Aleks' Wonderland

ARTIST: Aleks Bartosik, her existence only failed to honour her own "myth."

An Interview with Aleks Bartosik

I fell in love with Aleks Bartosik's work long before I met her. To see her work on-line doesn't begin to bring to life her wonderfully oversized art of women, lush in colour, full of mystery, passion, and life. The pieces featured here don't touch the scope of her talent, which branches out into live painting, illustration, film and performance. And by far, she's one of Toronto's busiest multimedia artists (and lovely woman about town in every sense). Locals are doubly encouraged to check out her blog to keep abrest of her upcoming exhibitions taking place in the city and beyond.

KAREN MIRANDA AUGUSTINE: Your larger canvas and paper artworks have always striked me as being caught somewhere between the erotic and ethereal. They have such a beautiful sensation-based feel, almost dreamlike and sometimes fantastical. They're like a lovely marriage between the Eliza Griffiths and Shary Boyle approach to painting. Like these two mentioned artists, I'm assuming that many of your subjects in these pieces are based on yourself since, at times, they definitely look a lot like you and come across to me as various degrees of self-portraits. Assuming that I am reading your work correctly, and that to some extent self-portraiture does come into the mix, what are the themes of self-exploration that drive these works?

ALEKS BARTOSIK: It is true that some of the females portrayed in my work are self-portraits (sometimes quite literally), especially in my older work (for example, faces series [2004-2008] are all self-portraits). Recently, however, I use myself as a reference when drawing and painting the female body for proportions when adjusting my morphing figures into the animals/beasts that you see. I think that the "self-portraiture" comes into play more on a personal level of exploring my inner thoughts, emotions and opinions, rather than the literal physical appearance. I mix real and fantastical thoughts about relationships that I observe (or take part in) directly and indirectly between beings and themselves. I try to portray something the viewer may relate to (emotionally perhaps) in the sometimes very absurd or surreal situations and bodies I present, or throw at, the viewer in it's massive scale.

Artist: Aleks Bartosik
Aleks Bartosik, untitled

KMA: Animals appear often in your art, with horses being dominant, especially as Kentaurides (female centaurs). Often, the female body melds seamlessly with different animal parts, or invariably there is a connection of certain attributes. Female centaurs, for instance, mythologically represent untamed nature and speed. In many cases there is something playful, yet there is also an aspect of them that remind me of what one may envision in dreams. I'm curious as to what draws you to collapse these two forms together: woman and animal. And, in the case of horses, what is it about this animal that inspires you in particular?

AB: A few years back I started developing work that, in my opinion, tries to capture the world of the imaginary. In particular, I wanted to develop the idea of imaginary friends for the adult. The more I explored this idea of imaginary friends for adults the more the beings in my work became wild, untamed — animalistic! Finally, I started literally combining animal parts with human parts and creating creatures such as centaurs and mermaids, for example.

Artist: Aleks Bartosik, horse loves when you run with her
Aleks Bartosik, horse loves when you ride with her (detail)

The horse was an animal that, at the time, captured my interest for no particular reason but the sole link to fairytales and mythology. The horse as the centaur, the unicorn — the horse that the knight rode to save a princess... until the "princess" herself became the centaur, the knight! I decided to adapt the horse into my body of work and make it the "imaginary friend" for my adult female character (ultimately played by me) in my performace, photography, and film work. The horse is a link to the playful world, if you dare to play along.

KMA: I love the idea that you're creating imaginary friends for adults — for these women — in your work. I've always been drawn especially to your pieces where there are loose and faint lines of secondary bodies. For me, they've always felt very other-worldy, like spirit guides or the residual presence of an important supporting figure in the lives of your subjects. What can be said about women stepping out of the box of these fairytales into the wild imaginary of your narratives? What would you love others to consider about the lost imaginations we embraced as children?

Artist: Aleks Bartosik, incomplete conversation
Aleks Bartosik, incomplete conversation

AB: I adapt some ideas from what I see around me by observing relationships between lovers, siblings, friends, mothers and fathers and their children, where either I am directly or indirectly involved. People and their unique obsessions, loves and hates towards things that surround them fascinate me. I look and I recreate my own narratives through my paintings and drawings. When I recreate, my work becomes imaginary with, what I hope to achieve, a reminder to the real that is in our lives. I want to see if the viewer is able to let go into the imaginary, to make his/her own narratives and, perhaps, enter into their childhood memories and stories, but remain in the "real" world.

The images that I create are not the only tools to creating my narratives, I try to achieve a narrative of the materials I use and the process of painting and drawing. The left traces, mistakes, and under-drawings tell the story of the painting/drawing.

KMA: You do many live murals that incorporate performance. Tell us a bit about one of these more recent projects.

Artist: Aleks Bartosik, Horse Head
AB: These projects are the extensions of the "imaginary friend for an adult" idea. I wanted this imaginary Horse-Head Being to literally come to life during my drawing events. The Horse-Heads are rooted in a larger and deeper narrative, but I purposefully wish them to appear playful and childlike. With the performances, I investigate one's ability and willingness to imagine, pretend and suspend disbelief to try and tap into our inner child. I am interested in our repressed fears and the sense of wonder engendered through curiousity and dream.

KMA: Seeing that your paintings can be read as captured segments of stories, your influences must be vast. Which artists (including, writers and filmmakers) have had a great impact on your work and why?

AB: Oh my God! There are so many influences in my life! There are many because from some I take just a little bit.

Artist: Aleks Bartosik, ice maiden
Aleks Bartosik, ice maiden (work in progress, from the venus in furs series)

First and foremost influence/inspiration are people. As far as artists or writers go that have inspired or had an impact on the way I work or see things are too many to list. I am often inspired by my surrounding contemporaries actually. But here is a short list of a few: Francisco Goya, Marlene Dumas, Ida Applebroog, Leon Golub, Otto Dix, Henry Darger, Paula Rego, William Kentridge, Heinrich Kley, Nancy Spero, Eric Stanton and Kiki Smith.

Also, I enjoy the films and writing of Andrei Tarkovsky. Edward Gorey’s poetry and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch stories inspire me. These are just a few names, but the reason these other artists have an impact on me is mostly the way they use their medium to do what they do. I am curious to see how, perhaps similar, ideas can be expressed by a different creator.

KMA: What projects or series are you working on presently and when will they be on exhibition?

AB: I don’t usually have one particular series that I work on as I usually embark on many ideas and projects at the same time. I like doing that, it keeps my brain busy! But I will tell you about one that I have been working on since 2007 (slowly). I have actually displayed parts of it in a couple of shows, like Spunky Rooms, with Robin Tewes, which was on view at Headbones Gallery a few months back.

Artist: Aleks Bartosik, venus in furs
Aleks Bartosik, venus in furs

I am creating a series of paintings that show imaginary individuals who decided to owe themselves to others (or things) by the choice of their heart. I am creating a narrative that is very loosely (VERY LOOSELY!) based on a novel written by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch in 1870, titled Venus in Furs. The novel draws themes and character inspiration heavily from the author’s own life by focusing on the outrageous nature of a love affair between two people. Venus in Furs is a passionate and powerful portrayal of one man's struggle to enlighten and instruct himself and his world in the realm of desire through themes of masochism and fantasy.

I adapt some of Sacher-Masoch's thoughts and recreate my own narrative through my paintings. Just as in his novel, I seek out women that I feel are strong individuals in their own right. I am painting from real models, women who I know, but only draw certain characteristics from them that I see/admire/or think of when I see them. The paintings are not meant to be actual portraits of certain individuals, nor do I try to capture the likeness to the sitters. The body of work is meant to be a process where I eventually create a narrative between each portrait and the technique used within them.

My creation techniques purposefully mimic that of the feelings of masochism and obsession, as my marks and colours are simultaneously aggressive and very delicate. In some cases, my marks are absent and in other parts very apparent. I am developing a body of work that not only tells a story of the sitters I choose, but also the story of the medium (of painting and drawing) as I leave my "mistakes" and under-drawings within each canvas. I have no plans as to when or where I will show this body of work, but I will let you know!

Please visit Aleks Bartosik's Web site at

All images are copyright of the artist and have been published with her permission. 
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