An Interview with Winston Chmielinski
How important is figuration to you? Your paintings have been described as “verging on the threshold of photorealism and abstraction”. Do you agree with that description?
I regard the painted space as threshold; from moment to moment there’s an uncertainty of line, color, and form. Figuration sets up a current in all that chaos, something like a wave captured in a box, without which a painting would be nothing more than the sum of its parts. But I think any form can spark growth, and recently I’ve been experimenting with improbable shapes derived from virtual renderings and physical ephemera alike.
Do you find any other activity as fulfilling as painting?
I am humbled and challenged by it. I like to think it brings out the best in me.
For you, is there a big difference between the creative act of painting and the finished result? How much importance do you give to each? Do you think it is a rare thing to be pleased with both the act of creation and the finished work? Is a beautiful painting painful to produce?
Stages are inherent in the process of painting, but wholly committing to them is counteractive. The preciousness of ‘time spent’ and ‘materials used’ will putrefy a painting if you let it. Instead, every stroke should have the potential to destroy just as much as it creates, which leaves half of the act to chance. Finishing a painting can be bittersweet, because whatever conclusions you’ve reached in one will be torn to shreds in the next. It’s all quite exhausting, actually.
A Round of Crossfire Prayers Goes Clip Clap Clip, 2013
Do you feel that there is a big difference between your art and your life? Do the two go well together? Do you ever feel like you need to choose between one or the other?
I process everything through painting. To me they are inseparable, but then again, there’s a lot within me that needs to be wrestled out. And my messy studio is the perfect arena for that, because anything goes!
Do you enjoy the works of other artists? Is there anything happening right now that you find interesting? Do you feel like art is much influenced by the changes in the outside world (technology, etc.)?
Despite the fact that almost everything fits under the canopy of “art” today, I believe that successful works must transcend historical tropes and still make their humble insistences. There are artists across all media who move me, some working with teams to realize incredibly intimate pieces, and others still pushing forward with painting or prose. Art cannot survive in a bubble, and yet some of the most profound pavilions at the Venice Biennale this year, for example, transported me to a sublime place where nothing else really mattered, except the fact that I was overwhelmingly alive.
From Where I'm Standing, 2013
Tell us a bit about your state of mind when you paint – do you paint alone? Is there any particular ritual you like to follow? Do you listen to music?
I’m highly distractible, so I have to set up a quiet and solitary environment in order to channel those impulses back into my work. If my left hand gets tired, I switch to my right. Not that I’m ambidextrous in the least—I just don’t want to break concentration.
Proof That We Were Here, 2013
How do you come up with the colours you use? There seems to be such a complex balance between your blues and pinks, deep greens and purples – is it fair to say that there is a psychedelic element to your art?
Reference images inform my choices. But through the transposition of color, for instance, a sinking shadow might require something blacker than black, like a head-on collision of green and red. That said, working with a varied palette always runs the risk of churning out mud, so I have a lot of clean cotton scraps on hand and will often infer value through chromatic relationships rather than absolute hues.
Back Pat and a Chubby Hand Shake, 2013