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Maja Borowicz

The conversation, which took place on 4th March 2022 in Warsaw at Studio Gallery (in the shared studio of Maja and Marcin), was conducted by: Grzegorz Misiak and Sylwester Kurowski.

MAJA BOROWICZ – engages in painting, graphics, and drawing. She is most renowned for her painting. All her artworks stem from a blend of imagination, talent, and the traditional craft of painting, executed with oil paints on canvas. As an artist, she falls within the realm of emotional realism and surrealism. Apart from her impeccable artistry, viewers can discern profound emotions in her works. The observer might sense an invitation to embark on a journey through time and space, experiencing the stories of the characters depicted in the artist’s paintings.

„The world of Maja Borowicz is, on one hand, firmly rooted in reality, and yet, at the same time, it opens itself to events transcending mere experiences. In this manner, her spatial artworks are suffused with the existential symbolism of magical realism, encompassing the most hidden and profound aspects of human existence.” (Prof. Dr. hab. arch. Jeremi T. Królikowski)

Maja Borowicz has been showcasing her artworks – starting from 2012 – in numerous solo and group exhibitions both domestically and abroad. She is, among other things, a laureate of international artistic competitions, such as Art Revolution Taipei 2014 in Taiwan and Spectrum Miami 2018 in the USA.

Perhaps, to begin with, let’s attempt to determine which of the established directions in painting we can attribute to your art. I’ve noticed that there have been numerous attempts to define it, and it is referred to differently in various places.

At times, I feel quite disillusioned when I discover how greatly misunderstood my art is. I experience cognitive dissonance when my paintings are labelled as 'surrealism,’ 'magical realism,’ 'fantasy,’ and the like. After all, my paintings are very realistic narratives: about life, emotions, love, longing, fear, hope, or its absence… Are these feelings surreal or perhaps fantastical? Is the fear of not being alone in life’s final moments a surreal emotion? Are all the scars life leaves on us surreal? Is the crumbling world around me somehow fantastical? Is the feeling of falling apart after losing a loved one in any way magical? In my view, everything I paint is profoundly real. I’ve found the only acceptable form for me to tell these stories. About the unpredictability of fate, the chaos of life, fear and dread, hope and despair, love and desires, sorrow and yearning. The older I become, the more I realize how little I understand people… Can a 'conversation’ about emotions and all these complex matters truly be perceived and received as surrealism or magical realism?

Intriguing observations and reflections. So, then, how would you label your artwork? If, however, one were to give it some sort of name.

I have, for myself, coined the term ’emotional realism.’ What I paint is primarily a fusion of the real world and the emotions I experience. That’s why this label suits me. I understand it’s a novel terminology (not yet found in the art dictionary), but I hope it might find its place there someday.

Like every creator, you encounter online hate. It’s a universally prevalent phenomenon nowadays, affecting many artists regardless of their field of art. It’s distinct from constructive criticism… How do you handle it?

Yes, that’s true. Nowadays, it’s very difficult to come across constructive, uplifting criticism. Hate usually stems from the emotions of the other person, the one engaging in hate speech. I’ve learned that I have no control over what other people feel; those are their emotions and they have to deal with them. The main issue is that people don’t know my story and think I appeared out of nowhere. But that’s not true; it just means they don’t know me. It’s also a sign of our times – the internet is anonymous, allowing you to pour out your emotions there without consequences, just as you wish. If someone genuinely cares about my work and who I am, they’ll find their way to reach out to me and get to know my story and my paintings.

Do you belong to any association that gathers artists in Poland?

I don’t belong and I don’t feel the need to. I’ve achieved everything on my own, without any kind of support or assistance from any organization. An example of this is my participation in the international art competition 'Art Revolution’ in Taipei, Taiwan, in 2014, where I won the first prize. I handled everything myself, including the fact that I covered all the costs from money borrowed from people who believed in me.

Could you tell me more about that competition?

It was an international competition. My painting won the first prize there. The prize included organizing an exhibition in the heart of Taiwan’s capital – Taipei. I had less than a year to create 10 paintings. Despite my apprehensions, the artworks were well-received by the organizers and visitors to the exhibition. I was surprised to see the main streets of the city adorned with flags bearing my painting, billboards, posters, people enchanted by my artworks, and queuing up for autographs, all for me. I hadn’t expected anything like that. But then I received confirmation that my art makes sense and is positively received. This event also had a positive impact on changing my life.

So, perhaps now let’s go back in time a bit. Try to describe how your talent developed before this international artistic success came about.

From what I remember, I always enjoyed drawing and painting. It was my intimate sanctuary. Back in the day, my dad used to collect the FANTASTYKA magazine – during the communist era, it was a window to the Western world, accessible in the then-isolated Poland. As a child, I would take that magazine and try to redraw the illustrations, especially the covers, onto my own paper. During my childhood, I also participated in art classes at the Culture House in Ursus. I recall getting bored when we had to draw or paint still life; but I came alive when we had workshops with live models posing for us. I felt captivated by the human figure. I really enjoyed painting portraits from life, capturing the likeness of the faces faithfully. And those who were being portrayed eagerly took them. Apparently, they liked them. In primary school, I was the 'resident’ artist for various assignments from teachers, like creating decorations for school events, academies, making the school newsletter, or drawings for the chronicle. Almost 'obligatorily,’ my artistic works were submitted to art competitions at every level (school, district, nationwide). I even won some of them. I drew and painted using almost everything: pencil, charcoal, ink, pastels, and various paints. By the end of primary school, I was already quite proficient in oil painting, which was like black magic for most of my peers. I knew that I wanted to attend an art high school. I took the entrance exam and unfortunately wasn’t accepted. I 'failed’ the art history part of the exam. The fact is, art history was very challenging for me at that time. Memorizing names, dates, artistic terms, etc., seemed less important to me than developing my artistic skills, especially in painting.

Unfortunate… though characteristic of Polish education, the Polish schooling system. They didn’t take into consideration what truly matters, which is your talent and your skills in artistic craftsmanship. The exam had to be conducted as it was programmed. After all, anyone can learn art history, especially during secondary school. And how did your journey unfold after this 'setback’?

Well, it was a very difficult and overwhelming experience. I decided that I would never paint again. I enrolled in a general high school. The decision not to paint was a form of rebellion, but I couldn’t fully adhere to it. I did something, but I kept it hidden away, so nobody would know. The problem resurfaced when I passed my high school exams and had to decide what to do next. I chose to apply for architecture, but ultimately, I wasn’t accepted. In that situation, I didn’t even consider applying to an art academy. These setbacks – failing the entrance exam for the art high school and giving up on university applications – solidified my belief that I wasn’t cut out for artistic education.

But from what I know, you did eventually complete your studies, and to some extent, they were artistic.

I graduated in Landscape Architecture from Warsaw University of Life Sciences. It just so happened that during my studies, I had numerous artistic workshops, focused on conceptualizing projects and creating visualizations. I endeavored to make these visualizations like beautiful paintings. For my master’s thesis defense, I organized an exhibition featuring my paintings and projects. I painted a series of artworks in the realm of fantasy. It was the first master’s thesis defense at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in the form of an exhibition, akin to how it’s done at an art academy.

So, still painting after all…

But painting after all… I don’t hide the fact that a significant change occurred within me when I met Professor Sławomir Kolo from the Academy of Fine Arts (ASP) during the final year of my studies. He reviewed my works and noted my talent. He proposed to guide my master’s thesis and suggested that we undertake a project based on the paintings I had created. We had many discussions about art, styles, and art history (which, from that moment, started to interest me and I even grew to like it). Slowly, I began to believe in myself. Thanks to the professor and his encouragement, I realized how important creativity was to me. I decided to return to painting.

Upon completing my Landscape Architecture degree at Warsaw University of Life Sciences, I understood that I would likely never pursue the learned profession, that I wouldn’t work in landscape architecture.

In our previous telephone conversation, you mentioned a serious illness that had a significant impact on your life. If it’s not a secret, could you share something about it now?

No, it’s not a secret. The illness is a congenital gluten intolerance – celiac disease – which went undiagnosed for many years due to the state of Polish medicine at the time. The correct diagnosis was only made when I was 27 years old. I spent a significant part of my life in hospitals, sanatoriums, clinics, while other children were living their normal, healthy, and often joyful lives. I had pain and suffering. I wasn’t a carefree child. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t due to my health, or rather, its absence. I faced incomprehension. I was seriously ill; I even had a second disability group for several years of my life, but you wouldn’t see that from a glance. Drawing and painting allowed me not to feel the situation, the pain, and other inconveniences as acutely. I withdrew into myself and coped in my own way. Celiac disease is a cunning ailment in which the body treats gluten as poison (it’s like adding a bit of arsenic to my food with every meal). Coincidentally, gluten is added to many food products, like deli meats, cheeses, juices, and more. In my case, even 'trace amounts’ are already toxic. And finding products without gluten is very difficult. Over the years, I discovered that I eat to survive, not live to eat. This illness has also left a mark on my psyche, sensitivity, and perception of the world. My psychologist once said, 'You’re like a child at war, focused solely on surviving. It’s not a world where you think about carefree play, learning, and silliness.’ I saw the world as a threat to my life. The constant proximity to the possibility of being hospitalized for unknown reasons or losing my life shaped me.

Did this illness have an impact on your artistic expression?

Absolutely, without a doubt. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t draw and paint. I don’t know how I would fill the time spent mostly in solitude. This illness also affected my physical condition: I often felt weak, spent time in hospital beds and sanatoriums. Sitting still and my 'fiddling’ with successive drawings and artworks saved my mental well-being. When I finished my studies at Warsaw University of Life Sciences in 2007, my health was in a very poor state. This ruled out the possibility of standing at an easel and painting, as well as working with plants, which is required of a landscape architect. My life once again closed in on the confines of my living space and bedridden days. During this time, I learned computer programs and digital drawing using a graphics tablet. While in bed, I started working in advertising agencies, and in my spare time, I attempted my artistic projects. But eventually, a significant turning point occurred in my life: after many, many years of fumbling in the dark within the medical field, my illness was finally accurately diagnosed. This allowed me to gain a different, new perspective on life. It’s hard to explain; imagination is needed here: I never felt well, I was convinced that everyone felt the same as me, that something hurt them every day, even though I suspected that different people experienced different pains. I didn’t know what it was like to live without that constant pain. I was in shock when I felt what it’s like not to feel pain and that this is how people usually feel.

You came back, as you put it, 'into the living,’ both in terms of your health and in this 'living’ sense, you emerged unexpectedly as a mature artist with your unique and recognizable style. Your paintings cannot be confused with any others. Just seeing them once is enough to remember them forever.

Yes, that’s right… you could say that. My paintings are the result of many reflections that emerged from physical helplessness, in the conviction of an impending end of life. Spending countless hours in various hospitals, clinics, at home, I had plenty of time for analysis. I thought about what wouldn’t be part of my life, because after all, I wasn’t expected to reach the age of 30, and about all those things people experience and take for granted. I also thought about all the sadness and pain. I wanted to somehow tell this, to express it. It’s very difficult to combine those beautiful experiences that can be a part of anyone’s life, like love, happiness, hope, security, etc., with the feeling of loss, sadness, pain, and anger towards reality. It’s even harder to tell it in a beautiful, visually appealing way without resorting to ordinary, simple symbols like skulls, crosses, black stains on the canvas. I didn’t want something obvious and mundane. When I finally got the diagnosis and realized I would live a bit longer than I anticipated, it wasn’t exactly a return 'to the Living,’ because I was never there to begin with. It was like discovering new lands, new emotions, sensations. All these extreme emotions, thoughts, and demands I set for myself fell onto the fertile ground of imagination, which, as we know, has no limits. It’s precisely this blend of experiences that shaped these paintings. I suspect that not often does an artist have similar experiences and reach the same depths in their reflections as I did. Hence, I assume that’s why they are so recognizable, unique, distinct.

What’s also worth emphasizing is that your paintings are very well executed. It’s evident that you have mastered the technique you use (oil on canvas) excellently. What’s their origin, how do they come to life?

You could say „in a standard way.” At the beginning, I have to see the image in my imagination, I have to feel it. I have this „affliction” – I see images, they appear almost in a photographic way. Then I create sketches. I paint the picture over 4 – 6 weeks. I don’t paint multiple paintings at once, but only this one from start to finish.

Each of your paintings is „named.” You add titles to them. May I quote a few: „The Last Spark of Hope,” „Shadow of the Future,” „Upon the Ruins of Solitude,” „Silent Waves of Oblivion,” „Fragility of Existence,” „Embrace of the Elements.” They don’t sound too cheerful…

That’s true… but experience has taught me that if I’m going to speak up, I want to talk about important and meaningful things. And what could be more important than our feelings, emotions, and experiences? A painting can be like a good book, you can read it. I strive for it to stir the viewer’s emotions, to reach their memories, and prompt them to ponder upon the most valuable matters. In my paintings, I showcase my perspective of the world. These paintings wouldn’t exist without my personal experiences and encounters. My painted characters, much like me, carry scars and joys from a lifetime. The titles accompanying the paintings are an added content. They complete them. They broaden the scope for associations, reflections. Perhaps through this, the viewer might experience more deeply what they’ve observed. Perhaps they’ll remember it better. Perhaps they’ll perceive in them that value, uniqueness, and respect for life that I narrate.

You’ve been present in the art market for ten years. You participate in international competitions, have exhibitions both domestically and frequently abroad. It can be said that you’re already a recognisable and acclaimed artist. Have you received any support during this time, especially from state institutions?

I have won several international competitions and organized numerous exhibitions. However, this hasn’t translated into any support, neither at the local level nor at the highest levels of institutions like the Ministry of Culture and Art or the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland. Such support has never been granted to me, despite my repeated attempts to apply for it. Especially during the times when I had a disability status, it was difficult for me to work, and I lacked funds, often having to borrow money just to send paintings to international exhibitions (which I eventually won). It’s challenging, as it often goes in Poland. Decisions are made by officials who have their own aesthetic or political priorities. But what truly brings me joy is the fact that I am gaining more collectors, friendly galleries, and audiences who appreciate and support my art. That’s what matters to me. An individual audience is far more significant than an institution. It’s the recipients themselves who decide what resonates with them, what they want to admire.

When looking at the paintings from the beginning of your artistic journey, it’s hard not to notice how significantly they differ in terms of colour palette from your current works. In those earlier pieces, shades of blue, grey, and black dominate. They also carry a darker and more sombre tone, exuding a sense of sadness. Your current paintings feature warmer hues, more light. There’s a certain element of hope in them…

My paintings wouldn’t exist without my personal experiences and emotions. Both the early works and the later ones reflect my emotional and psychological state at different moments. Back then, I was searching for myself, trying to find my place in society. I wanted to be „normal,” but it just didn’t seem to work out for me. During a conversation with my psychologist, a question arose: „What if I truly am different and don’t fit in?” How does someone who feels „different” know that they don’t fit in, and how do they feel it? Or maybe I am different, maybe not „normal,” and do I have to forcefully conform to society? When I asked myself these questions, and then realized that I don’t have to do anything more than accept my nature as it is, I felt much better, and the world became more welcoming. As if in reward, during the same time, I met my husband (also an artist), who understood me deeply, accepted me, supported me, and became my best friend. Marcin is a photographer. I feel that we complement each other greatly. I don’t have to—and he doesn’t expect me to—play social roles or try to change. I enjoy painting. I like painting people as they are and depicting the emotions between them. I like to tell stories of closeness, love, devotion, and more. Also, to express that we are just a part of nature, and everything around us, everything we’ve created, is transient. There’s nothing more beautiful than finding oneself in those fleeting moments we’re given, which we call life.

Once, my friend (Justyna Celebucka) said, „When I look at your paintings, I feel like you first dip the brush in your heart, and then in the paint.” With her permission, I embraced this as my artistic creed because I feel that it captures the essence of my art as a whole.


Thank you for the conversation

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