In conversation with Debbie.lee Miszaniec
Posted by Aimee Coles on 07/03/2022 at 05:59
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Continuing our artist interviews, this month we caught up with Debbie.lee Miszaniec to find out a bit more about her art background and her style of art.
Aimee: When, who or what inspired you to start painting?
Debbie.lee: I learned an early facility for visual representation from my mother. When I entered primary school, I was inspired by the work of older students. Determined to be as good as they were, I simultaneously realized that my innate artistic skills were something that set me apart from my class mates.
As I got older I, interested in my Dutch heritage, I learned about the artist, Rembrandt. He really solidified my childhood ideas of what an artist was, and that being an artist was an occupation.
I never looked back.
Your painting style
Aimee: How would you describe your style of art?
Debbie.lee: Conceptually, it’s closest to post-modern representation. My work is colourful, shiny and deceptive in its emphasis on surfaces, on an attractive container for the ideas within. I use traditional techniques and art historical references, with a focus on the object. Yet my style is somewhat provisional as it depends on the underpinning concept or inquiry for its specific, formal qualities.
Aimee: Has your style always been post-modernist or has it changed or developed over time?
Debbie.lee: While my style has changed over time, I think it has always been fundamentally post-modern. It is difficult to escape the zeitgeist of the times in which one lives and creates.
Aimee: What attracts you to the post-modernist style?
Debbie.lee: Post-modernist is art that is messy, complicated, and admits it’s about something. This is as opposed to a modernist reductionism to a purer version of the form free from outside influences.
Post-modern art values the experiences and stories of history’s sidekicks, antiheroes and non-characters. Instead of seeking universal truths, it recognises tribal truths and personal perspectives in the shaping of politics, commerce, society, culture and, eventually, history.
As someone who according to modernist definitions of art should be no more than a byline in art history, it is hard not to be attracted to post-modernism.
Aimee: For those of us new to the world of post-modern art, could you give your own interpretation of what post-modern painting is and how does this relate to or cross over with abstract art?
Debbie.lee: Post-modern painting can look like a lot of different things, including abstract art. In the tradition of sampling, nearly any art style or technique can be combined with any other art style to express the concept, critique, perspective or vision of the artist, or artists.
Even authorship is not a sacrosanct concept for post-modernism. In addition to being used for its surface qualities, abstraction as a technique can be used to question or destabilise other visual narrative structures. It can even be humorous, such as in Gerhardt Richter’s paintings of colour charts – blurring lines between representation and hard edge abstraction.
Aimee: Which artists inspire you?
Debbie.lee: Oh my goodness! there are so many. It is an inexhaustible list! I have already mentioned Rembrandt and Gerhardt Richter. I go back time and time again to the art of the Northern Renaissance. Hieronymous Bosch with his humour, symbolism, overwhelming populations of characters and quirky representations entirely of their cultural context never fails to inspire me.
Lately, I have been doing a lot of still-life painting and so I have been going back to the Flemish baroque artist Clara Peeters. I enjoy looking at her work with a feminist eye. I also like early pop art.
Then there’s Anselm Kiefer’s accumulations and how they make reference to Germany’s complicated history. Similarly I enjoy Kent Monkman’s subversions of Canadian history painting.
Aimee: What else inspires your work?
Debbie.lee: I love art and history and I find it interesting to understand the past and how life was perceived through the art of the time. Reviewing that art with a contemporary eye really opens up questions about the present as well.
I also get inspired by art shows; movies; music; biographies; current events – even just watching the sky sometimes. But what makes me really want to get into a new series of work is the gap between narratives, or between a meta-narrative and my experience. There just seems to be something that isn’t being said but needs to be.
Your creative process
Aimee: Regarding your creative process, do you plan your paintings in advance, or do you just paint when inspiration strikes?
Debbie.lee: It’s a combination of both. Because each painting is a thought process, I usually begin with a plan in mind, a drawing which becomes a composition transferred to canvas. However, after that, the painting evolves as I think my way through the subject.
This may not have time to happen in smaller works, where one painting is completed and the evolution of the idea leads into the next painting. However, definitely the longer the painting takes the more likely it is to evolve on the canvas.
Aimee: Are there certain set stages?
Debbie.lee: There are, yes. Usually I have a vision of an image. This shifts around as I research. I look for any writing on the subject as well as what other artists have done in that area. As the image expands in my head I then make decisions about size, media and format.
Practicalities come into play when considering what media or technique will work best to realise the vision. I’ll start thinking about how I am going to put together this image and assembling the references I am going to need to do it. This could be models, props, online images, colour combinations, quotes, feelings, or less tangible influences. How they may ultimately combine can be a bit of a puzzle.
Eventually I’ll settle on a basic composition to transfer to the canvas. This is my loose outline within which I will add and subtract other references and interventions as need be.
In the zone…
Aimee: Do you have a set place where you paint?
Debbie.lee: Yes, I nearly always paint in my studio at my easel or painting wall, although I can expand to some adjacent table spaces if I have multiple projects going concurrently. Occasionally I will paint outside if I am working on a public art project or feeling the spirit for plein-air painting but that that’s less common.
Aimee: How long does a painting take or does it vary a lot?
Debbie.lee: It really does vary a lot. Last spring, I completed a series of 4’ x 7’ hanging panels for an exhibition. The first and second paintings in the series took a month each. The third and fourth took a week each. I think while I was painting the first two, my mind was working on all four, which meant by the time I made it to the last two the majority of the problems were worked out.
Aimee: How do you know when you’ve finished a piece? Do you go back and work on it or even, correct, it?
Debbie.lee: I go by the philosophy that when any change I could think of making would be merely for the sake of change and not for improvement, the painting is finished. That said, I like to give a painting a week or so after I believe it is finished to see if anything ‘jumps out’. Occasionally I have had pieces I have reworked years later, from a different mindset, but that’s rare.
Aimee: How do you know when you’re satisfied with a painting?
Debbie.lee: I’m satisfied when it seems to say what I am interested in saying – and maybe a bit more – in a way which entertains me.
Painting as a pastime
Aimee: What do you enjoy most about (your style of) painting?
Debbie.lee: I like the freedom of being able to pull in pretty much any style or period of art or representation, but I also enjoy the puzzle-solving aspect of fitting the disparate elements together in a meaningful way.
Aimee: Would you recommend it as a pastime and if so, why?
Debbie.lee: Yes, I would recommend everyone make art, if only for themselves and their own pleasure. It’s a good way to help them better understand the world they live in and the times they are living through.
Aimee: Do you think painting can be good for your mental health?
Debbie.lee: Absolutely! My Covid-19 drawings, The Covid Chronicles, helped pull me, and a lot of others, through coping with the massive changes thrown at us early in the pandemic.
Aimee: Do you think you have to have existing skills or innate qualities to be able to paint abstract?
Debbie.lee: I really don’t know. You have to have an existing interest in comprehending your world through visual means, and then in developing that interest into a skillset through regular practise. However, whether that interest and skill is innate or learned from early childhood is another matter.
Aimee: What do you think makes an abstract painting good?
Debbie.lee: I can only answer that for myself. I believe good art is eye-catching in a way which supports the meaning or intention of the artist. This is typically related to colour, value, contrast, line, form, composition and space in the artwork. A good work of art also opens up my mind in some way, and encourages me to spend more time with it.
Aimee: Is that the same as valuable or collectible?
Debbie.lee: Yes, I think we should value a work of art for all of those reasons. We should want to add an artwork to our collection because we want to spend more time with it.
You can view Debbie.lee’s art for sale at her gallery here.