A STUDIO VISIT WITH JANICE NOWINSKI
by Xico Greenwald
The objects and figures in Ms. Nowinski’s paintings teeter and tilt. An active, funky geometry animates her canvases, with a warm, muted palette of earth tones laid down in speedy strokes.
On a recent fall afternoon Ms. Nowinski was kind enough to have me over to her studio. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.
ART SCHOOL, KARATE
“After high school, instead of going to college, I went to the Brooklyn Museum Art School. I studied sculpture there with Barney Hodes, a very exciting teacher. He knew karate so he’d come to the classroom in the morning and chop something, like chop a block of wood in half. All the sculptures we made were huge. My classmates were mostly retirees and I was a 17-year-old. The place was very dusty. I remember having to carry a 100-pound bag of plaster to make a cast. I was so into it. There was a lot of spirit there, a lot of tradition. Francis Cunningham, a disciple of Edwin Dickinson, was teaching painting upstairs.”
“I was lucky to land next at the New York Studio School when Bruce Gagnier was the dean and it was fantastic. From the Brooklyn Museum Art School to the Studio School and then to Yale MFA. I’ve had a varied, rich, really extraordinary art education.”
“I like this Miles Davis quote: ‘You take all your influences and you put them in a funnel and then what comes out is you.’ I idolize certain artists- Chardin, Manet, Picasso. As time goes by I add to the funnel, a wide variety of material that reflects my broadening interest in gender, non-European cultures and contemporary art.”
“I like bringing something personal into my work. As a figurative painter, you need material, whether it comes out of your head, fantasies or from real life. I’ve always admired great figure paintings like Manet’s ‘Olympia’ and Cézanne’s ‘Les Grandes Baigneuses,’ and was looking for a way to bring the figure into my own work.”
“Painting people I actually knew opened up a whole new avenue of expressive possibilities. In my last solo show in 2012 at the Bowery Gallery I had just begun painting from personal snapshots. At John Davis I’ll be showing new paintings that originated from the same sources. I think now the personal has become archetypal, more universal. I like how Cézanne transformed his gardener into a ‘Cézanne-ian’ hero. In the same way, Manet’s Absinthe Drinker becomes the quintessential outsider drunk. These paintings are more than just a portrait of a person, they’re iconic images. My personal “Great Drinker” has transformed from a personal character to a more universal type, which is exciting territory.”
“I’m an expressionist, essentially. I’m working from feeling. I discover the composition as I paint. The whole point for me is to tell my experience of being alive through paint. We all want to tell each other our personal stories. The ironic thing is, the more universal it gets, the richer and more accessible the story becomes.”
With Upstate fall foliage near its peak, leaf peeping is a good reason to visit the Hudson Valley. But Ms. Nowinski’s exhibition at John Davis Gallery also justifies a special trip to the area. Her energetic, painterly figures and still lifes are sure to provide visitors visual delight this autumn.
Janice Nowinski: Recent Paintings,
October 10 – November 3, 2013, John Davis Gallery, 362 ½ Warren Street, Hudson, NY, 518-828-5907, www.johndavisgallery.com
More information about Xico Greenwald’s work can be found at xicogreenwald.com