dancing with colors while musing with music
INTERVIEW BY: ZOE RASTEGAR
My Conversation with the Queen of Colors
Barbara Januszkiewicz is a highly recognized personality in our community as a visual artist. Her technique, philosophy, and vision are a product of many years of learning with a daring and progressive attitude for new experiments. She is an accomplished artist, an educator, and a visionary within her field. Her paintings are waves of colors choreographed by the sound of music and confident strokes of her magic brush across the canvas. As I was talking to her for this interview, her passion and devotion to her art took me inside her beautiful landscape of colors, making me feel the movements as I was internally dancing with the colors and enjoying the music. She says that “creative thinking inspires ideas” and “ideas inspire change.” I sat down with her to learn about those ideas, novelties, and much more.
h4>Barbara, tell us about your background and your personal journey to become an accomplished artist.
“I was raised in the DC area. This area exposed me to some of the best museums in the world. At a very early age, I found myself drawn to the visual arts as well as music. Back then, when I listened to music, it was most likely from an album. I became absorbed — not just with the music, but also with the artwork on the cover. There was something wonderful about holding the album in your hands and not just experiencing the music coming out of the speakers but reacting to the cover’s artwork as well as reading the liner notes. Early on it seemed to me where there was music, there were also visual images. My journey started here. I was very fortunate that my parents supported creative outlets for all of their children. There was always paint, paper, tools, and musical instruments available to us. Looking back, we were always doing something creative together as a family.”
When and how did you realize that painting is your passion and your future career?
I majored in art and music in college. Afterward, I joined airlines and traveled around the world. That gave me the opportunity to be exposed to some of the best art and museums worldwide. I was also able to experience a diverse music culture in many different cities. Having this unique exposure helped deepen my passion for art and music. Later it helped me develop a voice that was unique and built the foundation and discipline I would need when walking away from a secure job into a creative venture.
What was your motivation for becoming an artist? Who and what inspired you?
I was inspired to be an artist from a young age. However, while working in the retail arena, I had an experience that turned out to be my “aha moment” in realizing what I wanted. I was sitting at a board meeting in New York City. I was the only store executive that had a successful year in the chain as my numbers were 30% over projection. But senior staff demanded more of me — I was the only female in the room, and my counterparts were all below their projections. I was flabbergasted as my male peers were saluted for their efforts although they all failed to reach their goals. Suddenly, I had a moment of self-awareness that drove me to recreate an environment where I would be in control of my own destiny.
Tell us about your education and training in creating such amazing works of art ?
I was trained under the Chinese watercolor master Mun Quan while attending Jacksonville University. For 30-plus years I painted as a watercolor artist. In 2014 I met artist Paul Reed, who was the last of the original Washington Color School painters. It was Reed who pushed me to move to acrylics.
Shortly after turning to this new technique, I had an exhibit at the McLean Project of the Arts in the fall of 2015 and sold everything. The Washington Post reviewed this solo exhibit and commented that my work resembled Morris Louis’s florals, but that my style was hotter, with a hint of abstract expressionism that the Washington Color School had abandoned.
Mark Jenkins of East City Art wrote in October 2015, “Experiencing the work of Januszkiewicz is a moment of reflection, the recollection of memory, or simply an appreciation of some of the deepest, truest colors ever seen on canvas. The experience is like spending time in the Rothko room at the Phillips Collection.” The positive reactions that I was getting after my first showing of acrylics on canvas would encourage any artist. But it was the thrill of creating these new works in my studio that drove me to insane hours, sometimes 18 hours a day. Reed would actually call my husband, concerned that I would wear myself out, and indeed, I needed nourishment and sleep. During my time working with Paul Reed, I had the presence of mind to record many of our conversations. It is only now that he’s gone that I can start to listen to these voice recordings and realize everything I’m doing now has been the result of two very strong creative practitioners who pushed me to take risks.
During my stay, I studied art, and I found a culture that truly appreciates its creative community. I enjoyed my evenings at jazz clubs with my new French girlfriends and spent our days in the park sitting on a bench and talking about books we’ve read.
Tell us about your experiences outside of the United States and other influences.
I always wanted to spend some time in Paris to study Impressionist artworks. About 10 years ago an opportunity presented itself, and I went to Paris for a few months. During my stay, I studied art, and I found a culture that truly appreciates its creative community.
I enjoyed my evenings at jazz clubs with my new French girlfriends and spent our days in the park sitting on a bench and talking about books we’ve read. It was a different sensibility than what I was used to. This experience was often outside my comfort zone and it helped me make the leap and follow my heart, challenging myself to walk away from my realistic style with a narrative content to the unknown color field.
How do you describe your current work?
Currently, my work is a concentration of color, completely stepping away from all narrative content. My visual interpretation employs very large acrylic color fields that meld and overlap in translucent layers, evoking the rhythm and flow using a brush.
Perhaps it was a need to bring music back into my life that I found this connection, what I call my musical inspiration. I am striving to visually capture the sensation of sound. Seeing my brushwork in waves of curving color-shapes submerged in translucent, immensely rich washes, with a light source not from applied paint, but from the luminosity of the brilliant white paper or canvas is what I am reaching for. The overall effect is one of slow, powerful visual rhythms. Semi-translucent colors float across my surfaces, soaking into the unprimed canvas and paper to create tactile fusions of paint.
What inspires you to create a particular piece? Do you have models, or does it come to you as you sit to paint?
I actually use music as my muse. I mix up the paint ahead of time — this alone might take a whole day. Then I have an idea or plan on how to approach the canvas and how the composition will look. The music element is so important because I see many similarities between constructing my work and listening to a great piece of music. It’s important that each painting has a strong composition, expressing this sweeping motion. I like the complexity of colors overlapping, and the transparencies within the colors to glow and actually be the sweet spot in the work. Some of the best art I know has a place for your eye to rest and then carries you back through the artwork.
How do social and cultural challenges around you influence your creation? Are they mirroring your feelings and opinions? Does your painting have a message?
In my early twenties, I met Buckminster Fuller, who was a renowned 20th-century inventor and visionary. He was all about giving back and making the world work for 100% of humanity. One of our discussions was about creative thinking and solutions to complex global problems through design thinking. I believe any form of art enriches humanity, and it is necessary that artists not just create excellent art, but also give back, educate, nourish and sustain an environment that will encourage creative vision in all of us. For my part, I am always working on visually challenging myself to be more observant of the world around me, and yes, those challenges do influence my work.
Any major projects on the way in the near future?
Yes! A couple of exciting projects are on the horizon. One being this: I’m working on a box set with jazz genius Matthew Shipp. This will be a perfect collaboration: American art and music. Both of us are trying to reimagine our industries as we go forward in the 21st century. Shipp is a legend in his own time, and I believe the music that he brings into this project will be recognized for its brilliance. Shipp wants to accomplish this on his own label, so we have the freedom to execute a unique artistic experience. Of course, we cannot do this without the support and generosity of our community. Second, I’ve been asked to design a public artwork that would salute the diversity of the community with my color-fields work. I’m very excited that this will be a landmark as it is more than a city block long and three stories tall. Another project that I’m very excited about is that my art is going be added to one of the finest Washington Color School collections in the world. A patron has donated a large color-field canvas to the museum. Soon I should be able to share all the details about this.
Where do you have your exhibits, and how can people access your paintings?
I have a very spacious working studio in Falls Church, Virginia. Visit my website for more information (www.barbaraj.info). My work has appeared in The Phillips Collection, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Hirshhorn Museum, and several other local galleries, as well as in the Miami Basel Aqua Art Fair, McLean Project for the Arts, The Athenaeum Gallery, and elsewhere
What is your message to our community and supporters of art?
In the fall of 2020, I was part of The Latela Curatorial x Artsy: Women in the Arts Online Exhibition, which I valued greatly. The message here was that the Washington DC area is home to some of the most important museums in the world. However, the emerging and mid-career art scenes across this area do not receive the same press, art fair representation, or sales as competitive art meccas such as NYC, Miami, and LA. Financially supporting local artists generally — and women artists in particular — is an investment in their future as well as in our culture around the nation’s capital. A commitment that is just as important as, if not more important than, appreciating museums and institutions.