Polish Artist Brings Home Universality

The modern paintings of Polish artist Julita Malinowska, and her reasons for making them, transcend barriers

In a book called The Conversations, the acclaimed film editor and sound designer Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, the revised Touch of Evil, The English Patient) told Michael Ondaatje that perhaps the most satisfying lifestyle a person could hope for was to find a way to make a living doing what was most important to him or her around the ages of 9 to 11. He said that was when people first start to have ideas of their own, but are not yet pressured by self-consciousness or the indifference of others.

Julita Malinowska, born in Otwock, Poland, and currently studying for her doctorate in Cracow, is only 30. But she seems somehow to have expanded that window of opportunity. It may be because many of her subjects are quietly reveling in those pre-teen years. It may be because, in Poland, the prospect of a career as a commercial artist is itself only a decade old. Regardless, hearing Malinowska muse in measured English on the subject of the importance of art in her life emphasizes that opportunities lost need not be lost forever. Before entering the Academy of Fine Arts in Cracow, in 2000, the focus of her studies had been math and science.

"It gives somehow back to your life," she says of painting. "What gives me this kind of expression and this kind of contact with myself, it is painting. It's like your own sanctuary for a couple of hours. I think that even if I had to do for money something else, painting would bring me balance. It's a kind of space everybody needs."

Malinowska was in Knoxville recently, re-stretching her paintings for an exhibition at West Knox Plaza Lobby Gallery. She described the recent emergence of a modern art culture in Poland. As she explains what makes Poland clearly unique and exciting at this moment, she simultaneously makes clear how much we all have in common.

"We didn't have an art market 10 years ago," says Malinowska. "Everything is developing very quickly. Also, there is a market for art because there has started to be a class of people who have this money. In Poland, people have lots of blocks to even enter art galleries sometimes. How to be an artist? It's very complicated, but I think it's how do you paint? And what personality do you have? When you are an artist, you are a very fragile person. It's sort of risky. But it's everywhere the same. You need to give a chance to people to feel. Here, now, for me, it's okay. But it's just the beginning."

Malinowska's paintings speak for themselves. Language is no barrier. Obliquely detailed figures are lively in abstract voids of vivid colors. Usually, their postures give away whatever they were doing when Malinowska saw or imagined them. Brightly wrapped pedestrians walk beneath her balcony on some sidewalk in India. Children are jubilantly at play. Much takes place in and around water, though the artist does not live near water.

"It brings some universal feeling," she says of that fact.

En route to Knoxville, Malinowska spent a day in Chicago, and marveled at the sight of Lake Michigan there.

"Even yesterday," she says, "when I went to this lake. You are in the city, there are lots of people meeting all the time, and this gives you completely different feelings. Even about your life and everything. I try to bring some atmosphere to my paintings. This is one of the parts that builds up atmosphere. I'm traveling a lot. From this, I'm taking the spirit of my paintings. When I come back from somewhere, the paintings are more related to those places. After a while I start to be more concentrated on painting, on its own. The places start to be more abstract, or can be anywhere, anyplace, anytime."

In many of Malinowska's paintings there are great social bursts of activity, where a single person is duplicated many times over to form a group. Here building a sand castle, there playing in a fountain. It's a wonderful effect, giving form to the different selves we all contain. It's also a clue to Malinowska's method of harvesting ideas and imagery.

"I take video," she says. "Later on from the video I am watching frames, and just take some poses. For example, this is just one girl, and I make these positions from different pictures. I also use photo camera. But it's always not enough for me. It doesn't let me capture exactly what I want."

Let us all endeavor to capture what we want.