Oxfordshire Artweeks: Introducing Elaine Kazimierczuk
"My pictures start with a place."
Elaine Kazimierczuk is the winner of the 2018 Artweeks Mary Moser Award, an annual award intended to help develop the career of a professional artist who has taken up art as a second career later in life.
“I always drew as a child,” begins Elaine. “It was my favourite thing to do and at school I was the one who could draw, the child my classmates always asked if they needed something sketching out.
“I grew up in Mansfield, and there was very little money, which wasn’t so unusual in mining towns back then. My father was from Warsaw and came over here a couple of years after the war. He’d had a hard time and lost almost all his family, so moved here to work as a miner which wasn’t something he relished at all. War broke out when he was 17, so he was robbed of the opportunity to finish his education and study science, a subject he greatly respected. Mum worked in a noisy factory to supplement the household income when my father was unable to work. They were so proud when I went to university to do chemistry and applied biology.
“Art was always my first love but I didn’t get support to become a professional artist because my family and my school emphasised how important it was to be able to make a decent living: no one thought taking art led to a lucrative career and I meekly took their advice – I’d had enough of being poor. I was at the local grammar school which gave girls the great opportunity of social mobility, but it was rather old-fashioned and because I was in the top class, I had to study Latin instead of art however much I pleaded.
“I remember my headmistress scoffing ‘what would you do with chemistry and art?’ and me being unable to answer. If only I’d know then about picture conservation – a course onto which I was later accepted, but failed to get funding for – which would have teamed the two disciplines.
“After I left university, I went into teaching, planning to save up to go back to college and study art. But instead I got married – to an artist, a sculptor, and so I lived an artist’s life vicariously, working on sculptures and doing drawings for him. We focused on his career together when the children were small, and so although my creative juices always bubbled just below the surface in one way or another, it wasn’t until about three years ago that I was finally able to start painting full time, leaving the college I had worked at for a long time, and set out to become a professional artist at last.”
Elaine moved to Oxford 18 months ago and now rents a studio in East Oxford’s Magdalen Road Studios; colleagues there have been a real source of support and encouragement for her, as have her lovely Osney Island neighbours with whom she participated in Artweeks last year. “It’s wonderful to call myself an artist,” she smiles. “I get up in the morning and that’s what I want to do.
“My pictures always start with a place. I alight on something, a colour or a shape and then I paint what I see in an abstracted way – a generic landscape rather than a specific panoramic view.
“When I was a child my father used to take me on walks in the woods, a welcome escape from his working life down the pit. He loved mushroom collecting and chasing butterflies, and it instilled in me a real love of nature and the natural environment, laying down an internal landscape in my subconscious; it’s that feeling I’m evoking in my paintings. The finished painting will be an abstraction of what I see, but the viewer can focus on a detail just as you can in the countryside, and almost experience that spot, that moment for themselves.”
Elaine paints in oils, with lots of vibrant greens and yellow ochre and a touch of gold. She often begins with a prepared red canvas as this throws the greens forwards and makes the yellows sing out. “It’s never easy to start painting on a fresh white canvas so painting a red layer is almost like a warm-up,” she laughs, “and I also find that having this layer behind the picture adds a certain three dimensional effect to the finished painting. I choose different reds for different moods and seasons, so for an autumnal scene I’m likely to apply an orangey red whereas a softer pink red lends itself better to a softer winter palette.”
Elaine describes how she sees the world in very vibrant colours, and has a rather scientific view on the world. Intentionally seeking out the patterns and shapes in what she’s seeing as she paints, a practice which gives her work an element of design. Plants naturally arrange themselves for maximum sunshine and water collection, which creates wonderful leaf mosaics, she explains, and the array of shapes in her paintings are like jewels, akin to the little groups of flowers worked into medieval tapestries.
“One of my favourite spots to paint recently is Oxford Botanic Garden’s Merton Beds – because it’s a natural planting, they’re deliberately overgrown and untidy so for me they represent the profusion of nature. I paint outside when I can, although canvases are like sails in the wind so I can only really manage a canvas that’s an arm’s length or less. I also take lots of photos for when I am back in the studio. My canvases can be as big as 1.5m by 2m and it will take me several weeks to complete one of my larger pictures. In the studio I wear a boiler suit as I get covered in paint, with splashes on my face and in my hair, and if I am working from photos on screen I have to clean the splatters from the laptop all too regularly.”
Elaine is also becoming known for her diptychs and triptychs – paintings in two or three panels. “On a practical level, they’re easier to work with than a giant canvas,” she explains, “but what I really like about them is they’re rather like a series of windows so there’s a little bit of a narrative in them, as you look from one to the other, or it’s a bit like walking along a country lane where the vegetation changes as you pass.
“I find plenty of inspiration for my paintings in Oxfordshire and I’ve also been inspired by the views in Tuscany,” says Elaine. “However, although I have been to Poland a few times to visit my father’s remaining family, I’ve only painted a couple of pictures inspired by the Polish landscape. I’m now learning to speak Polish and so I’d like to put the Mary Moser award money towards some flights to the Tatra Mountains so I can go again and explore the dark forests there which are so different to the English woodlands.”
Elaine Kazimierczuk at Oxfordshire Artweeks | 2 North Street, Osney Island (Venue 235) | Preview 11th May 6-8pm, then 12th-20th 11am-6pm, closed Mon 14th & Tues 15th
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