Desire, gender, body, quantum entanglement, black holes, real magic.
These are the kinds of things that Berlin-based artist Winston Chmielinski calls upon when painting. Sweeping, thick fields of color mark his paintings in a manner influenced by abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning. Winston received no formal training, instead arriving at visual art by way of a degree in philosophy and creative writing. In that, you see the way his storytelling, his philosophizing, and his art conflate. His work has a certain smudginess, presenting you with a narrative you can only see facets of, as if looking at a figure through frosted glass. If you took a few moments to explore his posts on Instagram, you could see the delight Winston takes in obfuscation. For an image of a gingko leaf on a piece of paper with the shadow of his hand over it, he comments, “The sealing of a spell.” On an image of a stranger at a lunch table with an elephant mask on the top of her head, he captions, “Lose yourself.” An image of pants strewn over a studio chair, he deems an “Oracle.” Winston likes dissonance. This kind of soft-focus storytelling in the titles of his work gives us an implied narrative that might not necessarily present itself at first – mysteries with no who-dun-it. When I Read The News Today, When The Rapture Split, When Talismans Saved Our House from Burning Down, When We Lose Our Language. Winston has shown in New York, at the Venice Biennale, and has solo shows around Berlin. One of his latest projects, The Healing Room, combined paintings, collage, a 27-minute audio loop, textiles, plants, photography, and a performative element for willing participants, into a completely immersive environment. On this work, he wrote of his audience’s experience, “I cannot take credit for alchemizing apprehension into enthusiasm. I truly believe people set out to explore, but repeatedly walk into fences, and I guess, after a while, it really starts to ache... It was maybe too many things at once, but all you had to do was grab onto one handle, and it took you for a pretty good ride. People came in, curious enough to give it a second of their time – that second turned into minutes, which turned into smiles, and sometimes frowns. That was magic for me, and for all involved.”
Do you have any desire to classify your work? If so, how would you classify it?
I tread very lightly around descriptions. I think it can cut visual, emotional, or verbal responses short. A couple years ago I had a show in Berlin and this guy put his face super close to one of my canvases, whispered something, blinked, giggled and walked away. I like that, letting people understand it on their own.
Can you describe the first memory you have of painting?
Describe your most recent work in a few words.
I smeared plant juices all over my friend’s face and he broke out in hives. I was 5.
Something like a panorama collapsing in on itself. All this stuff from the periphery, suspended in collision and overlap. Paintings can make the improbable seem curiously familiar.
How does your work dismantle, or reveal, traditional gender constructs and experiences?
The work blurs lines without breaking any dams. On a literal level, my figurative paintings are genderful, mixing signifiers to create impossible, but also highly relatable, anatomies. On a more metaphoric level, constantly breaching lines and melting colors into shapes is a deeply integrative practice.
If you could create a list of “required reading” that might help people better understand your work, what books would you include?
Buddha’s Little Finger by Victor Pelevin. The Magic Kingdom by Stanley Elkin. Emily Dickinson’s letters to Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Pentametron.com. “Nature’s Queer Performativity,” a research paper by Karen Barad, which goes handin-hand with Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing.
What’s one thing you’re really into now that you never thought you’d be into?
What’s your favorite drink to order?
My phone’s terrible battery life, which frees me from it daily.
Piping-hot chicken stock.
Do you have any tattoos? If so, what are they? If not, what would you get if you ever decided to get one?
I don’t. I’m more into dressing myself up in symbologies and then shedding them at night. That’s not to say I don’t fantasize about a full-body tattoo of a landscape teeming with recently extinct plants and animals and insects. Like, from head to toe. It’s all or nothing for me.
To you, how does the value and purpose of art change in the age of the Internet?
The Internet frees up production and space requirements, which in of itself is priceless. People are discovering their own agency now. The impulse to make art is, at its heart, the same as before, because that’s what makes us human. But with Internet the access to a free exchange of ideas grows exponentially. It’s my personal belief that the moniker of ‘Artist’ will fade out as more and more of us realize the intrinsic and transformative value in critical thinking married with creative execution. However, this vast, new virtual terrain is under imminent threat of being divided and conquered, in a sort of cyber-colonialism. Artists are stepping up to the plate to globally disrupt those historical habits.
To you, what’s the most important quality in a partner, romantic or otherwise?
Resonance. It’s the foundation, and then the rest comes. And with that resonance, a propensity to spontaneously burst into song, now that I think about the beautiful songbirds who’ve graced me in this life.