Photography by Roger Erickson
Winston Chmielinksi didn’t run away to Paris as a teenager, but he thought about it. “I planned to move there and have a second life, then come back with a beard and introduce her to my parents,” says the 24-year-old artist. The beard turned out to be unnecessary -- as he realized when his sister precipitated him by coming out first -- and though he didn’t make it to Paris, he found another kind of escape in art. By the age of 16 he was obsessed with copying work he found on the website DeviantArt.com, discovering his own path through the work of others until he mastered a style of his own.
From the carnality and abstraction of Francis Bacon to the sensuality and vivacity of Monet, there are plenty of reference points for Chmielinski’s energetic, colorful canvases, and yet his work is defiantly his own. Those radiant candy colors that illuminate his paintings hark back to his discovery of art—not in a gallery, but browsing his computer late at night. “I didn’t go out and look at paintings -- I studied everything through the computer, so the glow you get through a computer screen I try to translate into my paintings,” he says.
When he wasn’t looking at art, Chmielinski was checking out guys on Craigslist. “You can imagine the kind of chats and pictures I logged from the web,” he says. “I was presenting myself online as a face without a body. And then you look at my paintings from that time, and they’re all pedestaled visages. The body became an eruption of paint. I was completely stuck at the neck.”
In person Chmielinski is thoughtful, smart, and self-aware. His father is half-Polish and his mother is Hong Kong Chinese, a dueling mix of identities he’s learned to play with and sometimes exploit. Being gay adds another layer to the mix; you detect in his work the self-reflecting gay male gaze, though identity is a slippery thing to pin down. He likes it that way. “People will say, ‘Oh, I love that portrait of a man,’ when in fact I was referencing a photo of a woman, or they’ll say, ‘I love that self-portrait,’ when it’s not me at all,” he says. “That happens through a kind of removing of all the little twists on a form that would make it identifiable.”
There is, too, the visceral thrill of the great swathes of color that race across Chmielinksi’s work. He ascribes the headlong, ephemeral quality of his style to the circumstances of living in New York—a shared studio space, the constant jostle -- and thinks his current sojourn in Berlin will slow everything down a little. “Here I feel I can experiment with patience and give time to my work,” he says. “Away from the context of friends and my gallery in New York, I am just a person exploring. Hopefully that will bring me back to a more intuitive state of creation.”
For more information, visit Winston Chmielinski's website.