We are very excited to introduce Bogna in the first of a series of artist's stories.
Hey! My name's Bogna Skwara and I’m a visual artist. My practice consists mostly of works on paper from big scale drawings, through prints, to hand-drawn illustrations. It explores human connections with nature, art history, femininity and the expression of identity in portraiture, and has been shown at various group exhibitions and biennales. Right now I’m completing my final year at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, where I study Conservation and Restoration of Works of Art. However, as a nature and boardsports lover, I travel whenever I can. My favourite spaces are those located within walking distance from the ocean, which is my refuge and playground. I’ll live by the sea one day.
Art has been present in my life ever since I remember. Coming from a family where pretty much everyone is somehow connected with arts and culture gave me an opportunity to absorb it by osmosis, so to speak. The walls of my childhood home were covered with prints, drawings, paintings; all sorts of creations by my family members and their friends. One of my earliest memories is my grandfather (geodesist by profession) telling stories while drawing pictures that made the stories come to life. He would copy these drawings from books, or sketch my childhood toys, and so I started to do the same. Creating was just another form of communication; self-expression through a visual narrative. The broader and more analytical comprehension of it came while not only browsing through publications on art history but also through albums of family photographs. The photos were born from holidays spent exploring museums and architecture, and were stored on our living room shelves. For me personally, art is both a way of understanding how our external and internal environment is filtered through senses and experiences, and a tool by which to communicate this to others.
When working alone, I usually have neither a clear idea nor a plan for what I want to create. Pen touching a piece of paper is the impulse which starts a chain reaction, where one line leads to another in a semi-conscious way. They follow a trail of thoughts jumping around various subjects and eventually come together to form an image. Bits of these thoughts often spontaneously make their way into my works in the form of short inscriptions. Reason usually comes in the following days when I review the works, making sure that they form a cohesive whole which is true to my idea of a quality image. Here I take care of lines and strokes which feel a bit neglected, or paint over the ones which seem perfect themselves but negatively affect the integrity of the whole.
While rarely working with one specific subject in mind, some social and cultural contexts leak into my work as a byproduct of my everyday reflections and interests. Notions like human connection with nature, playing with deconstruction of portraiture, the concept(s) of femininity, indigenous cultures and art history reappear in my work. I tend to work late at night because it’s way easier for me to get into the creative mindset after leaving daily obligations and distractions behind. Since the Academy is sadly closed during the night, music (mostly electronic) helps me to focus while working during the day.
While studying at the Academy my practice underwent the common shift from very detailed studies of reality (in my case, mostly human anatomy), through a gradual deconstruction, to finally reaching the point where I now use bits of it as tools to form clusters of visual thoughts. I used to walk around Warsaw with a sketchbook in my backpack, and while I still do live sketches, it’s mostly when I’m travelling; when the world seems somehow more vivid and has unexpected motives to offer. Studying has also taught me to always seek new challenges in my practice. I like to return to familiar subjects and techniques, but at the same time I consider getting comfortable and effortless in my ways of creating to be a warning sign. For me, progress comes with overcoming difficulties brought by new themes, tools or materials, while the urge to create comes from loving the process itself and is fueled by not knowing where it will take me.
Working on a commission is a vastly different experience. My mind instantly dives into the subject, analysing meanings and feelings behind ones words and ideas in order to transform them into an image which will stay true to my aesthetic. It’s a great exercise in using art as a link; an additional communication channel between the author/commissioner and the viewer. I’m also motivated by seeing other people create. It’s like a child seeing someone on the street eating an ice cream and instantly wanting one, but in this case, it’s the process of creation I want. So whenever I feel I’m lacking motivation, I put on art documentaries or interviews with artists and my creativity lights up immediately. As simple as that.
Conservation and restoration of art came into my life just before deciding what I was going to study at university. I always knew that I wanted to study something connected with art, science and the humanities and this transdisciplinary field, mysterious to me at that time, showed me that I could combine them all. Among many things, conservation and restoration has taught me new ways of seeing an artwork, how to work with layers of values, and the contexts in which cultural heritage functions. Working in the field requires thinking of an artwork in historical, iconographic, material, social and cultural terms to name only a few. And as such, demands skills related to all of them - from copy making, art history to chemical analysis and producing academic records on its highest level. I believe that there are few (if any) other fields which enable such a full and close connection with art. It often requires painstaking work, but is also extremely rewarding as it offers the great satisfaction of knowing that you’re contributing to the longevity of cultural heritage together with the history and ideas which it embodies. I have managed to combine working in conservation and restoration with my own artistic practice and I believe that the experience learned in one has greatly enriched the other. One of my life goals is to maintain this connection and remain actively engaged in both practices.
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Words and images: Bogna Skwara
Editor: Amber Patterson