A Path to Abstract Oils
Interview by John Skoyles, Contributing Editor
Emilia Dubicki is a Connecticut-based artist. Her paintings are primarily abstract, but sometimes representational imagery is integrated into the work. She shows work nationally and internationally and has received residencies from the I-Park Foundation, the Vermont Studio Center; and the Wurlitzer Foundation. In the summer of 2017 she showed paintings at Five Points Gallery in Torrington, Connecticut, and in summer 2016 she had a show at Fred Giampietro Gallery, New Haven, Connecticut. Her paintings are in numerous private and corporate collections.
I met Emilia Dubicki in 1994, when I became chair of the Writing, Literature and Publishing Department at Emerson College. Emilia was the assistant chair and I worked closely with her until her departure in 2007, to paint full time. Over the years, I’ve followed her exhibitions at the Julie Heller in Provincetown among others, right up to her opening last spring at the Fred Giampietro Gallery in New Haven. This past July, we sat down at my house in Truro and talked about her work.
Skoyles: Were you interested in art as a child, or did it come later?
Dubicki: I really enjoyed art as a child. I went to a high school in Connecticut with its own art school and museum on campus so I took as many art classes as I could. I also liked writing, reading, and music. I didn’t major in art in undergrad or grad school but came back around to painting one day.
Skoyles: When was this? What were you doing at the time?
Dubicki: This was in the mid ’80s into the ’90s. Going into college, I thought I wanted to be a journalist but changed my mind. Then I thought I wanted to work in radio but changed my mind. I went on to get a masters in publishing and an MFA in Creative Writing and Literature. After taking these various paths, the desire to paint, which I hadn’t made time for, settled in and I had to make time for it.
It was as if I’d worked my way through my other interests, and was now wanting to get back to art. I realized it was my favorite thing but I had to get other pursuits out of my system. Perhaps the other pursuits seemed as if they had possibilities for employment, but you return to what you really love. I was drawing and painting representationally. I needed to start somewhere and being able to draw and grasp scale, perspective, colors, and composition was a good exercise. I was drawing and painting buildings and signs in the landscape– combining pop culture and nature–and eventually I worked through the signs and buildings and focused on the landscape and water.
Skoyles: I know those paintings—interesting motel signs on Cape Cod and other parts of New England, and then it was as if you moved your focus off the motel and into the ocean and bay.
Dubicki: I think that there were no more motel signs left to draw and then paint in the Northeast. I had been working from photographs but the landscape and water paintings were drawn mostly from memory of an ever-changing natural world. I simplified my subject matter. Sky, water, horizon line but that was only interesting to a point.
Skoyles: From there the paintings became more abstract, didn’t they?
Dubicki: Yes, it was time to complicate things again. I began loosening up my use of paint along with how I viewed my environment and this led to abstract painting. Now things I see, read, hear, experience—nature, urban scenes—it all goes into the paintings.
Skoyles: Can you describe what you mean by “loosening up” the use of paint?
Dubicki: I was able to let go more in the painting, to move away from representation and paint more expressionistically. I wasn’t concerned with rendering something accurately. It’s growth. I was interested in moving into a more emotional level, in moving the paint around, and in scale, especially on large canvases.
Skoyles: When you place several large canvasses together—as in triptychs, do you see these as comprising an installation? How do you want this viewed differently from a single piece?
Dubicki: My diptychs or triptychs—I’ve done four and five canvas paintings as well—are single pieces. Usually these paintings on multiple canvases are for practical purposes and convenience. It’s easier right now to move an 8’ x 10’ painting in and out of the studio if it’s in sections. I have large paintings on single canvases as well.
Skoyles: How do the small paintings differ from the large ones, other than the obvious difference in size?
Dubicki: The small paintings are always more difficult for me because I have a limited amount of space to get it right. I spend more time thinking about composition and gestures while trying not to overthink the painting as well. They are good exercises in scale. All the pieces inform each other.
Skoyles: Oil is your preferred medium—why? Have you used acrylic, mixed media? Can you describe how you came to this choice and if you are tempted to swerve from it?
Dubicki: I mostly paint with oils. In the past I only used acrylics and this was mainly for practical reasons like easy clean up and short drying time. At some point I decided to try oil paint and it has now become very familiar and comfortable. I still use acrylics, but mainly to cover large sections of canvas that I then paint over in oils. The acrylic dries quickly and I can get started with the oils that much sooner. Sometimes I have an idea and I want to paint fast, get it out, but yet, don’t want to make the entire painting with acrylics, which work well for under layering. It’s a personal preference. The oils have more of a richness in color and texture. I feel I can do more with oils.
Skoyles: In my own work, both poetry and prose, I tend to think of poetry as my “real” work and my prose as a kind of sideline. To my surprise, the reverse sometimes happens, often brought to my attention by readers. Can you discuss how you see your drawings versus your paintings?
Dubicki: I consider some drawings more as practice, drafts or exercises in scale and perspective. I may want to draw a building just because I like the structure. The drawings might be general ideas for paintings or they are imagined scenes, or drawings of objects. I work in sketchbooks. I also think more formally about drawings and work on sheets of paper. These drawings are often abstract, but not always, and I like using pastels or charcoal. I know what you mean about “real” work and yes, I guess I think of painting as my real work. Some paintings are also practice for “real” paintings. Maybe all of it is practice? Each painting is an opening into another painting, to try and do what I didn’t do in the previous work.
Skoyles: Was there a key painter or painters from the past who have meant a lot to you?
Dubicki: Turner, Matisse, De Kooning, Kline, Mitchell, Frankenthaler, Diebenkorn, and Noguchi are among my favorites. Caspar David Friedrich. I am always in the mood for their work. I also like the artists of the Gutai Movement. I love the way Shiraga painted with his whole body, with all his energy. Tsuyoshi Maekawa is another Gutai artist who continues to show his work post Gutai. He was born in 1936, and I have so much respect for his abstractions. I saw them at a gallery show in New York three years ago and then I went to the Armory show and Maekawa’s work was being shown by his Japanese gallery and he was there. It was great to meet this gracious man. I showed him the photos I took on my phone from his gallery show and he was so happy. It’s an interesting thing—he’s looking at his art on a stranger’s phone at an art fair, surrounded by his actual paintings.
Skoyles: How about contemporaries?
Dubicki: Susan Rothenberg, Albert Oehlen, and Peter Doig are artists I admire.
Skoyles: Can you describe your working day in the studio?
Dubicki: Some days are painting days, some prep days where I gesso canvases and clean up, other days I draw or write in my sketchbooks. What’s important for me is to do some artwork every day. Looking at work in progress is important. You have to self-edit. Not everything you do is worth saving or laboring over. You have to be able to paint over, erase what’s not essential. I remind myself that I put it there, I can take it out. If I begin working on a painting, I will spend a few hours on it usually the first day and get a lot of paint and some structure on the canvas. Usually I’m pretty productive. The following days I’ll spend looking and adding or subtracting from the painting. Sometimes I’m waiting for paint to dry so I’ll move to another painting or work on paper. Other days, I can’t look at the painting anymore. I stop seeing it really, so I need to either work on something else or take a long walk, and that walk can be like a good day in the studio where I get caught up with ideas and images, taking in stuff into the conscious and subconscious that then is transferred into paintings.
Skoyles: What are you working on now?
Dubicki: A triptych 95” x 138” and I always have some small pieces on canvas or paper happening at the same time. The small works usually begin as places to wipe excess paint off my brushes and they evolve into something else. I often work quickly at first on the large paintings with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. Then once the first blasts of paint and energy and ideas are out on the canvas, the going usually gets tougher. Then it’s time to answer the difficult questions. Those questions are constantly changing too. I tune out the noise of who is doing what and where and clear my head and look for the truth. I know it sounds kind of sappy but that’s what painting is about for me, about being honest with myself, about evolving. Otherwise what is the point?
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