Winston Chmielinski

Winston Chmielinski interview - By Steven Cox

HUNTED PROJECTS presents Boston based artist Winston Chmielinksi.

Winston Chmielinski graduated from New York University's Gallatin School of Individualised Study with an interdisciplinary degree in philosophy and creative writing.  As a self taught painter, his paintings are influenced greatly by the theoretical aspects behind the practice of painting.  His works walk the line between figuration and abstraction, though reference expressionism through elements such as the sweeping brushstrokes as emphasised within Waterfall.  What is fascinating about Chmielinski's work is the other worldly or fantastical qualities visible within Pause, Waterfall or My Deep End Friend/Pools By The Dam.  These works all seem to reference water which symbolically suggests a personal awakening or perhaps Chmielinski's discovery and development towards a visual self expression.   

Chmielinski's first solo exhibition in New York was at Envoy Enterprises in November-December 2012, followed by a solo showcase by Envoy Enterprises at Volta in March 2013.   This summer his work will be featured within a group exhibition at Egbert Baqué Contemporary Art in Berlin.

Can you tell HUNTED PROJECTS about yourself and creative background?

WC: I had a lot of materials to play with as a kid, so growing up was largely about learning to focus. Not that I was spoiled, just my parents made it a point to let my mind wander through means: cooking, chemistry sets, robotics, origami, music. I played violin from the age of three onwards, and didn’t know weekends from weekdays because I was always in some sort of class. I’m so grateful for that, and to be honest probably won’t ever live up to my younger self.

I am intrigued as to when your interest within the arts began and how this interest blossomed?

WC: I was an exemplary technician and borderline obsessive in my arts-enabling elementary school, and then became somewhat of a recluse when I transferred out. So junior high draws a blank… But in the 11th grade I started painting and, consequentially, spent every free minute in the art room blotting out that cavernous dead space with brush strokes. There was a lot of trial-and-error, which is safe and rewarding when the drop offs don’t extend beyond the edges of a canvas.

You studied at New York University’s Gallatin School; can you discuss how your education studying philosophy and creative writing has formed your creative approach to making artwork?

WC: I keep a notebook instead of a sketchbook. I fill it with words, phrases, and references, and the only things I draw are stars. I like to think of my paintings as propagations along a wave of resonance, which runs through all different media; the written word, though, shakes me right to the core. A good text, philosophical or otherwise, guides with one eye out and one eye in. Compelling visual works should do the same.

Lets discuss your recent exhibition, Signed With An Eye held at The Roxbury Latin School.  It is sort of a retrospective exhibition that brings together works from 2007 to the end of 2012.  Can you discuss this exhibition and what your views are on your earlier works in comparison to your most recent paintings?

WC: The materials used in my first paintings were all constrained by cost and geography. Shitty canvas, shitty paint. I washed acrylics over too-evenly-grained canvas, adding and rubbing away until I could render ethereal skin tones, and then I would attack the negative space. Since then, technical experimentation has come second to breaking visual habits formed early, and the show read like a kid forcing himself to relax and take a step back.

Source material, such as photographs and magazines are used as starting points within your work, though you depersonalize the images through removing and editing recognizable focal points in order to obscure what the viewer is looking at.  Can you discuss your reasoning for partially abstracting the figure within your works?

WC: I think of my paintings as circumstantial, in that they invite narrative rather than recount a story. Images that draw me in stylistically stage an obtrusive other eye, so every transliteration from image to paint becomes an attempt to unhinge an exceedingly subjective image from its own history. Sensation is grounded in the senses, so I have to work within that delicate balance of representation and “abstraction” to achieve the sensational.

Can you discuss some of your [early] inspirations and how these have had an influential impact on you?

WC: Everything dimensional is short changed by Google Images, which gives flat-format work, on the other hand, a second-coming glow. Because I had basically the whole History of art at my fingertips, I could just click through to what caught my eye. Francis Bacon’s and Egon Schiele’s paintings translate beautifully on-screen, and I learned only from their pixelated representations, which even now seem inseparable from their electronic brightness. I never copied compositions, just overdosed on images and explored that impressionistic high in the studio.

Can you discuss your day-to-day creative process?

WC: I keep my days active and open and end them with a Tumblr sweep. I’m an e-hoarder, and am constantly on the lookout for artists and images, though more often than not the most inspiring moments come to me when I’m walking or reading. On the days that I paint, I start early and end late. Frustration and running paint drive me insane, and that’s when things start to happen. I’m highly stable outside of the studio. Oh and I like to stretch a lot.

Your work was recently exhibited at Volta, shown exclusively by Envoy Enterprises.  Can you tell me about the works that you chose to exhibit within this fair?

WC: Volta is unique among art fairs in that each gallery presents only one artist. So, in turn, I felt free to promote multiple conversations within my own work. The inclusion of two new larger paintings ('Geyser' and 'Waterfall') that, quite simply, clashed, called out for a contextual balancing act. I ended up incorporating a few works from Ecstatic Skin and developing the hypertrophic "hand" that was pushing its way out through 'Geyser' and relinquishing its grip in 'Waterfall'.

Your works appear to own painterly elements akin to both Peter Doig and Daniel Richter, can you discuss some of the artists whose techniques are particularly influential upon your approach to painting?

WC: It's impossible to paint without taking into account the medium's history. Every stroke is loaded. You mention Peter Doig and Daniel Richter and I do identify strongly with their sensibilities, especially Richter. I always have to ask myself, "What can be shared and what must I make my own?" Cecily Brown showed me the way out of the figure that Francis Bacon had already deformed. Egon Schiele did so much with lines that I gave them up completely in favor of planes with shifting edges. DeKooning just got me to go for it, wildly.

Do you have many exhibitions planned for 2013?

WC: Later this summer I'll participate in a group show at Egbert Baqué Contemporary Art in Berlin, which will be followed by a solo show. I also have been included in a collection of small paintings by US artists (curated by Diego Cortez for Luciano Bennetton), which will be exhibited in the Venice Biennale.

Winston Chmielinski

All images courtesy of Winston Chmielinski