me (and the audience). All I need is willow chalk, an eraser and a wall. The surface is important, and when it becomes easily accessible the possibilities are endless. I can experiment with approach, size and imagery, and also challenge my own comfort with the material in front of an audience. Drawing on the wall suggests impermanence and that alone gives me the freedom to really get experimental and not afraid that it needs to be a finished work. A work in constant progress is interesting to me. I feel that sort of work is in constant dialogue with the viewer and the artist as it has the potential to change at any given time. The work can speak even when it is destroyed.

 

LG: Can you tell us more about your performance based work and how it connects or relates to your drawing practice?

AB: Performance work or my ‘drawing events’ stemmed from working large and finally, literally extending my drawings onto the wall on which the paper was tacked on. Again, the choice of surface is what created the different possibilities and outcomes for my drawn-paintings. The walls presented the opportunity for drawing events or performances and the willow chalk seemed like the best material to work with on these walls because of its rapid application and its delicacy in portraying impermanence. In these events, the drawing became just as important as the erasure of it (eliminating it). My first performance was titled Erasing because I was fascinated and excited about transforming and eventually erasing the drawing just as much as creating it on the spot in front of an audience. Impermanence and transformation became a big part of my work, meaning the work only existed as long as the viewer witnessed the event. And even then, because the drawing went through various stages of transformation with its eventual erasure, the memory of the once existing drawing probably varied from one viewer to another. This was part of the performance; I wanted to give my drawings a lifeline, or its own personal biography.

 

LG: You tend to work large-scale for a lot of your drawings, can you speak to your choice to work large?

AB: I work large because I feel that I can put my entire body into the work, literally. Each gesture that I make to create a pencil mark or a paint stroke makes it evident that the artists’ hand (me) is very visible in the work of art. I want me to be present in my work, even if the work is not always about me and my personal life, but it is important that it was made by me: a human being.

 

LG: Your work seems to often portray characters (rather than simply depicting a subject) and many of your works feel like they capture a moment in a larger narrative. How important is the idea of narrative in your work? Where do you draw inspiration from (what sorts of things inspire your work)?

AB: People inspire me, constantly. I observe, I listen and take from what I feel and see that surrounds me. I create my own little stories where I tend to depict the same or similar characters. I do this because it interests me to see the same character in my paintings going through their own states of change from one painting/drawing to the next. In addition, narrative is shown in the title of my work. I consider my titles very carefully and often think about them as I paint or draw. In turn, yes, the narrative is important to me, however, it is not necessary to have the viewer interpret the exact same narrative when they view my work. I am also curious to hear what narrative or interpretation a viewer may have taken from my work, which in turn, creates another sub-narrative to the work of art, which I think, is great.

 

LG: In terms of your process, how much do you work from references versus working from memory or your imagination?

AB: I often start with an idea in my head and if I don’t directly start the drawing on canvas or paper from my imagination, I then photograph a model or myself in the situation that I imagined. When I turn to my own photography, the work of art starts off by using the photo as a reference, then I transform it as I go.

 

LG: What role does colour play in your work?

AB: I love colour! I love seeing a lot of colour at once weather it is on people wearing colourful clothes, buildings being painted strange colours or being lined with colourful tiles, in flowers, or simply seeing bright colours in other artists’ paintings. Using colour, however, I think is a great challenge, especially when one is drawn to bright or fluorescent colours. I never thought about the importance of colour in my work before simply because I felt I was not sure how to use colour as a form of communication. It is through much experimentation over the past five years that I developed a better understanding of colour, the theory of colour and application of colour. The layering of colour in my painting and drawings suggests another narrative; the life of the artwork.

 

LG: Are there any artists or experiences that have shaped/influenced your practice?

AB: I think that some of my undergrad and grad school professors made an impact on the way I approach my work, and I can say, in some ways have shaped my practice in ways that I’m very fortunate to have experienced. Two come to mind, my undergrad professor, Sylvat Aziz and my grad-school professor, François Morelli. Both professors taught me about the impermanence of a work first, before its importance. This approach forced me to not get attached to my work, instead it forced me to experiment with my drawing and painting materials and to really think about what it is that I’m trying to do and say with that material. This was a necessary lesson/stage for me because being a figurative painter and drawer was simply not enough, I wanted to say something with my figures not just show that I can capture proportion and show-off my draftsmanship. I needed my work to get ugly before it could get beautiful.

Beauty for me is important. I feel that through my materials and my draftsmanship I try to capture beauty. I believe in creating beautiful objects and the layers of drawing or paint show this beauty for me – so that it is visually pleasing on some level even if the subject matter is unsettling or ugly.

 

LG: Are there any drawers you have been looking at recently or any Canadian drawers we should check out?

AB: Not a lot of drawings strike me with awe lately, which ONLY means I haven’t had much of a chance to visit all the galleries in my Toronto area, and is not to say that there aren’t any talented and interesting drawers in Toronto and Canada as a whole. Some names do come to mind though; Jenn Globush from Red Lake Ontario is a wonderful artist, Zachari Logan from Saskatoon does interesting self-portraiture drawings and Balint Zsako, who I believe now resides in NYC, uses colour really well in his surreal-like characters. Most recently I’d have to say that I have been intrigued by street art, especially when I saw an abundance of it in my recent travels to Chile and Brazil. Street art/drawings are starting to inspire me, we will see where that will take me.

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