Introducing Elaine Kazimierczuk
Elaine Kazimierczuk is the winner of the 2018 Artweeks Mary Moser Award, an annual award intended to help develop the career of a professional artist who has taken up art as a second career later in life. Over the last three years Elaine has turned to art as a profession and is blossoming so Artweeks Festival Director Esther Lafferty visited her on Oxford’s Osney Island to find out more.
‘I always drew as a child,’ begins Elaine. ‘It was my favourite thing to do and at school I was the one who could draw, the child my classmates always asked if they needed something sketching out.’
‘I grew up in Mansfeld though, in a fairly impoverished environment, which wasn’t so unusual back then. My Dad was from Warsaw and he came over her a couple of years after the war. He’d had a pretty rough time and then moved here to work as a miner which wasn’t something he relished at all. He was a thoughtful man who revered and respected science and loved the great outdoors, and so he was very proud when I went to university to do chemistry and applied biology.’
‘Art was always my first love but I didn’t get the support to become a professional artist because my family, my school, and me too I suppose, all knew how important it was to be able to make a decent living: no one thought taking art led to a sensible career. I was at the local grammar school which gave the girls the great opportunity of social mobility but it was rather old-fashioned and because I was in the top class, I had to study Latin instead of art however much I pleaded.’
‘I remember my Headmistress scoffing “what would you do with chemistry and art?” and being unable to answer. If only I’d know then about picture conservation which would have teamed the two disciplines!’
‘After I left university, I went into teaching planning to save up to go back to college and study art. But instead I got married – to an artist, a sculptor, and so I lived an artist’s life vicariously, doing his drawings for him. We focused on his career together when the children were small, and so although my creative juices always bubbled just below the surface in one way or another, it wasn’t until about three years ago that I finally started painting properly, leaving the college I had worked at for a long time, and set out to become a professional artist at last.’
Elaine moved to Oxford eighteen months ago (remember this’ll be published next spring) and now rents a studio in East Oxford’s Magdalen Road Studios who have been a real source of support and encouragement for her, as have her Osney Island neighbours with whom she participated in Artweeks last year. It’s wonderful being an artist at last, she smiles. ‘I get up in the morning and that’s what I want to do!’
‘My pictures always start with a place. I alight on something, a colour or a shape and then I paint what I see in an abstracted way, a feature of the landscape rather than the panoramic view. As an escape from his working life down the pit, when I was a child my Dad used to take me on walks in the woods. I loved mushroom collecting and chasing butterflies, and it instilled in me a real love of nature and the environment, and it’s that feeling of being immersed in the hedgerow and the undergrowth that I’m echoing in my paintings. The finished painting will be an overview of what I see, but the viewer can look into a small patch and delve further in just as you can in the countryside, and almost experience that spot, that moment themselves.’
Elaine paints in oils, with lots of vibrant greens and yellow ochre and a touch of gold, and explains how she often begins with a blank red canvas as this throws the greens forwards and makes the yellows sing out. ‘It’s never easy to start painting on a fresh white canvas so painting a red layer is almost like a warm-up,’ she laughs, ‘and I also find that having this layer behind the picture adds a certain three dimensional effect to the finished picture. I choose different reds for different moods and seasons, so for an autumnal scene I’m likely to choose and orangey red whereas a softer pink red lends itself better to a softer winter palette.’
Elaine describes how she see the world in very vibrant colours, and has a rather scientific view on the world, so deliberately seek out the patterns and shapes in what she’s seeing as she paints, a trait which gives her work a design element. Plants naturally array themselves for maximum sunshine and water collection, which creates wonderful leaf mosaics, she explains, and the shapes in her paintings are like jewels, bright treasures shining from nature’s backdrop.
‘One of my favourite spots to paint is The Merton Beds in Oxford’s Botanic garden – because it’s a natural planting, they’re deliberately overgrown and untidy so for me they represent the profusion of nature perfectly. I paint outside when I can, although canvases are like sails in the wind so I can only really manage a canvas that’s an arm’s length or less. I also take lots of photos for when I am back in the studio. My canvases can be as big as 1.5 metres by 2m and it will take me a whole week or more to complete one of my larger pictures. In the studio I wear a boiler suit as I get covered in paint, with splashes on my face and in my hair, and if I am working from photos on screen I have to clean the splatters from the laptop all too regularly.
Elaine is also becoming known for her diptychs and tryptychs – paintings in two or three panels. ‘On a practical level, they’re easier to work with than a giant canvas,’ she explains, ‘but what I really like about them is they’re rather like a series of windows so there’s a little bit of a narrative in them, as you look from one to the other, or it’s a bit like walking along a country lane where the vegetation changes as you pass.’
I find plenty of inspiration for my paintings in Oxfordshire and I’ve also been inspired by the views in Tuscany,’ says Elaine ‘However, although I have been to Poland a few times to meet my Dad’s side of the family, I’ve only ever painted a couple of pictures inspired by the Polish landscape. I’m now learning to speak Polish and so I’d like to put the Mary Moser award money towards some flights to Warsaw so I can go again and explore the dark forests there which are so different to the English woodlands.’
First published in the OX Sylva magazine February 2018