Ewelina Bochenska was the winner of the artcritical prize at this year’s alumni exhibition at the New York Studio School. She was selected for the award by jurors Julie Heffernan and Jennifer Samet. This is the second year the prize has been offered at the School; last year it was won by Clintel Steed. An artcritical prize is also offered at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, by faculty vote, for the graduating class of the MFA program. At both institutions, the prize consists of an interview in our pages, of which this article is the realization. NATALIE SANDSTROM was a writing intern at artcritical this summer.
“Liminal” is the word that best sums up the work of Ewelina Bochenska. Neither strictly painting nor fiber work nor sculpture, her objects encompass elements of all three. They are intimately sized, wrapped with yarn, painted, layered with wooden objects or leather or lace, and painted again. The range of textures and breadth of palette imbues each work with unique, almost undefinable, energy which Ewalina herself describes as an “alien substance” with “otherworldly” characteristics.
Similar qualities are to be found in the artist herself – a globetrotter who draws influence from sources as diverse as folk art and music from her native Poland, to the indigenous Aymara people of the Andes highlands of Bolivia, Peru, and Chile. As Ewelina describes it, for these people “time flows backwards, front to back,” and in her own work the artist often moves between as many as 10 projects at once, listening for them to invite more work or demand to be left alone. She seems to thrill in occupying these thresholds of time and material, acting as the sorcerer for her “alchemical” objects: “I manage to freeze a moment of awkwardness of materials and color and shape and that maybe is when the work is ready – until I break it up again.” She intermittently pauses, listens, adding a new layer, perhaps, to an older piece, playing with their sense of time in creation. She even calls them “artifacts from the future” (artifact, she said, is one of her favorite words).
On the day that I visited Ewelina at M. David Studios in Brooklyn, she was preparing for a group exhibition to be titled “A Montage of Heck” (it was on view from October 12 to November 4th). Little canvases and paper works that she had recently brought from Poland were strewn around the floor, and as we talked about them and her process she began to lift them, one by one. I was surprised to see that the artworks were crafted all the way through – by which I mean that not only do they involve layers on top of the substrate, but that the base material (be it canvas or found thrift shop picture frame) is often covered on its sides and even back. She talked about the looping of yarn and the carving of wooden bits hidden beneath layers of paint – visible only in faint relief when you look closely – and manipulated her work to show me examples of these multitudinous processes. With every new piece handled the works became more sensual and bodily – I was entrapped in Ewelina’s hourglass, my own experience of her work seeming to slow down the pace of the outside world and transport us both away from the noise of neighboring gallery spaces. She continued to turn the objects over – revealing some with secret undersides: lace, embroidery, weaving, a bold signature. “I always want the work to surprise me,” she said, recognizing her process of reworking as well as the experience of others who discover the surprise side to the work, “but it can be subtle, like a whisper.”
She let me handle the objects as well, and I was shocked at their heft. Though some of them were no larger than a sheet of paper, their intricate layering gave them unexpected weight. I found myself holding one work close to my chest, cradling it almost as one would an infant. As I looked around at the abstracted forms – some resembling landscapes, others with sensual curvature that actually seemed bodily – I again thought of their ethereal liminality. Meanwhile, Ewelina talked about color: “The way I experience color – the way I paint – I kind of hear the color or the quality of the material, I kind of feel it, rather than through my other senses, rather than through just sight. So in a sense the color and the texture and all, they become, for me, another dimension.”
This synesthesia was something that I experienced when I first encountered Ewelina’s work at the New York Studio School alumni exhibition this summer, “X Marks the Spot.” Her contribution to this all-female show – a small painting of bright pinks and blues over a maroon carpet, bordered by yellow woven yarn – exemplifies the warm intimacy of Ewelina’s work. The red background implied heat, and the near-neon colored paint strokes drew the eye in a circular motion. I almost felt as though I were watching the Northern Lights from a comfortable old chair, forgetting the white walls of the gallery space in Manhattan.
When I asked about the development of her work, and where she might be going next, she talked about her history: first studying business, living in Ireland and then London, and eventually satisfying her lifelong fascination with art by pursuing a career as an artist. She stressed the word courage – a trait which not only comes through biographically, but also in her uninhibited play with materials. She said that she has found herself in a moment of transition, and was thinking of heading somewhere in South America for rest and a new spark of inspiration. “I am using the energy of change to catapult myself.”print