Friday, May 18, 2012

A Conversation With Penelope Przekop

"What's to Become of Us" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas by  Penelope Przekop
"What's to Become of Us" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas

Penelope Przekop, a writer and artist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, creates emotionally charged paintings filled with bold colors, surreal imagery and abstract line details. What I love the most about Przekop's artwork is the frenetic energy when color, form and lines come together within her paintings. Przekop spoke with ArtSeen about her artwork and artistic influences.

Can you tell us a little about your artwork, artistic background and artistic processes?

I began painting after having an odd urge to do so for several years.  I kept fantasizing about colors sliding across canvas, how that would look and how it would feel. Perhaps it sounds bizarre. I’d been writing my entire life and had, by that time, written five books. In January of 2008, I finally picked up a paint brush.  I took a few weeks of lessons to learn about the most basic concepts and tools. After painting for about a year, I met artist and gallery owner Robert Hogge (Monkdogz Urban Art, NYC). He read my novel, Centerpieces, which focuses on Vincent van Gogh, and liked it so much that he gave me a call.  As we were chatting, I mentioned that I’d been painting.  He was interested in taking a look, so I sent him a few jpegs along with a reminder that I’d only been painting for about a year.  He saw potential in that very early work and became a mentor to me.   

My creative background is primarily in writing. I began keeping a journal and writing poetry when I was about 12, and then made a personal commitment to write my first novel at 25.  Growing up, I was a bookworm. I also colored with crayons and markers all the time, but didn’t do too much pencil drawing.  It was always color that appealed to me. My mother was a successful interior designer in the Deep South where I grew up. Her work was photographed for national magazines. My father was a high school teacher who became a guidance counselor; he influenced my love for books.  I ended up with a degree in Biology but also studied a lot of literature and art history in college.  I graduated from college with a lot more credits than I needed because I had these diverse interests.  At one point, I almost changed my major to art history because I loved it so much. 

"Why are We Hiding" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas  by Penelope Przekop
"Why are We Hiding" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas

My artistic process has evolved rapidly, and is still changing.  I have gone from carefully planning out an entire piece, in detail, and using a grid ... to working completely in what I think of as a “game time decision” state ... no thinking, just color, lines, and emotion.  Now, when I start, I barely even think about the colors I’m choosing.  I just start with a couple and the painting seems to evolve on its own.  I do the first thing, and then I seem to know what it needs next. I trust my instincts. It’s interesting because back in 2008 and 2009, I couldn’t image working this way.

It took a while for me to transition away from the type of creative thinking I did when writing fiction.  There is a tremendous amount of logic and planning that goes into plotting out a novel ... at least in my case.  With fiction, I needed to understand where I was going so that I could build toward it step by step.  I needed to understand how every single piece fit together to build the whole.  Not all writers work that way, but it’s the only way I could do it, and it seemed to work well for me. 

"Walking on a Wire" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas  by Penelope Przekop
"Walking on a Wire" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas

I’ve gotten to a comfort zone where I know that I will never run out of ideas/ creativity so working the way I do now is much less restrictive.  I’ve learned that hanging onto an idea isn’t necessary because another great idea comes along within a second or two.  That’s how my mind works, and it all builds on itself.  Perhaps that’s how some novelist work.  For whatever reason, I couldn’t seem to do that with writing but I can with art.

The emotion of hanging on and trying to push away everything else isn’t good for me. It takes a lot of mental energy that is stifling, actually, rather than liberating. Now I go with the flow and, in the end, I understand what I’ve created and why.  It’s very interesting how, as Bob Hogge puts it, when I ‘do what the work (or canvas) requires,” I still find myself in the end, and what I see is usually much more interesting than anything I could have thought up before hand.  It’s like the canvas or work has a life of its own, but when I’ve finished, I see that it is my life.  In that way, the canvas and I can become one.  Anyway, that’s what I’m working towards.  Sometimes now I think that writing was a way to keep myself under control while still being creative. That I was going half way when I thought I was going all the way. Now I’m going all the way and I can’t stop.

What inspires you as an artist? Why do you create art?

I create because I have to. My inspiration comes from within.  It comes from my life, the things that have happened to me, and my emotional memories.  I hear people say things like, “I’m not inspired today,” and I don’t understand that.  I’m always inspired.  People talk about trying to develop good ideas; I can’t get rid of ideas. They just come and come and come. I think it’s a gift and a curse. The internal emotion that inspires or drives me has been with me ever since I can remember.  It sounds dramatic, but it’s the force that has enabled me to survive and thrive, despite an emotionally unique, chaotic childhood.  I can’t get rid of it now; it’s part of my wiring.

With that said, there are specific things that put me in the mood, so to speak, beginning with nature. The lines and colors of nature amaze me. And like many creative individuals, I’m also get juiced up by other creative mediums.  Books, stories, music, movies and most of all, photographs excite me.  A lot of my ideas come from great photography. I have stacks and stacks of fashion magazines in my art studio, and lots of ripped out pages.  Of course, they’re not all equal; I have my favorites. Lately, I’ve also been looking at National Geographic a lot.  The lines, color, composition and emotion that fantastic photographers capture seem to set me on fire creatively.  I also enjoy taking photographs although I don’t consider myself a photographer by any means.  

"How Did We Get Here?" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas By Penelope Przekop
"How Did We Get Here?" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas

What types of themes, ideas, or concepts do you explore within in your artwork?

All I can say is that I explore emotion. I like Rothko's quote, “I'm not an abstractionist. I'm not interested in the relationship of color or form or anything else. I'm interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on.”  I find that I'm interested in using various techniques, lines, and colors to blend abstract and figurative art in ways that express specific emotions.  I actually don’t like writing too much down about my art because I feel like my thoughts and ideas are all changing so fast. I haven’t written any kind of artist statement.  It seems like the type of thing I’d need to write on my deathbed.  Then I might say, “Here’s my body of work, and here’s what I have to say about it.”

"I'm With Them" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas by Penelope Przekop
"I'm With Them" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas

Are there any artists that inspire you? If so who would they be and why?

The living artist who has most influenced me is Robert Hogge (noted above).   Bob has had tremendous influence on my ability to trust my creative instincts and vision, which has been a key factor in my progression as an artist. 

Historically celebrated artists who have influenced my work in various ways, either through their works or ideas, are Van Gogh, Kahlo, Pollock, Matisse, and Schiele. With that said, almost every piece of art I see influences my work in some way.  It all seeps in and stays there.  

"I Hide Behind my Face" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas by Penelope Przekop
"I Hide Behind my Face" Acrylic & Pastel on Canvas

What do you think the role of the artist is?

Successful artists remind us of our humanity; they ultimately show us that we’re not alone.  They create and extend the humanistic thread that spans history regardless of circumstance. That’s my opinion.  I think there is a difference between a craftsman and an artist, and lots of people get the two confused.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a craftsman, but that’s not my goal.  Sometimes I think that there aren’t enough words in the English language to fully express what’s going on in terms of the concepts surrounding art.

Can you discuss current projects you are working on?

I’m not sure I’d call it a project but, at the moment, I’m focused on the idea of finding beauty and meaning in chaos.  I’ve realized that this appeals to me because I grew up searching for meaning in a chaotic family situation.  I developed a lot of my coping mechanisms in that scenario.  I developed my eye for emotional detail. Lately, what I tend to do with regard to the art is begin by creating a chaotic abstract work.  Then I step back and study it.  As I study it, I begin to see or find images in it. Sometimes I overlay other, more figurative images, and then, for whatever reason, things really start to pop out all around.  Once I start seeing these things, I can’t ignore them.  I love the way this mimics life for me and my own philosophy.  It also mimics nature and this appeals to me on multiple levels. 

At this point, I don’t ascribe to creating defined projects.  I’m simply focused on my own evolution as an artist.  I feel that if I create some big, overarching project to be completed, I’ve stifled myself before even starting.  I can’t work like that right now.  Perhaps it seems radical or illogical, but for me the term ‘project’ can’t go hand in hand with creativity. Not now. 

"I'm a Little Intense" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas  by Penelope Przekop
"I'm a Little Intense" Acrylic, Ink & Pastel on Canvas

And finally, what advice would you give to other artists?

I will share the advice that I give myself constantly as I paint:
•    There are no mistakes in art (my motto when I’m painting).  Mistakes don’t exist. Whatever happens is okay and leads to the next step.  Incorporate the so-called mistake and keep going. 
•    Try not to think about what other people want or deem attractive or interesting.  In fact, ignore the entire concept.
•    Trust your instincts.
•    Be brave in your work.
•    In the end, if you’re anything like me, it doesn’t matter if the work sells.

What will ultimately matter the day I’m on my deathbed, writing that artist’s statement is that I understand and appreciate what my life was about and what I created.  No matter how much money I made for the effort, in the end, I need to know that I accomplished my goal of finding meaning and beauty in a chaotic world, and created art that undeniably reflects that hope ... that reason for pressing onward.  At that point, everything I’ve felt will have served a valuable purpose, and all will make sense.  I’ll rest in peace knowing I did what I had to do ... what I was supposed to do. 

For more information about Przekop and her artwork you can visit her art website and author website for more details. Visit her Facebook page to check out photos of artwork in process, add her on Facebook and see the latest updates.


Lisa Graham said...

Wonderful artist, art and interview. Thanks for the new link to this great artist. I love that she is self taught...simply amazing.

Kathy Ostman-Magnusen said...

As a fan of Penelope's work, in the visual arts and her writings, it was interesting to read her history and how that developed into such a thoughtful array of creativity. Bravo Penelope.

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