There’s a good chance that as you read this Zofia Bogusz is in the sweet reverie of her artistic mental zone, six hours deep into today’s meticulous process of painting beautiful woman, raging seas, cute bunnies, and macabre fish bones onto a single canvass of hand-cut natural wood. No ordinary canvass, mind you. Zofia doesn’t use ordinary canvasses; they’re too boring. The tenacious chaos of New York City growls away outside her window, but she’s unfazed, not distracted by anything except maybe the call of some fish tacos. Or maybe she’s surfing.
Art Nouveau: How do you like living in New York, coming from Poland. What was the transition like?
Zofia Bogusz: I came here when I was ten. I thought I lived in a city when I was in Poland, and I find know it was more like a provincial town. New York is like no other city, I feel like it should be its own country sometimes. It’s very different. It’s wild and busy, and there’s a lot of energy here. It can get to you, because there’s so much stimulation, but I think that anybody can find themselves [sic] here.
AN: The art scene in New York is diverse, to say the least. Where you do you fit in?
ZF: There’s a lot of artists here—and a lot of different artists—so you have to find where you belong. I don’t know yet where I belong. A lot of my work is so West Coast in theme.
AN: You’ve done a couple shows on the West Coast…
ZF: I’ve done two shows in California, one in San Francisco recently.
AN: Visual artists more than almost any others experiment—inevitably to perfection—with different mediums. Why did you choose wood?
ZF: I experimented with a lot of different surfaces, but chose wood ultimately because I started off as a draftsman, I love to draw, and I was very technical and meticulous. Drawing on wood is like drawing on paper, except it’s a harder surface; the texture of the canvas doesn’t allow for a very meticulous drawing. I also like the color. White is just so sterile-looking and the wood grain adds a natural abstraction to the pieces, something free-flowing; it’s a nice contrast to what I do, which is really controlled.
I can only imagine that painting on wood, for all it’s benefits, has it’s setbacks, like not being able to reproduce copies of your art without clear cutting a small forest. Can you reproduce your stuff? Oh, yeah! I do what I call minis: I make a print of the painting, and then take a composite on wood that’s also hand cut. For example, I have the fish board (“Surf”) series that has a very unique shape… it made no sense to have a print on paper, so I have prints that are nine inches long, the same shape as the original, cut out and put on top [of the cut composite]. You literally have a miniature of the painting.
“the adventures of salt water taffy”
AN: What’s it like being a surfer in New York, and an artist, as well.
ZF: You really have to work hard at both. New York is such a competitive city in general; there are so many people and everyone’s here for the purpose to make it in something. With surfing, too, you have to want it…but it’s fun. Surfing provides a little bit of peace in this crazy city; it’s very tranquil and definitely calms me down. Art is the same way for me: very peaceful and meditative, and it gives me all-around good vibes.
AN: Can you describe what a productive few hours of painting is like for you? What happens when you’re in your studio doing your thing?
ZF: A productive day for me is when I just sit and paint for ten hours straight—or more, if I can. Sometimes, usually during the middle of a painting, I hate it, because it’s neither the beginning nor the finished product, and it’s not where I want it to be and I’m cursing at it… but I’ve learned to trust myself to figure it out.
AN: Many of your subjects resemble the models from all the magazines—the Vogues, the Victoria Secrets, the Sports Illustrated. But you bring in these jarring, frightful, even morbid backgrounds to juxtapose them. Can you tell me about that?
ZF: A lot of the faces are fashion models, actually. I like their faces because of their facial structure. I did a lot of study work in college with anatomy, so I’m really into shapes and the shadows that their faces make under certain lighting, they’re very dramatic, I feel. [The subjects] are a mush of heads and bodies; sometimes I’ll use parts of my own body. So, it’s not necessarily one model, but a collage.
And then the other imagery is symbolic; some have more meaning than others. Picis… there was not much deep thought behind that one, more imagery that I had in mind that I wanted to express in a painting: very bold and very graphic. I’ve used this skeleton motif a lot.
AN: Do you create stories for your subjects? Do you create characters and beings and personalities for some of them?
ZF: I think the girls take on their own personalities once they’re painted. Before I start painting one, I kind of have a feel for how I want her to look and maybe how I want people to feel when they look at her… maybe they’re kind of confident, maybe a little lost. It’s open to interpretation.
AN: And what about the rabbits! Do these other motifs come naturally to you or are they things that play on your mind for a while until you decide to incorporate them?
ZF: They come naturally. Usually it’s something from my personal life that has meaning. I try not to force any of my work, because then it has no love behind it.
AN: I love your play with food. [School of Fish Tacos] is certainly one of my favorites.
ZF: I love fish tacos.
And so do I. And Zofia loves The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and so do I. And surfing and cassette mix tapes of 90’s music, and so do I. It turns out a we share a few common bonds, so our conversation (for, indeed any chance of this being an interview was lost right off the bat) shies further from formality as we naturally digress into personal opinions of pop culture, front short-lived surfer parlance while discussing waves and wipe-outs and favorite surfers (hers is Jeremy Flores because “well, you know… he’s pretty good-looking.”), and discuss the contrasting presence of a Fabio Cannavaro’s portrait amongst the mélanges of various supermodels (“He’s cute.”). I start to see a trend developing in the area of sports and have to tease her about it lightheartedly.
It’s a relief to find and artist—not just art—that you can relate to in this world of artistic pretensions. If you’re in New York City sometime before November, be sure to swing by the Chelsea Eye Art Gallery to check out Zofia Bogusz’s solo exhibition.
“by land and sea”