Capturing the essence of place

Tara Bradbury
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The open spaces of Newfoundland continue to inspire Elzbieta Krawecka

“Single Caress”, oil on canvas, 40” X 40”, 2012. — Submitted photos. A1 - “And Then She Was Gone” (detail), oil on canvas, 24” x 56”, 2012. B1- “Neighbouring Stranger” (detail) oil on canvas, 40” x 40”, 2012

A world where light and movement are tangible; where sky and water are ever-changing; where some features of the landscape call for thick, opaque paint while others whisper for translucent glazes of thin washes — this is Elzbieta Krawecka’s Newfoundland and Labrador.   

 Based in Toronto, Krawecka has been coming to this province for more than a decade, first as an artist in residence the now-defunct Pouch Cove Foundation, and then as an artist represented by James Baird Gallery. Raised in Poland, Krawecka says she developed an eye for old-world aesthetics, and earned an appreciated for travel after spending some time living in Kuwait.

She moved to Toronto to attend the Ontario College of Art and Design, where she says she picked up a love for Canadian landscapes.

Krawecka began her career as an illustrator, but quickly decided she’d rather paint for herself than anyone else. Since the early 1990s she’s been exhibiting her work solo and as part of group shows across the country, and in this province since 2002, when she took part in Baird’s “Water” exhibit.

Next month, Krawecka’s solo exhibit “Twig” will open at the James Baird Gallery in Pouch Cove.

“It has been a delight to exhibit her ever-evolving work locally,” Baird told The Telegram. “(‘Twig’) shows the range of her talents in depicting the coast, the ocean, the barrens and the woods. I adore how she depicts Newfoundland, the magical light, the mauzy air, the sense of place. It’s unsurprising to me that many of her works find their way to homes in expats around the world.”

“Twig” is a collection of 12 pieces, inspired by both Newfoundland and the Canadian Arctic, which Krawecka and her two-year-old son visited last fall, with Adventure Canada.

“We started out in Greenland and then went to Baffin Island, with stops along the way at communities, and we saw a lot of icebergs and a lot of mist, and obviously a lot of movement on the ocean,” Krawecka said. “I just loved the the open spaces up there, and I love that about Newfoundland as well; the trees are so short, you can see so far.”

Large, open spaces are what Krawecka does best, and her paintings are dominated by sky and water, and the various patterns they, continuously moving, create. Her palette is generally muted, lending her paintings either an salty air feel or a more sombre tone.Krawecka’s interests lie not in capturing an exact geographical location as much as the essence of a place, the way it glows, the way it moves.

“I find that Newfoundland has such specific light, particularly at dawn, and so it’s more about capturing the essence and more of a universal idea of the collective memory rather than a single focal point on a specific place,” she explained.

For Baird, most of Krawecka’s most successful paintings are not identifiable as specific places.“Perhaps I can best express it when cribbing from Stephen Spender, who was at college with the acclaimed poet W.H. Auden, who was renowned for his ability to ream off endless lines of others’ poetry,” Baird said.

“Spender lacked that parrrot-like ability. Rather, when he read poetry, he was looking for the space between the lines in an attempt to recapture the moment of feeling that inspired the poet to place pen to paper. At her best, Elzbieta captures those grace notes and makes them her own.”

Krawecka paints in oil from her own photographs, finding plein air work — completed on site, outdoors — too distracting. Her technique is also more suited to the studio: based on glazing techniques of the old European masters, Krawecka applies a thick underpainting, then uses thin layers of washes and a glaze as well as thick layers applied with a palette knife to execute her work, giving it depth and relief. As a result, her pieces are textured, with clouds, mist or the spray of the ocean lifting off the canvas.

“It just seems natural somehow, that I would want some parts of the painting to feel like they’re heavier and more grounded, and some other parts a bit looser and more flowing,” Krawecka said. “That helps to create movement.

”Though there may be plenty of movement in the hustle and bustle of Toronto, it’s not her focus, and none of Krawecka’s recent works depict anything to do with her city. There’s something not only about the water, but about the Atlantic Ocean in particular that draws Krawecka to it.“I’ve spent some time on the west coast, I actually lived on the west coast, and I just couldn’t connect to it,” she said. “I find that in Newfoundland especially, what really attracts me to making paintings from there is the fact that, to me, it just feels like the environment is so alive. The water, the sky, the light, it’s just forever changing, and I really like that. I find that really inspiring.”

Baird represents plenty of artists who are inspired by the ocean and the view from the former residence and studio in Pouch Cove. Krawecka, Steve Driscoll, Lisa Lebofsky, Greg Hardy — many artists on his roster paint seascapes, each with a unique vision and style, and he never tires of them.

“Years ago, an American resident at the Pouch Cove Foundation made a comment to the effect of, ‘Why would you live way the hell out in the northeast of North America and not live by the ocean?’,” Baird said. “The view from my home is an ever-changing vista of light and colour, and I never get tired of artist’s efforts to compete with its magnificence.”

Krawecka’s “Twig” opens Sept. 7 and runs until the 26th.

tbradbury@thetelegram.comTwitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: Ontario College of Art and Design, Pouch Cove Foundation, The Telegram Canadian Arctic

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Toronto, Pouch Cove Poland Kuwait Greenland Baffin Island Atlantic Ocean North America

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