Periodically, we review newly created artist profiles in the BRIC Contemporary Artist Registry and select one of exceptional merit to feature.
Poland born Monika Malewska discusses with us her aesthetic inspirations and her journey as an artist. Malewska currently resides in Williamsburg where she addresses issues of consumption and consumerism through painting. Malewska combines seemingly unrelated objects, such as bacon and flowers, to express the decadence and frivolity found in Western culture. In a sort of dark humor Malewska playfully reveals the truth of contemporary consumer culture. Below, Malewska talks more about her inspiration and the ideas behind her work.

Briefly describe to us your background as an artist. I was born in Warsaw, Poland and, ever since I can remember, as a kid I was always drawing. It was something that I excelled at very early on. I moved with my parents to Berlin, Germany when I was a teenager and had to learn German. Three years later we moved to Canada, where I had to learn English. Not being a native English speaker had a lot to do with my constant involvement in art and some of the career choices I made. For me, Art was (and still is) a universal language in the sense that I felt comfortable with it. I received my BFA with an emphasis in painting from the University of Manitoba, Canada. I went on to earn an MFA in painting and photography at the University of Texas in San Antonio. Living in Southern Texas when I was in my twenties had a huge effect on my subject matter, color pallet and aesthetic sensibility. This is when I became interested in food and commercialistic consumption, subjects I continue to explore in my work.

What artists have influenced your creative process and artistic perspective? I enjoy looking at work by contemporary artists whose work I can relate to and admire. My list is extensive, but some of my greatest influences have been Lisa Yuskavage, for her beautiful paint quality and glazing techniques as well as her subject matter, Fred Tomaselli's wild use of patterns, Ruud van Empel's hyper-real digital photographs and Victoria Reynolds's meat paintings. I have gained inspiration from a number of artists represented by the PPOW gallery such as Julie Heffernan, Katharine Kuharic, Robin F. Williams, as well as a number of west coast artists, such as Monica Cook. I also take inspiration from traditional 17th century Dutch still-life paintings and Italian decorative fresco paintings of grotesques from the Mannerist period such as Alessandro Allori and his workshop, which decorate the Vasari Corridor of the Uffizi, in Florence.

What promoted you to have an artistic discussion on commercialism and consumption? I am not exactly sure what specifically prompted me to begin an artistic discussion on commercialism and consumption, but growing up in a communist country probably has a lot to do with it. Perhaps it was simply being aware of and interested in the subject of economics and global markets and having lived in many different places in my life. There is also something appealing about depicting a commonplace and universally familiar subject such as food, which can be transformed into something uncanny. By de-familiarizing the viewer, a mundane subject can become attractive and repellent at the same time and trigger an interesting discussion.

Many of your watercolor pieces are reminiscent of the Rorschach ink-blot test. What inspired you to make this psychology based reference in your work? The symmetry of Rorschach inkblot tests creates a sense of order and beauty from a design point of view. We tend to be attracted to symmetry as human beings and we are symmetrical in our appearance. Most of my symmetrical bacon pieces are relatively large in scale and initially need to be viewed from a distance, which can trigger the Rorschach inkblot test association. From a phenomenological perspective, I was also interested in the ways that meaning is constructed through the process of interpretation, in the interactions between the artist and the viewer. Of course, upon closer inspection of the work, the Rorschach inkblot test association disintegrates and the viewer is presented with the bacon and other specifics of the composition's iconography. One could say that the Rorschach inkblot format provides a complete compositional form, a gestalt of a sort.

In your recent work, bacon appears as a common theme linking your work together as a device to reference Rocco and to parallel contemporary frivolity to that of 18th Century Parisian decadence. What drew you to explore this element of American consumption and is there a larger story behind your use of bacon as a wreath-like design? My interest in meat started when I lived in South Texas. I did not know how to drive and did not have a car (definite disadvantages in Texas). I was mesmerized by some of the exotic fruits and meats available at the local supermarket: rabbits, bore heads, and various types of octopus to name a few. Later on I started visiting Mexican butcher markets for other parts, such as cow heads etc. I was able to find and collect my subject materials without having to travel far and stage them in my studio. I became interested in our relationship to the food we buy and how we tend to distance ourselves psychologically from the products we consume: how we prefer meat parts that are sliced, fragmented and packaged in cellophane on identically sized trays rather than buying a recognizable animal or animal part. I was also taken aback by the huge selection of fruits and vegetables as well as how perfect and identical they look year-round, regardless of the actual season for their harvest.

When I moved to the East Coast and had to work in a much smaller, non-ventilated studio space, I needed to find a practical solution to my new situation without compromising my conceptual interests. I decided to try working in watercolors and was looking for subjects that would work well with the media. I also felt that my previous still-lifes were static and a bit too traditional. I had worked with different meats before I tried using bacon, but I was fascinated with how thinly sliced and delicate each individual bacon strip looked and how they were all evenly stacked together. These thinly sliced, greasy strips of bacon also seemed at odds with watercolors as a media. I wanted to paint this greasy bacon realistically on watercolor paper, creating the impression that the grease might start seeping through the paper at any moment.

I was teaching an introductory level design class at that time and showing my students individual elements and principles of design such as line, movement, and symmetry. By lining up the pink and white strips of bacon I was able to create line and a sense of movement that surprised me. To complement the ribbon-like properties of the bacon, I began incorporating various fruits and flowers into my arrangements. On a formal level, the whimsical, pastel-colored arrangements were decorative, absurd, and grotesque in a sort of a Rococo fashion. It has not escaped me that there is something innately decadent in the fact that I can buy packaged bacon for little more than three dollars and use it for the sole purpose of making art, while in other parts of the world meat is a luxury and people starve to death. In some ways, this points to how ineffectively our most important resources are used and distributed in the global market.

Living in the highly urbanized city of Brooklyn I can imagine your surrounded with an array of mass consumption. How long have you been a resident of Brooklyn and has working in Brooklyn influenced your opinions and work dealing with American consumerism? I have moved a lot in my life and typically lived in large, urbanized cities such as Berlin or Warsaw but also in Winnipeg, Canada and San Antonio, Texas. I lived in Brooklyn when I moved to the East Coast initially in 2001. During that time I was teaching in Connecticut (which forced me to learn how to drive!) and some of my ideas were developed during my commute between CT and NY. My "Nature Shots" series, for instance, was inspired by seeing a lot of road kill.

In terms of how my work deals with American consumerism, I'm not sure that living in Brooklyn has had a strong influence on my work other than the fact that it has made me highly conscious of the way spatial limitations shape consumption habits. Although we are surrounded by messages urging us to buy more stuff, acquiring a lot of goods or buying a lot of things at one time is often not practical for most people living in Brooklyn due to the size of most living spaces and how many people get around. Along those same lines, I think not having a large studio space with appropriate ventilation may have been the biggest influence on my bacon series watercolors. As I mentioned earlier, for a while I had to give up oils and decided to experiment with watercolors out of necessity, but I am glad I did. Sometimes the circumstances of being in a new place and having a lack of appropriate resources can be helpful. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention.

Learn more about Malewska's work on her BRIC Artist Registry profile, and on the artist's own website.

  Interview compiled by Sarah A. Lukacher