Realism and abstraction, domestic bliss and ambivalence coexist in student’s award-winning paintings

Art Center faculty recently selected Vanya Horwath to be the first recipient of the Franklyn Liegel Award. Named for a beloved Art Center faculty member, this honor includes $1,000 cash and the use of one of two private studios in the new 870 building to which the Fine Art department will be moving in January. Horwath’s exuberant paintings of women in domestic interiors use abstraction, patterning and gradient brushstrokes to break down the surface and the image in a language that glances back to painters such as Vuillard and Leger, while using the brushstroke as a discrete element in a way similar to that used by programs such as Photoshop. Read on as Horwath shares her response to the award and the ideas informing the work that earned her the honor.

Vanya Horwath

Vanya Horwath

I feel so grateful to have my work recognized by such an amazing group of Art Center faculty, and I am honored to represent the talented group of painters at our school. This award is a testament to the incredible opportunities Art Center provides to its students by creating an environment which fosters artistic growth and allows students to explore new avenues of creativity. Receiving this award is more than a milestone in my development as an artist; it serves as motivation for me to continue to work hard to progress as an artist. 

My paintings are acrylic and oil on canvas or linen, predominantly depicting female figures in their domestic spaces. The paintings deal with the relationship between figure (human/object) and environment along with patterning.  While some of my paintings are identifiably figures in very specific spaces, others are more ambiguous or abstract. However, I do not want to oppose the two since I am interested in creating work that contains both abstract and figurative elements.

Patterning is important to the work as it goes from highly contained to falling apart into another pattern, thus creating an ambiguous space where the figure is enveloped into the surroundings. I am interested in patterning as a system as well as in the decorative sense. ‘Woman on Couch’ has elements of decorative patterning in the floor and systematic patterning in the couch along with a large graphic element across the top that is present in most of my works. My graphic sensibility plays a role in disrupting the space created by causing it to flatten, juxtaposing the painterly mark making with the soft gradients.

While gradient brush marks reference the digital age they serve more as a stylistic element in my work. The gradients allow me to paint more than one color with one brush stroke. Because of this, they are not only visually interesting but also very efficient. I find being able to create a complex and otherwise labor intensive image with only a few strokes to be really satisfying.  Efficiency in painting is interesting as it brings painting into the realm of other professions.

To create confusion and depth in the space, I have recently been experimenting with different methods of paint handling that contrast the gradient marks. Oil paint has been reintroduced in my work and is manipulated through gestural impasto marks and scraping. These areas of my paintings compete for visual attention with the gradient marks as one creates physical texture while the other creates the illusion of texture. My use of spray paint further complicates the surface as it mimics the gradients but does what the gradients cannot do.

Thematically the works pay homage to the history of painting but are formally contemporary.  My work seeks to create spatial confusion, recontextualize figurative painting, and ultimately create a visual experience that can be appreciated by different viewers.

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