Bethany Czarnecki brilliantly maps the female topography using biomorphic shapes which conjure the curves and contours of the female form. Her work flows in and out of sync with Mother Nature, calling into question the feminine identity whilst exploiting the tension between sensuality and physicality. Her oil paintings burn with vibrancy as her energetic colour palate threatens to burst through delicate line work. Czarnecki’s art celebrates the female sex, inspired by both personal experience and collective feminine circumstance.
Before we get started with the interview, how is your day going?
Hello! Very well thank you – today is a studio day, painting – so a good day.
How would you describe your art to someone who has never seen one of your pieces?
My work is sensory, immersive and vibrational. My hope is to transport the viewer to an internal landscape within the female body and psyche. Through colour, infusing light and line work, I create two-dimensional compositions with oil paint that envelope the viewer in a multi-dimensional perspective of layered biomorphic shapes that investigate themes of gender, identity, sensuality and physicality.
I think the title of this exhibition perfectly encapsulates the sensory and very intimate experience your work allows the viewer. Talk us through this title, splendor, and what it was like curating your second solo exhibition?
Thank you! Titling work and exhibitions is daunting because titles provide a framework for interpretation and perception. Titling the work and show came after everything was complete and I was able to sit with the paintings for some time. I would prefer for the viewer to experience the paintings and let their own reactions or feelings shape the context of the work—I like ambiguity. The goal of the show was to create light-imbued paintings that are arousing, enticing and unapologetically feminine. With this in mind, splendor felt like the perfect title for the show— almost an invitation of sorts to escape to a mystical, atmospheric place that references beauty and sensuality. splendor is a feeling and that is what my work is about.
As your work can be interpreted as both female form and landscape, where do you draw the line between the two?
I paint the canvases flat and rotate them as I work. The orientation often reveals itself once the work is nearly complete. Many of the paintings are a juxtaposition of the female body and Mother Nature i.e. landscape. The allusion is intentional, but I prefer to let the composition unfold intuitively. The paintings are purely abstraction and, for me, that feels liberating because my mode of communication is colour. I focus more on the relationship between colours than the composition, if that makes sense. As I layer various viscosities and hues, the composition evolves—of course, always highlighting the female—with direct connections to the physical female body and anatomy while paralleling the figurative with landscapes that embody the feminine.
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You have spoken in the past about the deep effect motherhood has on your work. How does this materialise within your art?
I think, more precisely, the act of labouring and giving birth has expanded my consciousness around my own body and spiritual mind. Giving birth is an all-encompassing experience: physical, spiritual, emotional. During labor and birthing, a woman is hyperaware of what her body is capable of—how it needs to perform—but your spiritual consciousness is elevated, not dissimilar to sensual experiences. That female mind/body connection is what draws me to the canvas.
Your work exudes femininity and sensuality. Would you consider your art erotic?
Yes, it teeters on the edge of eroticism—in an existential way. I remember reading a Huguette Caland quote once, to the effect of “eroticism is life.” That sentiment is very pure—her words resonated with me when I read them and are often swimming in my mind as I paint.
With one particular piece, essence, the canvas takes a circular shape instead of the rectangular form of your other pieces. What is the desired effect of this?
Painting on tondos challenged my perspective as a painter—by eliminating the edges of the canvas, this allowed me to really immerse myself in the abstracted figure. The tondos in the show (one circle and two ovals) serve as portals—or possibly even magnifying lenses—delving deeper into the female form and anatomy. The absence of edges emphasises the atmospheric qualities of the work. It eliminates barriers to thought.
In terms of your artistic process, do you find physically creating your pieces a particularly spiritual or metaphysical process?
I think there is an element of spirituality when I paint, but it comes in waves. This show was largely painted in quiet—no music, no podcasts, no noise. But I do not always paint that way. When I am in the studio, I try to quiet my mind and just move. Mixing colour, layering colour, the decisions are often made intuitively as a response to prior action. I suppose that act of being fully present in a singular moment can bring spirituality and self-reflection, which is often imbued into the painting.
Your art can be described as being devoted to the female form and experience. Through this do you feel like your work has managed to bypass the male gaze, or is this something that you consider to be unavoidable when depicting the feminine?
Great question. The male gaze has claimed a role in art history, and I suppose it is a philosophical debate whether it can be bypassed when making overtly feminine or sensual paintings. My work highlights the feminine as a life force—in doing that work, themes of eroticism and sensuality arise. There is power to filling a room with intentionally feminine work. The paintings probe the female body parts but also the sensation of female bodily actions. I use abstraction as a tool to peel away subjectification, but hopefully still create space for female presence. I paint what I know, what I feel. I prefer to think of the work as a representation of feminine essence, rather than objectifying the female body. My hope is to strip gender out of the equation and allow the work to stimulate a sense of arousal in either male or female viewers.
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Is the male form and experience something you would ever consider delving into as an artist?
Possibly... The male experience is not my own, so while I might choose at some point to reference the male form in my abstractions, the male experience is something I don't think I would speak to. In my work, I see the male form as complementing the female, with prominence on the female.
The rich use of colour in your art often seems to overflow the canvas and project outwards towards the viewer. How do you use colour to propose questions to the viewer surrounding gender and female identity?
Colour and light are my language. I use them as narrative devices to create a connection between the viewer and the painting, allowing intimacy to arise. As I layer colour, I transform the pigment and viscosity, alluding to various emotions or actions. I try to balance the overtly feminine compositions and palettes with hints of masculinity and nature—widening the perspective beyond the physical feminine form. The work acknowledges reproduction and its many facets, which occur within humanity, nature and involves both female and male species. But there is an intentional honouring of the feminine essence and the role she plays in life and nature. The physiological effects on the mind and body of viewing various colours are proven—it is what brings identity to my paintings, allowing them to be a sensory experience versus a flat view of a composition.
How does your work explore the human psyche and the human experience more generally?
This question dovetails into what we were just chatting about. My paintings are a sensory experience—placing the viewer inside, above or below a given picture plane. Through colour and form, I create vibrational energy that feels alive and human, regardless of gender identity—just purely human. The paintings emit feelings of arousal, joy, excitement, but can also be quiet and or somber—emotions felt by humanity regardless of sex. They break the gender barrier of who is looking at what and emit a feeling of life in a pure sense. The work feels overtly feminine because women are life-bearing, but not without the act of man. So really, the paintings are representative of the intimacy between woman and man—placing woman at the forefront.
Where do you see your art developing in the future?
Well, it was interesting you mentioned the male form earlier in our conversation. In my current work, I touch on the intimacy between male and female complementary energies. However, I have been thinking a bit about delving into the tension between woman and man—exploring the dichotomy of the sexes, as it relates back to the woman. We’ll see where that leads. I'm also exploring materiality that enhances the immersive nature of my paintings. I have a few ideas I'm still playing around with...
See Bethany Czarnecki's splendor at Massey Klein Gallery until November 20. 124 Forsyth St. New York, NY 10002
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