– by Wendy Morley, VW’s Creative and Artistic Director –
Agnieszka Pilat was born and raised in Poland, and moved to the United States in 2002. She graduated from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.
It’s apparent by her art and by communicating with Agnieszka that an incredible amount of thought is put into her work, both in advance of its creation and in the creation itself. This award-winning artist has spent countless hours honing her craft, and her works can be found in public and private collections in United States, Poland, Canada and China. Pilat currently lives and maintains a full-time studio in San Francisco and is represented by numerous galleries throughout United States.
Agnieszka’s obsession with the concept of time inspired her famous series of paintings of a girl: always the same girl, always in the same outfit, but getting older. Lately, the concept of time has morphed with 20th century technology. The machines Agnieszka paints were once incredibly important, bringing with them a true change in then-modern reality, yet within such a short time they have already become obsolete, making them both old and new at the same time. She commemorates technology’s grandeur and contribution to society while also recognizing its constant evolution.
Wendy Morley: Can you please tell me briefly where you are from, where you live now, where you studied and what your focus is currently, for work?
Agnieszka Pilat: I was born and raised in the industrial city of Łódź, Poland – I grew up surrounded by the remnants of an industrial past. Once notable for its thriving textile industry, the city underwent rapid growth in the late nineteenth century only to fall into decline in the post-war period. That’s probably why I feel so comfortable around machinery and have a special connection to them.
I live in San Francisco and I studied painting and illustration at Academy of Art University, here in San Francisco. I paint full time and I have a studio in the city, in the Mission district. I have been painting a lot on location lately – at high-tech company Wrightspeed, just across the bay, in Alameda. Wrightspeed CEO Ian Wright loves old machines and he collects them: old cars, electric meters, industrial drills … you name it. He has a whole lot of them in his company headquarters and I have been working there for the last couple of months. It’s a great juxtaposition of new cutting-edge technology he is working on and the old machinery all around.
I am building towards a solo show here in San Francisco in February 2018. The show will be titled #disrupt and it will showcase my machine art, maybe just one figure to show the public a different language I use to talk about the concept of time.
It’s going to be a strong show and very relatable to the Silicone Valley innovators; I just started painting machines from Steve Jurvetson collection – he collectors space-related artefacts and I call them “super-hero” machines (as opposed to hero-machines which make up the majority of my current work).
WM: As I understand it, you use the image of the same girl in your paintings but because she is a real person she will change through the years. I admit I struggle a bit to understand how she represents time in an individual painting, or does she? Can this concept be taken out of the multi-year series of images? Is the girl in each image representative of a static or dynamic concept of time? Is there also an idea that we are capturing a very brief moment?
AP: The girl represents the concept of time, not moments in time. Individual paintings of her have no meaning as such, they make sense only as a body of work. The work is time-based and also “collective” in that sense – de-centralized. It’s a time-based puzzle that can’t be owned by any one person.
Twenty years from now, when the public will be able to see the body of work, the “girl” aging, growing up, becoming a woman, only then it will become strikingly obvious that they are looking at time, not at a girl. The entire series is time based – I paint only one model and I show time by doing just that. Time is of course a non-visual concept and the only way of showing it visually is by presenting a metaphor. So that is my personal way of telling that story. That’s my language.
WM: I notice that your paintings that do not include the girl do often feature items from the past – an older-style radio or counting machine or fire alarm. Is the idea that time is fluid, because the item exists both in the past and in your painting? Is your painting a sort of time machine?
AP: Yes. I paint the girl less often now. The first machine/object was painted as a commission for a collector and I didn’t expect that machines would become a “thing” for me. Hah! Now I’m totally obsessed with them.
The concept of time is what interests me at the core and they (the machines) very soon became for me another way of exploring just that: time. In my mind, I have an entire body of work already. Currently, yes they are old machines, out-dated technology – hence this is the period in my career when machines tell the story of the past.
But I already know I will eventually move towards the future and will paint machines and technology of the future. This is something that will not occur in the next couple of years. But I am already making contacts with companies and innovators to start exploring that: the future through the machines.
Obviously that is a very challenging and also great task, because technology is changing so rapidly now! I’m very fortunate to live here in Silicon Valley and see it first hand. So machines have become a very important part of my body of work and they have opened my eyes to additional aspects of time and how technology is connected to it.
Many questions opened for me when I started exploring technology from up close: evolution of machines vs evolution of humanity; how progression of time is progression of humanity which equals progression of technology; we, the humans, age just as the machines and the machines just like the figure in my “time deconstructed” series show progression of time as a body of work. It is the same context.
WM: Has the concept of time always been important to you?
AP: Yes. I’m obsessed with it. We are made of time, time is one single most precious commodity we have and we waste lots of it. The painting is my attempt at exploring it and using it in a meaningful way.
WM: The items within your paintings have edges that extend into each other in some ways; the color of the focus item will extend into the wall, for example, and vice versa. This makes me think of the idea that everything in existence is actually make up of atoms — sub-atomic particles spinning — and if we had the capability of seeing at such a level we would not see a clear distinction between, say, our arm and the table top it’s resting on. It also makes me think of paint getting scraped onto other items (a car bumper that’s brushed against another car, for example), and thus the concept of transference, and it also makes me wonder whether this is a statement about all things in relationship to each other. Or is this about their disappearance only – the temporary aspect of everything and everyone, and how they are drifting further and further into the past? (By the way, temporary vs permanent is a concept that interests me very much — the idea we humans have that anything at all physical will be a permanent legacy of some kind, when in fact this is an illusion.)
AP: I love how deep you go into this! Big thinking on your part, science … I love it.
My style of painting is meant to reflect imperfections in memory as well as possibilities of imagination. It’s a message that is mixed – sadness and nostalgia about the past and what’s gone forever but also optimism and hope for the future. That second part (the future) will become much more obvious when I start exploring the idea of future technologies in my #disrupt series. I my “time deconstructed” series, that patchy style of painting creating ambiguity and uncertainty – that is the future that I am playing with: the promise of what’s to come; the uncertainty of what’s to come.
My deconstructed style of painting is a commentary on the illusion of “present.” You pushed this even deeper with your comment about “permanent legacy.” I agree: permanent is an illusion. We are made of time and time is a dynamic concept; never still.
Everything is made of time – hence the undefined, “abstract” shapes in what is mostly realism in my work. If I spent more time on an abstract shape – it will become something; something recognizable. That’s what’s so brilliant and positive about time ultimately: if used with a purpose, deliberately, it can become something real.
WM: I am drawn to images of abandoned spaces, where items are in a semi-state of being. They and the space itself no longer serve their original purpose(s) — Not just because of being taken over by nature, but also just in becoming a shadow of their former selves. Recognizable but outside of a recognizable realm. Do you see your paintings as representing a similar state?
AP: Yes. My dream is to make a trip to Chernobyl, just because if that. The abandoned city dissolving into nature. I could learn a lot how to paint and how to abstract better by observing how nature is doing just that in Chernobyl.
WM: Given all this we’ve spoken of, I realize that while your images are static, they are not stagnant; the movement is not happening within that moment, it is happening around the moment, and the movement is not just physical. Would you say this is true? Any elaboration?
AP: Right. You made a correct observation. This goes back to my comments about time I made. How time is dynamic; how present is an illusion; how everything is ephemeral.
Someone said that human beings are unique in a sense that they can live only looking into the future: depression results from seeing no good prospects in the future rather than from being unhappy about the present. We don’t want to stay still.