Absorbing and Learning

An Interview with Jacquelyn Bischak

The transience of time seems to lose all its impermanence when Jacquelyn Bischak’s brush gently touches the surface of her Belgium Linen canvas. Appearing in deep meditative poses her subjects not only radiate subtle inner beauty but also expose their vulnerability that would otherwise have been carefully kept shielded away from the gaze of the curious onlookers. No surprise then, that Jacquelyn’s knowledge and skills in abstract painting is her close aide even while she is portraying human forms on canvas. For, in doing so, Jacquelyn effortlessly captures the otherwise unfathomable depth of human heart both in its tranquillity and in its ebullience.

Jacquelyn Bischak was born in 1961, Ann Arbor, Michigan. The artist completed Bachelor of Fine Art from Eastern Michigan University. Jacquelyn is the recipient of ‘Best of Show’, June Raymar, 2011, ‘Driehaus Award -Midwestern Artist’, Driehaus Foundation, Chicago, IL, 2010, ‘People’s Choice Award’, Dennos Museum Juried Fine Art Exhibit, 2006 among her many noteworthy honours.

What draws you to explore and capture the many colours of human emotions on canvas?

The human experience and the emotions that comprise our daily lives are fascinating to me. It has always been in my mind instinctively to do what I do. A story in my consciousness. My mother was a very emotional woman and her moods deeply affected my perceptions.

How do you train yourself, consciously or subconsciously, in being a powerful observer of life?

Childhood was a solitary experience in many ways. So, thinking, drawing and expressing myself creatively were how I communicated. That time of my life probably pushed my creative boundaries more than any other.

Tell us a little bit of your formative years and the influence of the place you grew up in if any.

Between the ages of 4 and 14 school had imposed no restraint; so my time was my own. Then, it was normal for a child to wander and explore without encumbrances or concern. I grew up in a small town in southeast Michigan… walked to town and school, discovering alternative routes back and forth, through back yards, fields and / or large neighbourhood of Victorian homes. There were favourite people, homes, woods and animals that I would pass on my way. I spent most of my time exploring, listening, and watching people. Once I returned home from school, I would often get my bike and ride to the river with my dog. Water has always drawn me. There was an abandoned road with a bridge that crossed the river running adjacent to a grave yard. I would pass the stones, sit by the river, swim, pick flowers and watch the water. Those years played the biggest part in refining my skills of observation.

The Architect, Painting by Jacquelyn Bischak

How were you introduced to and subsequently captivated by the world of art?

In my youth, through books and being in proximity to my father’s countless hours spent in sketching. During my college years I fell in love with life drawing. It was such a natural flow for me and it took my instructors by surprise. It was a seemingly effortless process. And it was always in the back of my mind to learn to paint the figure. Unfortunately, there were no figure painting classes offered. To further chart my course, my instructor informed me that there were no real opportunities for women figurative artists. So, after college I worked in advertising. In 1991 I was in Arizona on a photo shoot and I was approached by the vice president of Leo Burnett. At Burnett, I was always fascinated by the endless sources of inspiration and scale of creativity as I walked from office to office. In the early years I worked as an illustrator, coordinator and eventually art director. There was a time during those years when I felt I was losing touch with my true creative interest. In 1998 I decided to take a landscape painting class, and by 2007 I entered my first competition with ‘The Architect’ and was accepted into the OPA Nationals. Somewhere along the way I taught myself to paint the figure and it’s been a natural source of joy realizing that part of me; the natural expression of creativity and love for the human spirit.

Did you ever feel creatively stifled during the years you worked as an illustrator and was working according to the client’s briefs?

Yes and no. It is always nice to be able to use your creative side to expand whatever was the focus at that moment. I do not remember ever feeling stifled with illustration or a project because it is equally exciting for me to problem solve as it is to paint. Finding solutions in any arena is part of who I am and what I love. Whether it’s for an advertising, family issue or how to resolve a composition problem with the latest painting on the easel. My mind enjoys figuring things out.

Somewhere along the way I taught myself to paint the figure and it’s been a natural source of joy realizing that part of me; the natural expression of creativity and love for the human spirit.

How did you feel when you could finally manage the transition full-time into the world of fine arts and figurative painting in late ’90s?

It was not until 2010 and the Driehaus Award that I started to make the transition. The last 6 months have been even more significant transition−wise, with sales and pricing. Collectors watch the market carefully. As a woman figurative painter I am content.

You use the softness of light very effectively in your paintings; ‘The Architect’ and ‘The Window Seat’ are two very striking examples. How do you play with light to bring forth the mood of the moment?

By being mindful of the shadows. I find that highlights (which emphasises and directs the mood of a moment) are directly correlated to the depth of the shadows and it has been my experience that they are equally important.

Could you identify a piece of work or project that has given you greatest satisfaction post completion?

Well, there is satisfaction and then there’s relief—not sure which one is stronger. Perhaps they are related. It seems some paintings keep you on the edge and require more effort than others, and there is a fine line between the last stroke and adding just one more. I would have to say the ‘Une Fenétre’ gave me the most satisfaction to complete and is my favourite work to date. It was a highly motivational painting for me. The time seemed to fly and it was somewhat effortless as paintings go.

From or beyond the world of art who or what have been the greatest sources of inspirations for you?

For the most part, I am inspired by the individual I paint… no question. My daughter, Tatiana, has sparked my inspiration more than anyone.

As you see your imagination being given a life of its own on canvas how proud do you feel as a creator and artist?

I’m grateful that figurative painting and I finally found each other. And more grateful still that I can express what I see and feel in an indelible medium. I love the aspect of touching others with my work, and that it will last longer than my physical body. I suppose one would think ‘pride’ would happen during an award ceremony in front of one’s peers… but ‘pride’ for me is felt mainly when those in my personal life show emotion or love for my work. They know and experience my struggles through the birthing of each piece. The strongest moments of satisfaction or pride are generally solitary moments in my studio after I’ve let a painting cool down for a week or so and look at it with fresh eyes. Sitting alone, absorbing and learning. Those are the best moments as a creator that I know.

What is the single most human emotion that appeals to your artistic senses?

Unequivocally, contemplative emotions and moments.

If you were asked to recreate your artistic journey thus far on canvas what view would it present to the audience?

A few years ago I went through a very difficult personal situation in my life. One morning I walked into my studio and noticed that the painting was like a mirror reflecting back what I was feeling inside. It was a symbolic experience that hit me with force. After reviewing my portfolio, I was surprised to find that many of my paintings were reflecting my life. I had never put the two together before. Notably, there is a painting that I started during this difficult period that I have yet to muster the ability to finish. It’s in my studio waiting, wrapped in a blanket. I have struggled with this piece like no other. When I am finally able to finish that piece it will be interesting to see where my life is at that point.

Self Portrait by Jacquelyn Bischak
Self Portrait

Jacquelyn enjoys…

My favourite place on earth is Northwest Michigan. I like reading Richard Peck’s ‘A Long Way from Chicago’. My favourite colour would have to be the translucence of a Lake Michigan wave. Typically classical music plays in my studio. But, my favourite music greatly depends on what my daughter has uploaded on my computer with her diverse interests.

Find more of her work at http://jacquelynbischak.com/

Image Courtesy: Jacquelyn Bischak