Artist Snapshot: Deborah Winiarski

Twenty-five questions exploring the mind and habits of an artist.

interview Deborah Winiarski
Deborah Winiarski in her studio, 2021

At what age did you decide to become an artist?

I have no recollection of making a decision to become an artist. I drew as a child and early on felt an impulse to create, to make things. I didn’t realize that becoming an artist was even possible until I reached the Arts Students League.

How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?

Their concerns were more about practical issues – supporting myself and such. As time went on and they saw I wasn’t starving, those concerns subsided. They continue to be very supportive.

Who are your favorite artists?

There are many artists whose work I love to spend time with – Anselm Kiefer, Mark Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Richard Diebenkorn, Kurt Schwitters, Robert Rauschenburg, John Chamberlain, Willem de Kooning, Clyfford Still, Johannes Vermeer, Henri Matisse . . . I could go on and on.

Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?

I love Johannes Vermeer’s paintings. I am also very fond of the sculpture of Medardo Rosso. The work of both these artists has a sense of quietude that I deeply admire.

Art book you cannot live without?

If poetry counts (and it should) anything by Pablo Neruda. I am also constantly rereading Mary Oliver’s essay, “Of Power and Time.”

What is the quality you most admire in an artist?

Distinction, clarity of expression.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Keeping a sketchbook is not part of my daily practice, but I sometimes make watercolor sketches from nature.

What’s your favorite museum in all the world?

I love the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, the East Building of the National Gallery in Washington D.C., and Storm King Art Center — all for different reasons.

What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?

I don’t know about best — but I was very moved by Anselm Kiefer’s 2010 exhibition at Gagosian, Next Year in Jerusalem.

If you were not an artist, what would you be?

A naturalist or a veterinarian.

Did you have an artistic cohort that influenced your early creative development?

My parents were do-it-yourself-ers who spent years renovating my childhood home from the ground up while we were living in it. They also had a basement wood shop and always had several woodworking projects going. I suppose this rubbed off on me.

What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?

I didn’t go to art school. I was mentored at the Art Students League of New York. For me, getting myself to the League was the hardest part of this journey. My time spent as a student at the League grounded me and gave me everything I needed to pursue my vision through my work.

What work of art have you looked at most and why?

I’ve sat for the longest periods of time in front of works by Mark Rothko.

What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?

The color of the sky at dusk. Cherry blossoms.

Do you listen to music in your studio? interview Deborah Winiarski

It depends. When I’m in need of motivation, Mozart can push me forward. When I’m totally immersed in my work, I often listen to Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier played by Glenn Gould. Bach’s music and the way Gould plays it, has always been an inspiration. There are also times when I work in complete silence.

What is the last gallery you visited? interview Deborah Winiarski

It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a gallery. It could have been the Leonardo Drew exhibition at Galerie Lelong several years ago.

Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?

Underrated is a quantifiable a term that is rooted in the idea of a collective judgement of those other than the artist and occurs outside the studio. This has nothing to do with the act of creating Art. I believe that artists spend their lives wrestling with themselves and with their work to fulfill an ideal, a vision. This oftentimes occurs in isolation, under difficult circumstances and without any tangible expectation of acknowledgement. Artists keep at it, no matter what. This, I suppose, is a very long way of saying that all artists (when they are indeed that) are underrated — until they are not.

What art materials can you not live without?

Fabric, colors.

Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?

My art is an integral part of who I am as a human being. So, yes — whether I’m in the studio or not.

What is the longest time you went without creating art?

One way I measure time is by life before art and life after. Life before art was nearly thirty years.

What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?

Take a walk in the park. Sit under a tree. Listen to the birds sing.

What are the questions that drive your work?

Do the formal relationships that I am creating convey with clarity what I mean in the in the here and now — with this work? Does the work have the emotional, visceral impact that I am looking for? How can I push myself, push the work forward? Can I be even more clear? Am I taking enough risks?

What is the most important quality in an artist?

Integrity, courage, purpose, and perseverance.

What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?  interview Deborah Winiarski

Gosh, everything. There’s so much to understand, so much work to realize.

What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?

I have mixed feelings about seeing art on a screen. While I appreciate the opportunity social media provides artists in putting their work out in the world, I think something is lost in the translation. One thing that the pandemic has reminded me of is the importance of quietly and thoughtfully sitting, in-person, in front of a work of Art. There is nothing like it.

DEBORAH WINIARSKI (@deborahwiniarski) teaches Mixed Media, Collage, Painting, and Dimensional Art online and in-person (afternoons & late afternoons) at the Art Students League of New York. interview Deborah Winiarski

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