Spotlight Artist: Danielle Mysliwiec
Danielle Mysliwiec holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MFA from Hunter College. Her work will be featured in an upcoming solo exhibition at C O U N T Y, (Palm Beach) in 2023. Other solo exhibitions include Novella Gallery, New York and Vox Populi Gallery, Philadelphia. Her work has been included in group shows at Asya Geisberg Gallery, McKenzie Fine Art, Mixed Greens Gallery, and Transmitter Gallery (New York), Rockelmann & (Berlin), Heiner Contemporary (Washington, DC), The Center for Craft, Creativity and Design (Asheville, NC) and others. Her paintings have been featured and reviewed in publications including The Brooklyn Rail, Art Fag City, The Washington Post, B’more Art, and The San Francisco Examiner. Recent awards include fully funded residencies to the Surf Point Foundation and The Vermont Studio Center. She is the recipient of grants from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Mysliwiec is on the board of Interlude Residency, a residency program for artists who are parents.
Interview with Danielle Mysliwiec
Questions by Mark Joshua Epstein
Let’s start by talking about this new body of work in your studio.
I'm putting together a solo show for early 2023. It’s a group of paintings, all the same size, that are made by hand mixing the same blue - so the inconsistencies and variations between each are what come forward. They’re all titled “Pull.” It’s a body of work that started while I was on a residency at the Surf Point Foundation in Maine in May of 2021, right after things started to open up slightly.
I’ve heard great things about Surf Point, how do you think your time there affected your work?
After a year of lockdown teaching full time from home during COVID with my kids and husband also working from home, Surf Point provided some welcome solitude. I spent many hours roaming around this bucolic nature preserve, photographing fiddlehead ferns, smelling pine trees and salt water, and working in a studio that was open to the ocean. While I was there, I started making a series of small blue oil paintings on paper that were a kind of embodiment of my observations of the ocean and the metaphors that came to mind. I was thinking about constancy and change, vastness, and the comfort and relentlessness of repetition. I also started recording the ocean and sky at different times of day in small weavings that I made on a floor loom I had hauled up there with me.
I’m interested in the fact that you were approaching your relationship to the ocean in two different mediums. Can you talk about how the paintings and weaving are related (or how they aren’t)?
Sure. I should start by saying that the paintings are made in such a way that they look woven. I’ve long loved the richness of metaphors that can be found in weaving. Both the paintings and weavings are constructed very slowly over time through the repetition and accumulation of small paint marks or thread lines. They also each in their own way bring texture and touch to the forefront - which I think acts as an entry point into the work. I’m pretty new to weaving, but with the paintings, people often draw analogies to manmade materials such as leather or even armor, and topography or other experiences of the natural world. At Surf point, as I sat daily confronting the wide expanse of the ocean, I reflected on those particular metaphorical links in more direct ways than I had previously.
When you got back to your studio at home, how did that translate? Did you miss the ocean?
I did miss it. Everything shifted for me at the end of that summer when I found out my mom was very ill. I knew we weren’t going to have much time with her, so I stopped working in my studio very abruptly. My parents had visited me twice at Surf Point and it was so good to be with them after having been apart because of the pandemic. The residency is one of the last places I saw my mom before I had this new frame of illness around her. Growing up, my family would spend vacations in Ogunquit, one town north of Surf Point- and that's where my mother wanted her ashes scattered. So in a way, I was compelled to go back to these studies from my residency with a much more personal intention.
When I finally returned to the studio after she passed away, the incremental process in my paintings became almost a guide for the slow processing of my grief. The gradients I’ve been making feel like a map of my experience in a way. There’s this imperceptibility in change, even when shocking things happen or a paradigm shift occurs that feels radical and sudden, when you reflect on it you realize it’s been happening in incremental micro moments that were building toward that moment of realization or visibility. Politics shift because of very many small changes - health is the same.
And then there is the very physical aspect of grief. The paintings gave me a place to sit and move forward very slowly, putting the first mark down, and then the next one. A lot of people ask me if my paintings are meditative. I kind of wish they were, but actually they’re pretty brutal to make both physically and mentally. I see them as a kind of an endurance challenge, but they also provide a very structured realm of attention.
Can you talk a little bit about how you approach scale in your work? There’s such a relationship between scale and labor there.
I feel like the choice to keep the scale of the marks consistent no matter the size of the piece allows me to bring in a sense of vastness. These paintings are laborious to make, yes, but I’m hoping viewers get past that and just really lose themselves in the accumulation of details - the way they operate as a mass to catch light, cast shadows, record shifts in direction and movement. I think working larger helps to steer the paintings away from image and towards event. I like the idea of there being a force within each painting that's unnamable - but either way its consequences are becoming visible through these micro-moments on the surface.
The idea of creating an event with painting is really interesting to me. The paintings read in a way like you made them in one sitting - like the making itself is the event and the paintings act as a record.
I’m glad they look as if they’re made in one session - but it's never quite like that. When I take even a few days away from the studio, often the most recent line of marks will dry - and so things can get tricky when I’m trying to mix the next value. Dried oil paint is always a different color than it was when it was wet and so for me, there is actually a record of pauses being encoded into the paintings - or a timeline of my comings and goings. It's subtle, but the pieces have a handwriting to them. I can see where maybe I had a little less patience or had to take a break. The extruding tool can vary by a millimeter, and even that slight shift can denote a new painting session or a new course of direction. I’m drawn to those natural inconsistencies and so even though the work is labored and systematic, it resists being mechanical and perfectly uniform. Those variations are ultimately what keeps me looking when it’s finally finished, they keep the piece in motion, again – more of a moving experience than a fixed image.
Can you talk to us a little bit about how your studio time functions?
For activating new ideas - best case scenario, it's night time and my kids are asleep. There are fireflies in my backyard (which is where my studio is) and it’s summer, so I’m on a break from teaching. I have “Green Arrow” by Yo La Tengo on repeat, which puts me in a stream of consciousness zone so that I try things without thinking about them too much. I move pretty fluidly between three to four small works, building up experimental surfaces, playing with new materials or colors, and trying out different configurations for laying down paint.
During the daytime, the way I work is different - it’s quite structured. I have some large paintings that are divided up into sections and I know how many hours I need to work in order to cover a certain amount of surface area. It’s like being at the loom in that way. I have heard a hundred times over that having kids made people really efficient and organized in their studios - that never happened for me. It’s hard to find large swaths of time for continuity and contemplation. Fortunately my studio offers this somewhat predictable working mode. I can come in, sit down at a painting and pick it up right where I left off, which I can do even when I’m frazzled or exhausted. Then when I have the luxury of time and energy, I prioritize that innovation mode.
I thought we could finish up with a deeper dive into the titles for your new body of work. You mentioned earlier that they’re all called “Pull” - how did you arrive at that title, and why the choice to title them all the same?
Most of my titles are one word and often the word conjures an action or some kind of force. I usually have a sense of what type of force, or as I said earlier, what type of “event” I’d like to point to, but I also want to maintain the opposition to naming and language that I think is so key to abstraction. Once a word starts to percolate in my mind, I research definitions to see if there’s a kind of poetry in the variety of potential meanings, and if they resonate with the energy that I’m hoping the piece can exude. These paintings are all called “Pull” because there were so many relevant associations I found in the definitions of this simple word. Hang on a second and I’ll read you a few to give you an idea of what I mean - “to move one's body in a specified direction, especially against resistance,” “to exert force on something or someone so as to cause movement toward oneself,” “a force that attracts, compels, or influences.” Each one has this uncanny way of aligning with the paintings I’m making and the definitions also point to different aspects of their essences, be it their initial relationship to the ocean, the physical process I use to make them - or even their existence as a record of my body and mind pushing through resistance during this particular period of loss and life.