I aways make sure to tell people: “I don’t paint people, I paint Time.” That said, obviously I use figures in my paintings. Finding the right model often means a successful composition and ultimately a successful painting. Many times, I’ve made the mistake of painting whatever model was available at the time, even though I was rather uninspired by their features. Sooner or later, I had to abandon the painting because I just wasn’t able to make it work.
On the other hand, when the model is right (and by that I mean right for me), even the simplest of ideas turns into good work. I work faster and more efficiently, and I don’t stumble as much. The whole process is much smoother.
I have realized over the years that I have a strong personal preference when it comes to features that I look for in my models — a certain look, a personality that I am attracted to. But it’s much more then that… Unless I know the model personally and I know their story, who they are, where they live, what’s important to them, I find it difficult to get truly connected.
The models in my work are almost exclusively my Polish family members and neighbors who still live in Poland. Maybe I’m biased, but I find a certain sort of innocence in them that is unique to my native land. It’s particularly the faces of old people who live in the Polish countryside that I love to portray in my paintings.
Manus (on the right) is my uncle who lives in a little hamlet 20 miles away from the next smallest town. The roads to his house are so bad in the winter and spring that the only time I get to visit him is if I go visit Poland in the summertime. He lives with his wife, Basia, who is mentally challenged and they have no children. Manus had a stroke a few years ago. The right side of his body is almost entirely paralyzed ever since and he uses a cane and a wheelchair to move around. He still takes care of his wife and keeps a few farm animals that he feeds - a pony, a dog and a whole bunch of chickens. His home is a magical place. The time has stopped there. Every time I leave after a visit my eyes fill up with tears as I am painfully aware this might be the last time I get to see him. I take lots of reference photos, scared that I might soon lose the best model I have.
Choosing the model is an essential part of my creative process and I go through great lengths to make sure I make the right choice. It’s not just the person’s features that inspire me knowing and understanding them, loving them and being a part of their lives ensures that I capture their soul as well as their outward appearance.