By Shannon Gallagher
Beverly Zawitkoski got her introduction to fine art through a career in design. She was first interested in fashion design, and then theater design. She worked in theater after graduating from Concordia University in Montreal, and continued her theater design studies when she won a Commonwealth scholarship to the Slade in London. During her time there, she was working directly next to the printmaking department, which piqued her interest, and she was simultaneously growing a bit weary with the hours associated with working in theater. “The lifestyle is very difficult,” she said. “I love the design aspect, and it’s a very sociable lifestyle, but it takes you away from home for 14-18 hours a day sometimes, which was inappropriate for me, because I’m a homebody.”
Her last theater project at Slade evolved into a printmaking project because of both the proximity of the printmaking studio to where she was working, and her fondness for the medium. “I love printmaking- the quality of ink on paper and the deep richness that can be achieved.“ Printmaking led simply to creating works on paper, using a variety of media. She has a fondness for charcoal and pastels, particularly chalk pastels. “The matte quality reminds me of printmaking, and I love the powdery earthiness of the pigments.”
As Zawitkoski turned to working more and more in painting, she looked for other materials to suit her needs.
“When you are putting paint down and removing it, paper is not the most logical choice. I switched to Mylar because I liked the idea of translucency. I was first introduced to the material at a Jim Dine exhibition. He had a few works on Mylar, and I thought to myself, ‘What a wonderful paper for me to experiment with.’ I was using a lot of watercolor and gouache at that time, so I had to change my painting medium as well, which is how I got started in acrylic.” Zawitkoski, who now does a lot of painting on Mylar, calls it again “transitional” as she added working on rag papers to Mylar to canvas and hard board.
Zawitkoski uses a variety of tools to achieve the marks in her work. She utilizes paintbrushes, squeegees, and scrapers to get the initial marks down on the surface. “That’s the key- I don’t usually have any idea in mind other than an ambiguous visual, which is not very tangible. By putting down marks on the canvas or paper, it allows me to start developing the image,” she said. “Of course, it doesn’t look anything like the finished product, it’s a stepping point to set me off in the direction I need to go in.” She describes illustration as “controlled because it has to work with the manuscript.” Moving from that vein to abstraction was an adjustment.
“My work flows best when I completely let go and avoid thinking about what I’m going to paint- I just get my paintbrush or scraper and put paint down on the surface, move it around until it looks interesting, let it dry, repeat. It builds, and I push and pull the paint to develop the image. Sometimes, you have to let go of those beautiful, spontaneous marks that you started with in order to benefit the whole.”
The artist admits that she sometimes has difficulty letting certain pieces go. “There are times when I finish a work and it encompasses a world I’ve tried hard to achieve, and when that happens, I want to hold onto it forever. Those pieces seem like a mystery to me, and their evolution is almost cryptic.”
Sometimes, the works become reference studies for future paintings, and others she keeps because they have successfully captured the mood she so desperately strives for. “My goal as an artist is always to create my idea of beauty, in whatever form that may be. My painting process and finished works are an escape from all I see as being harsh, cold, and sterile in the world. My objective is to intuitively develop ambiguous worlds that, through imagination, encapsulate that experience and vision into one that hopefully connects with others. When a work transports me on many different levels, it becomes difficult to part with.”
Making art can sometimes cause frustration, as Zawitkoski is familiar with. “My inability to just trust on a daily basis causes some issues,” she says. She conjures an image in her mind, and feels the need to pursue it and bring it to fruition. “Sometimes, in process, the painting sends me in a completely different direction. There’s some part of me that finds it hard to be free enough to just trust what comes out, but the work is more successful when I don’t think, just do.”
Conversely, the moment that the image is actualized creates a feeling of elation within her. “When it all pulls together, which doesn’t always happen, and you’ve worked so long on it and achieved what you intended, it is magical. There are rare days when I pick up my brush and it feels as if everything is out of my control, the brush is moving and it’s just as much a mystery to me as it is to any viewer. Those days are amazing.