The Untitled Magazine May 2024 Art Issue Open Call Cover Winner, Artist Joanna Pilarczyk

The Untitled Magazine is thrilled to announce that contemporary figurative painter Joanna Pilarczyk has been selected as the winner of our May 2024 Art Cover Open Call.

Hailing from Poland and based in London, Pilarczyk brings a unique blend of vibrancy and introspection to her paintings. Her dynamic compositions, combining lively flesh-toned bodies with vibrant abstract elements, pay homage to modern portraiture and contemporary figurative art.

Pilarczyk’s talent has garnered international recognition, with recent accolades including being shortlisted for the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award 2024 at the National Portrait Gallery and long-listed for the Jackson’s Art Prize 2024. In 2023, she received the Boynes Monthly Artist Award and was a finalist for the International FiKVA Award for Figurative Painters and the Women United Art Prize.

Her work has been exhibited at prestigious venues worldwide, including the Mall Galleries Women in Art Fair and the Saatchi Gallery’s Start Art Fair. Pilarczyk’s paintings have also been featured in various publications, including Create! Magazine, Art Seen, Women United Art Magazine, among others, cementing her status as a rising star in the art world.

As part of her award, Pilarczyk’s artwork is showcased in an online solo exhibition, Joanna Pilarczyk: My Paradise” on Artsy from May 2-31, 2024, curated by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Space gallery. Additionally, her work will be featured at The Untitled Magazine’s booth at the Superfine Art Fair’s 10th Anniversary show in Times Square, New York, from May 2-5, 2024.

Read on for our exclusive interview with Joanna about her artwork and inspirations, and join us at Superfine Art Fair this week to view select paintings in person! 

Joanna Pilarczyk, Shine Rainbow, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.

What first sparked your interest in art and painting? Can you tell us about your artistic journey from Poland to London?

My artistic journey began at a young age, fueled by a passion for creativity nurtured by supportive teachers and my parents. I attended after-school art classes since I was 7 years old. When I was 15, I started my education at Art College, where I learned more about traditional techniques. After that I studied art education at the Institute of Visual Arts in Zielona Gora, Poland, which focuses on contemporary art rather than traditional. During these five years at the art university, I attended as many workshops by talented art professors as possible. I wanted to have various choices regarding my art-making but also be able to teach others. That’s why I learned about paintings and drawing techniques, printmaking, such as lino print, screen print, sculpture, photography, anatomy drawing, and digital media. I was able to paint under the guidance of a few chosen professors, each for six months. After achieving an MA with a diploma in portrait oil painting, I wanted to practice as a figurative artist.

I moved to London over a decade ago to join my future husband, Jarek Radecki, a Polish artist whom I met at university. I was immediately captivated by the multicultural big city and its people from all over the world. London’s diversity and energy have been a constant source of inspiration for my art, shaping my artistic style and themes to this day.

I immersed myself in painting oil portraits of acquaintances and friends within the artist community of North London. With the onset of the pandemic, I transitioned to pursuing my career as a professional, full-time artist while sharing my knowledge through teaching painting techniques in my local community.

Joanna Pilarczyk, Gentle Embrace, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.

Your paintings often feature vibrant colors, bold brushstrokes, and intimate portrayals of the human form. What inspires this distinctive style?

I grew up in post-Soviet Poland and remember times in my childhood when the first glimpses of Western culture appeared on Polish TV. I was fascinated by vibrant American movies and TV series, especially those that depict cities like LA or Miami. The lively, idyllic exotic scenery, beautiful bright colors, which were unavailable in my country then, exotic nature, neons on the streets, and fashion were exciting and seemed unreachable. This early experience made me crave the vibrancy in my world and my art.

The human form has always been a profound source of inspiration for me. I am drawn to the physicality and beauty of the human body, the unique expressions and body language that tell a story, and the way life experiences leave their mark on a person’s face. These elements, as well as personality and psychological portraiture, are the essence of my art.

What are some of the key themes and inspirations behind your latest body of work?

The recent series ‘My Paradise’ describes a safe space where people I paint could rest in sunlight, surrounded by nature, enjoy the peacefulness and quiet of exotic, beautifully vibrant places, and escape from the reality of everyday life.

My latest paintings delve into the emotional depths of relationships, diversity, acceptance, love, and harmonious coexistence with nature. They evoke a sense of melancholy and stillness, capturing a moment of respite from life’s responsibilities. This emotional depth is juxtaposed with a vibrant, energetic palette, inviting the viewer to be captivated by the dynamic compositions and the allure of the colors, and then to discover the underlying stillness.

The other important subject is social issues I can’t ignore anymore. As a Polish-born woman, I never experienced racism firsthand, but upon moving to London and immersing myself in its diverse communities, I became acutely aware of the challenges faced by my friends from various cultural backgrounds. Hearing about their experiences with racism, homophobia and discrimination opened my eyes to the complexities of multiculturalism and inspired me to address these issues in my artwork.

Joanna Pilarczyk, Friends, oil and acrylic, 120 x 91cm, 2024. Image courtesy the artist.

Can you share any insights into your creative process, such as your preferred mediums, techniques, or the evolution of your style over time?

As an artist, I experiment with the versatility of various painting mediums, including oils, acrylics, watercolors, and inks. Each medium offers its own unique qualities, from the fluidity of oils to the boldness of acrylics, allowing me to express myself intuitively and authentically.

Years ago, my palette wasn’t as vibrant, and I could use only primary colors of available oil paints. I focused mainly on the portraits I painted in an impressionistic style, and I treated the backgrounds in a more straightforward, clean way, sometimes adding text. This was the beginning of my artistic journey, a phase that laid the foundation for my evolving style.

When I moved to London, I started working more with water-based mediums such as inks and watercolors, charcoals, and other drawing media, mainly because I teach those techniques at art classes in my area.

In time, I returned to oils, and missing their vibrancy, I decided to mix them with acrylics. I carefully select professional, high-quality, and rich in pigment oils and unique and expensive neon acrylics, which play a pivotal role in creating my signature vibrant style. This unique blend of materials is a testament to my artistic vision and dedication to creating something truly captivating.

You’ve mentioned that your move to London and exposure to the city’s multicultural energy significantly influenced your artistic practice. Can you elaborate on how this shaped the themes and subjects of your work?

London plays an integral role in shaping my artistic vision and the work I produce. As an artist deeply immersed in the vibrant multicultural community, I draw inspiration primarily from the diverse array of individuals, often creatives and other artist who came from all over the world and now call this city home. Our shared experience of navigating and thriving within a multicultural environment binds us together, where we collectively confront challenges, adapt, and cultivate appreciation for cultural diversity.

When I lived in Poland in the past, my close friends were usually the subjects of my work. We knew each other well and shared many experiences. Fascinated by human relationships I liked to portray their deeply personal connections.

Living in London allowed me to find inspiration not only among my new friends and people I know well but also among strangers. I like to meet individuals who stimulate my curiosity randomly. I became less shy, more intuitive, and open to people; I am not afraid to ask difficult questions to learn about their lives, their love stories, and struggles to adapt to a new big city environment and experiences of racism or homophobia, which are important subjects to my art-making.

The city’s dynamic art scene, with its world-class museums, galleries, and diverse artistic voices, provides an invaluable resource for my artistic development. London offers excellent opportunities to engage with art curators, renowned artists, and fellow creatives, fostering collaboration, learning, and growth. Through these interactions and experiences, I continually expand my artistic horizons and skills and evolve as an artist.

Joanna Pilarczyk, Serene, oil and acrylic on canvas, 2022, 100 x 100 cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

Your paintings often depict mixed-race and LGBTQ+ couples. What motivated you to focus on representing these communities in your art?

Having a lesbian twin sister who faces persecution for her sexual orientation in Poland but finds more acceptance and freedom to express herself in London has deeply influenced my perspective on diversity and inclusion. Witnessing her struggles and those of other LGBTQ+ friends who, while finding some solace in the acceptance of the big city, still struggle with familial and community rejection fuels my commitment to representing marginalized voices in my art.

Despite learning about my gay friends who left their countries due to lack of safety and found peace in London, I am shocked that even in such a big and cultural city, I still hear about the awful assaults towards the LGBTQ + community.

Through my paintings, I aim to amplify these voices, shedding light on the challenges faced by people from diverse backgrounds while also celebrating their resilience and strength. By sparking conversations about racism, homophobia, and the importance of acceptance and inclusion, I hope to contribute to a more compassionate and understanding society. Ultimately, my art serves as a platform for promoting empathy, fostering dialogue, and advocating for social change.

Can you describe your creative process? How do you approach capturing the essence and experiences of your models and subjects? Where do you find the inspiration for your paintings? Do you work from live models or photo references?

It often begins with chance encounters and unexpected opportunities, where I meet my feature models who spark my interest and imagination. Whether they’re friends or strangers I’ve met in local cafes, my art classes, or within my neighborhood’s creative circles, each person brings unique energy and story. I like to get to know the person or couples I will paint. We talk about their personalities, childhood, families, and partnerships. I want to learn about their culture, history, and everyday life in London.

Usually, we chat before the photo shoot, either outdoors, if the weather is great, in a local park or within the intimacy of my studio. Taking photos allows me to capture the suitable position of the bodies and lay the artwork’s foundation. I like my models to feel relaxed; if this is a couple or siblings, I observe their body language and how comfortable they feel together. It’s important to me to create a calm and friendly atmosphere so we can enjoy the process and have fun.

Then, I propose a few poses and composition variations. Based on around 20 or more pictures, I chose one which brings something unique and exciting. With the reference photo in hand, I begin sketching the figures onto the canvas, setting the stage for the vibrant palette and dynamic textures that will follow. The background and choice of colors are intuitive and build up during the painting process.

You’ve been recognized with several prestigious awards and nominations, including the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award and the Jackson’s Art Prize. How have these accolades impacted your artistic journey?

Participating in esteemed art competitions such as the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award and the Jackson’s Art Prize has profoundly influenced my artistic journey. Each accolade represents an opportunity to showcase my work to esteemed artists, art curators, and gallery directors, offering invaluable exposure and recognition within the art community.

It was a tremendous honor to be shortlisted for the Herbert Smith Freehills Portrait Award and to have my painting evaluated in person by professionals from the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in London. I am committed to ensuring my artwork is exhibited among the finalists next year, further solidifying my presence in the city’s art scene.

Similarly, being selected for the annual exhibition at the Women in Art Fair and exhibiting at the prestigious Mall Galleries alongside incredible female artists gave me unique opportunities to connect with industry organizers and key figures in the international art scene. These connections have brought increased publicity and opened doors to additional competitions and garnered interest from galleries throughout the UK.

Furthermore, being chosen as one of the finalists for The FIKVA International Portrait Award in 2023 and winning the Boynes Monthly Artist Award in the same year and in 2024 has reaffirmed the value of my commitment to contemporary realism and figurative art at a high standard. These accolades testify to the dedication and passion I pour into my craft.

Even though my painting didn’t progress further than being long-listed in the Jackson’s Art Prize, the exposure garnered through their channels was a significant milestone in my journey toward gaining recognition in the competitive art scene of London. This recognition fuels my determination and inspires me to continue pushing forward, confident in the impact of my work.

Artwork by Artist Joanna Pilarczyk, “In The Garden Of Eden,” 2023 The Untitled Space gallery, New York

As a figurative painter, how do you navigate the balance between capturing the physical form and conveying deeper emotional and psychological elements?

As a figurative painter, I strive to strike a delicate balance between capturing the physical form and delving into my subjects’ deeper emotional and psychological dimensions. Drawing from diverse influences, I blend traditional techniques with contemporary elements to create what I term contemporary figurative or modern realism.

I find inspiration in works by masters such as Sorolla, whose adept portrayal of light, shadow, and the human form in natural settings serves as a guiding light. However, I also find inspiration in modern media like animation and game design, with their vibrant colors and sleek shapes infusing my art with a dynamic and contemporary flair.

While my aesthetic leans towards maximalism, characterized by vibrant color palettes and bold patterns, my approach extends beyond mere visual stimulation. With each stroke of my brush, I aim to delve into the psyche of my subjects, unraveling their emotions and psychology.

In my portraits, I want to capture not only the physical likeness but also the essence of the individual – their hopes, fears, and innermost thoughts. Through careful composition, expression, and symbolism, I aim to evoke a visceral response from the viewer, inviting them to contemplate the human experience in all its complexity.

Whether it’s the contrast of lemon-green foliage against hot pinks or the subtle play of light and shadow, every element in my work serves a dual purpose – to captivate the eye and to speak to the soul.

What role does color play in your artistic practice, and how do you use it to evoke specific moods or narratives in your paintings?

Color is essential to evoke emotion and a specific scene’s atmosphere. I’m drawn to vibrant hues, striking contrasts, and kaleidoscopic tones that infuse my paintings with energy and dynamism.

While painting people and their skin tones and reflecting on bodies, sunlight, and shades of surrounding plants, I like to add glow to their skin by adding bright acrylic pigments to the oils. I love to play with various colors, applying warm tones next to the cool blue and purple shades, creating the proper contrast and atmosphere of relaxation.

While working on the background for my subjects, I aim to create a dreamy, immersive environment that invites viewers into a world of tranquillity and serenity. Exotic foliage and flowers play a key role, adding depth and dimension to the composition. The neons bring happiness and memories of a child dreaming about never-ending holidays. The density of colors, such as hot pink, lemon green, neon orange and emerald turquoise, patterns and shifting light create ordinary but poignant scenes that illustrate the heightened, intimate and peaceful settings surrounded by exotic nature.

“Summer” Artwork by Artist Joanna Pilarczyk, The Untitled Space Gallery, New York

How do you hope your art will impact or inspire your viewers, particularly those seeking greater representation and self-acceptance?

Through my art, I want to inspire viewers, especially those sicking for greater representation and self-acceptance, by celebrating the beauty of diversity and the richness of human connections. In a world where people often feel unseen or marginalized, my paintings serve as a visual testament to every person’s inherent worth and dignity.

By portraying various individuals from various cultural backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations, I aim to foster empathy, understanding, and a sense of belonging among viewers. I want my art to serve as a mirror that reflects the multifaceted tapestry of humanity, where every person is valued and celebrated for their uniqueness.

Moreover, I hope to instill a sense of empowerment and self-acceptance in those who struggle with their identity or sense of belonging. By showcasing narratives of resilience, strength, and joy, I seek to remind viewers that their stories matter and that they are worthy of love and acceptance just as they are.

Ultimately, my greatest aspiration is for my art to spark meaningful conversations, challenge societal norms, and inspire positive social change. Whether through a shared moment of recognition or a newfound sense of pride, I believe that art can uplift, heal, and unite us in our shared humanity.

Can you share some words of wisdom or a motto you live by to stay inspired?

As I navigate my life, I am guided by a simple yet profound motto: “To live in peace and happiness, to understand and to be understood.” As Vincent van Gogh once remarked, “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart,” encapsulating my belief in the transformative power of empathy, connection, and authenticity.

I also love the Sorolla’s words: “The light is always right. The only problem is to be there at the right time and do something about it.”

In essence, my motto is to cherish each moment, to find inspiration in the ordinary, and to approach life with an open heart and a spirit of curiosity. By doing so, I strive to create art that reflects the beauty, depth, and complexity of the human experience, inspiring others to seek joy, peace, and understanding in their own lives.

Joanna Pilarczyk, Sunday in the Park, 120 x 100cm. Image courtesy of the artist.

We are thrilled to feature you in The Untitled Magazine as the winner of our May 2024 Cover Open Call winner! Aside from being featured with a digital issue cover, your work will be featured by The Untitled Space gallery on Artsy as well as at Superfine Art Fair’s 10th Anniversary Show during Frieze week in New York City! How did you hear about the open call and how did you feel when you found out you won?

Winning the May 2024 Cover Open Call for The Untitled Magazine and securing a spot at The Untitled Space gallery during Frieze week in New York City is a dream come true for me! As a devoted follower of the gallery’s commitment to showcasing fearless women artists, I’ve long admired the work of artists like Sarah Maple, Petite Doll, Martha Zmpounou, Tabitha Whitley, and Fahren Feingold, who left behind her a lot of inspiration to all women artists. Their works are amazing, and I’ve always envisioned my paintings alongside theirs.

Discovering the great news in my email was an overwhelming moment of joy. Initially, I had my doubts after submitting my work, but being chosen as the winner filled me with gratitude and excitement. It’s a significant step forward in my artistic journey and a validation of my work.

Connecting and collaborating with a gallery in New York has been on my wish list this year, and I’m thrilled that The Untitled Space is the perfect fit.

Can you tell us about the collection and paintings we are presenting with The Untitled Space gallery?

The paintings you are presenting at The Untitled Space showcase my personal journey. After moving to London and encountering unknown places and people of many cultures, I began to be significantly influenced by them. I created sensual and striking portraits of acquaintances and friends within the community of Tottenham, where I live. My romantic compositions explore themes of relationships, self-awareness and acceptance. The majority of them are from the ‘My Paradise’ series, and two, ‘Summer’ and ‘Lovers’, are from the ‘Intimate Times’ series created during the Pandemic. At that time, I delved into the depths of self-portraits and my relationship with my husband, offering a unique perspective that many can relate to.

In many ways, the paintings from the ‘My Paradise’ series continue the previous works with the same relaxed atmosphere, appreciation of a single moment, and connections with other people and nature. As I mentioned, I capture a ‘safe space’, a paradise where everyone can enjoy stillness and escape from the world.

However, the most significant aspect of my work is the psychological portraits of people, each one a unique representation of diversity. It is this aspect that I am particularly keen to highlight through my art, inviting the audience to appreciate the rich tapestry of human experiences and emotions.

Joanna Pilarczyk, Portrait of Lawrence, oil and acrylic on canvas, 120 x 100 cm, 2023. Image courtesy of the artist.

Anything else you would like to share with our readers? Any other exhibits coming up or new work in progress?

Absolutely! I’m pleased to share that I recently wrapped up a captivating photoshoot featuring two incredible individuals: Kat, one of my cherished models, and her delightful friend Sophie, who boasts a stunning blend of Indian-Greek heritage. In my search for models, I seek natural beauty, distinctive visages, unwavering personalities, and boundless courage.

Kat, in particular, embodies everything I admire in women – her vibrant energy, strong character, and striking Albanian features combined with her feminine allure. Her independence is genuinely inspiring.

Visitors to the gallery will have the pleasure of witnessing her essence captured alongside her partner Emmanuel, a black British gentleman, in the pieces ‘Gentle Embrace’ and ‘In Red’.

Looking ahead, I’m thrilled to embark on new portraits that celebrate the themes of body positivity, sexuality, and diversity. While I’m planning to showcase my work at the art fairs in London during Autumn and explore international opportunities, my immediate focus is on immersing myself in the creative sanctuary of my studio.

“Joanna Pilarczyk: My Paradise”
Online Solo Show with Select Works Featured at Superfine Art Fair
Artsy Online Exclusive
May 2-31, 2024
Superfine Art Fair Times Square
May 2-5, 2024
148 West 43rd Street New York, NY 10036


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