Warsaw artist’s head-turning portraits get artworld talking
A Warsaw-based artist is creating something of a stir on the international art scene with her transformation of classical portraits which challenge the way we perceive beauty.
Currently preparing for a solo exhibition at New York’s Half Gallery, Ewa Juszkiewicz is fast becoming one of Poland’s most up-and-coming artists with international exhibitions at, among others, the Gagosian in New York already under her belt.
Her subverted portraits take well-known early modern paintings of women, often by Flemish artists, and replaces their faces with a variety of objects, from plants and fabric to hair.
Using oil on canvas, she replicates the rich colours and textures of the original portraits, extending this to the features she has added covering the women’s faces.
In some of her paintings, the women’s faces are entirely covered with thick braids or rolls of hair.
Juszkiewicz’s departure from traditional portrait painting was a response to her tiredness of “repeating the motif of human faces”, as she put it herself. She started experimenting with forms that could replace faces in portraits.
One of her recent paintings, 'Untitled (after Adolf Ulrik Wertmuller)', takes a portrait of a woman by the Swedish artist, who lived from 1751 to 1811. Juszkiewicz replaced the subject’s face with shiny rolls of blonde hair.
In another, 'Portrait of a lady (after Louis Leopold Boilly)', she wrapped the face of the woman in the French artist’s painting in fabric, covering it completely.
The painting was shown at an exhibition entitled “Domestic Horror” at the Gagosian Gallery in New York last autumn.
Describing her work to Berlin Art Link, Juszkiewicz said: “By taking something from them, destroying their original subject matter in a certain way, I build something new, I tell my own story.
“By analysing it, transforming the past, I try to start a dialogue about the modern day and broaden our interpretation of the past through these changes and deconstructions.
“Paradoxically, covering the characters triggers an avalanche of questions. We start to ask ourselves: “Why did that happen? Is there anything hidden under this layer?”
“This metaphor of covering up their faces is, in fact, a revelation and an attempt to build on the subjectivity of these characters.
“I think the mask allows us to say more, because it frees us from the conventions we have adhered to all our lives.”
The artist who is now based in Warsaw is represented in Europe, the UK and China by French art dealer Almine Rech.
With many art events around the world postponed or cancelled, the dealer is showing one of Juszkiewicz’s works, “Portrait of a lady (after Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg)”, in its virtual “viewing room”, which aims to help viewers experience them digitally.