Artspan sits down with painter Penelope Przekop
You’re a writer as well as a painter, you’ve published quite a few novels and memoirs. Do you approach your art as a storyteller? Do your pictures tell stories? Have you ever illustrated your writing?
Before I began painting about eight years ago, I spent years writing fiction. After I began painting, I realized how visual-minded I am, and how I visualize my fiction so intensely. With that said, I didn’t specifically set out to approach painting as a storyteller, but it happened. It makes perfect sense, and was a natural evolution of my creativity. I’ve always been fascinated with stories and characters, and how that translates to life. When I was a kid and teen, during times of low self-esteem, I used to imagine that I was a complex character in a book as a way to help myself feel more hopeful. I recognized how good characters were always sympathetic; they were always lovable, despite circumstance because the writer helped you understand important historical details about them and the motivation for their behaviors. I wanted to believe that if people understood my history and motivation, they would love me, too. My paintings tell stories because they convey emotions and, in many ways, provide clues as to what might be the source of those emotions. I want people to look at my paintings and relate emotionally, and to therefore feel understood on some level.
I’ve not illustrated my writing. I did once write a sort of fairytale story, A Girl Called Empty, to go along with some of my early artwork, but I’ve not pursued publishing that yet.
You paint people, mostly women. Are these specific portraits of people, or self-portraits, or are they characters in a more universal sense. If so what sort of characters are you drawn to?
My primary creative interest is in creating and developing characters, mostly women, through visually expressing personal and universal emotions. The emotions I paint into the figurative subjects in my art work are ones that I relate to, and assume are universal. I like the idea of creating images that instill questions about what the figurative subject is thinking and feeling. The viewer may have a different perception based on their own experience, and this fascinates me as well.
I consider every painting I create an emotional self-portrait. My work is often inspired by fashion photography, including images of some individuals well known in pop culture. For example, I’ve used fashion photographs of Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Emma Stone, and others. I don’t aspire to paint hyper-realistic or exact portraits; I use the images as a guide.
I’m fascinated by the complexity of human nature. I tend to paint women because I’m a woman and it feels more personal to me in that sense. If you look at my work over the years, you can see an emotional evolution of my characters. Lately, in general, the women are stronger, more resolved, looking back, yet ready to move forward. This evolution reflects my own emotional evolution. I can’t help it; painting is a method of expression. With that said, life is long and has its ups and downs. I think there are certain emotions that never stop re-surfacing. Perhaps we simply act on and/or regurgitate (if you will) them in new and different ways. Hopefully as we do that, we understand our selves better and better, and therefore evolve.
Your paintings are so bright and full of life; I love the patterns, layers, and textures. You work mostly in acrylic, ink, and pastel. Can you describe your method? Did you train somewhere or are you self-taught?
I’m primarily self-taught although I did take lessons for about six weeks when I first began painting. I never draw anything before I paint. I usually start with painting the background, usually in an abstract manner. Then I basically create layers that build complexity. I like to start with a sort of chaotic mess, and then create structure within that, and then add complexity. For me, this mimics life, and I like that. Perhaps it’s not a good analogy for many people’s lives, but it is for mine. I relate to the struggle to find something meaningful and beautiful out of chaos. My childhood was very chaotic and confusing, and it’s taken me a long time to create a life for myself that incorporates that early chaos while also being unique and beautiful … something I can feel proud of.
You’re represented by galleries in Shreveport, NYC, and Nicaragua. Do you have any advice for fellow Artspan artists who might be seeking a gallery to represent them? Do you have any advice on marketing your work?
It’s extremely difficult to find the right representation, and I’m still working on it to a large extent. While I love working with the galleries that I’m currently associated, I’ve recently decided that I’m no longer interested in working with new galleries unless they can convince me that they have an established list of collectors (who are in my key audience) with whom they interact on a regular basis. Galleries make large commissions, and I understand why; however, it also costs artists a lot to ship artwork, travel, etc. If the gallery can’t sell the work, it’s a losing proposition for the artist. I think top galleries understand this but I’m not totally sure about artists. I didn’t have the confidence (as an artist) to say this five years ago. At this point, I know that my work is good, who my key audience is, and that the issue is getting the work in front of that specific audience. I also know that it may never happen, but I won’t stop creating the art. This is reflective of what all artists struggle with, and also how they can best strategize. There are lots of ways to sell art these days. Every artist may not need a gallery. If you know who your audience is, you can determine which avenue has the best odds of generating sales.
As for marketing, I have also come to the conclusion that artists need to have a marketing budget appropriate for targeting their key audience. At the moment, my marketing budget is below what I need to fully target my key audience. I recognize that and have long term plans to ramp up in a few more years.
Everyone gets a question from the Proust Questionnaire, and here is yours…Who are your favorite prose authors? Who are your favorite poets?
I’ve always loved to read, and this led to my desire to be a writer. Before I began writing fiction in my mid-twenties, I wrote poetry. I think I wrote my first poem when I was about 10 years old. Lately, I’ve been trying to post some of my favorite poetry on my blog. I’ve also posted some of my own.
Some of my favorite prose authors are Ayn Rand, Philip Roth, and John Irving. Some of my favorite poets are Sylvia Plath, Maya Angelou, and Charles Bukowski.