The Skin is a Canvas: Interview with Painter Agnieszka Nienartowicz

The Skin is a Canvas: Interview with Painter Agnieszka Nienartowicz

In this interview with artist Agnieszka Nienartowicz she talks about fine art tattoos and blending her artwork with the histories of others.

Immediately the idea of how histories, cultures, artworks and the ideas of others leave their marks on our skin. It's all connected, isn't it? Living life is a highly collaborative act, and works of art are the culmination of all our thoughts and loves. Agnieszka Nienartowicz puts all these things together, and more, with her gorgeous works of art. The past, present, and future become depicted when Renaissance paintings become tattoos on her portraits, each captured in breathtaking realism.

In this interview, Agnieszka Nienartowicz explores the idea of how the past histories of Poland, and the Old Masters paintings, have helped to produce these stunning artworks of painted ink, these visual illustrations of emotional and philosophical imprints. 

Can you talk about your artistic background? How did you get into painting, and why do you think it resonated with you?

In fact, the whole process was very fluid and natural. I've been painting since I was a child - over the years it just got deeper and I devoted myself to painting more and more. Certainly, the key moments were making the first decisions to go to the high art school, and then to study Painting at the Academy of Fine Arts - this way I combined painting with my profession, job and adult life. However, making these decisions was very natural for me.

For as long as I can remember, painting has given me a kind of respite. Transferring my thoughts to the canvas or to paper in the form of paintings or words (as a teenager I used to write a lot) allowed me to pour out my thoughts and feelings. Through the process of painting I was able to concretize and name them. Our emotions and thoughts are often a kind of a tangle: they form a thicket in which it is difficult to find yourself, your true self, and to find what you really want, desire and what you feel. I have a strong feeling that painting allows me to name and sort these things. Additionally, the process of painting as itself is simultaneously relaxing but also demands concentration, attention and thinking - and this tension suits me very well.


It’s interesting that realism, and hyperrealism, are having constant revivals...but you bring something truly unique to your canvas’. How has your style evolved over the years, and how did “tattooing” your subjects happen?


Thank you very much! It's kind of you to say! In painting I have always been interested in people and have always painted people. I think that this is because man is a living being who has unique and the strongest features of all living beings: conscience, the ability to look deeply into the future and the past, faith in life after death and the spiritual world. This means that man has a deep and complicated inner life and as a result of all these features, he is the only species on Earth who creates art.

I love art, especially painting, and when I look at paintings I try to feel the emotions of its creator, understand his internal dilemmas and thoughts. I like to read biographies of artists, too. I gradually bring in/lead in to my paintings with these ones, which influenced me in a particular way, initially putting them in the form of a background. I let them combine with my paintings and take on a new life, a new meaning. These paintings were important to me, so why shouldn’t I use them in my art as requisite, like props. It is also a kind of a dialogue with the creators of these works. After some time, I started to place fragments of old paintings in the form of paintings or tattoos on the bodies of people who I was portraying.

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The indelible marks on the body give us a different, new identity...Tattoos are stigmata, sigils and seals for me.

What is your philosophy in tattooing your subjects? How do you choose which famous paintings to insert as body art?

On the bodies of my models I place fragments of images that have moved me in a particular way, or these, which have a very strong influence through the visual form and content on the person portrayed by me or on the whole painting. I see tattoos as a stamping or even a seal with a given image or sign. I believe that what we tattoo over our bodies is a very distinct seal. The indelible marks on the body give us a different, new identity. Tattoos are a very strong message for me because they change our skin in a very visible and unambiguous way and they are indelible and remain with us for the rest of our lives. Tattoos are stigmata, sigils and seals for me.

Are there any artists, films, books, or art movements that really inspire you?

I am sure you would like me to mention some particulars: names and titles, but I do not want to and I am not able do it. It is constantly changing and different things inspire me on different levels and at different times. Very many things move me and inspires. When painting, I have "free ears" and I always listen a lot, from a few to over a dozen hours a day. I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, lectures, various youtube channels that do not require viewing the image. Actually, I am interested in every topic: I listen to serious things, but also seemingly trivial ones. I listen to novels, serious psychological or scientific lectures, but also criminal puzzles, entertainment channels or lifestyle and makeup vloggers. For some time now, I'm mostly interested in content devoted to psychology and, more in the past than now, to religions. I think that every field can be a stimulus and inspiration. I like exposing myself to new stimulants and probably what inspires me the most, is simply constantly discovering the world.

...probably what inspires me the most, is simply constantly discovering the world.

Tattooing and Fine Art happen to be two industries that thrive on diversity, but are still very male-oriented. Can you talk about your experience being a female artist?

I know that many people feel the division or asymmetric treatment of both genders. I personally never felt that it affected me in any way, I do not think too much about it because I perceive people as people, not necessarily in the first place by their sex. I have never felt discriminated in any way, nor have I been treated for a concession or because of my being a woman. I always felt that I was taking part in equal competition - maybe I'm just lucky or maybe I do not notice inequality. In what I do, men often support me: at first it was my dad, during my studies it was my professor at Painting Cathedral, and now my husband: even the example is that he often makes dinner for me so that I can paint little longer. :)

What is the arts scene like in Poland? Do you feel like the deep cultural tradition of folk arts and creation has influenced you in any way?

Hey, come on! Poland is a civilized country! It is true that in some regions of Poland there is a strongly developed folk culture and folk art. For two years I lived in a small town in the mountains due to the work of my husband, and in these areas folk art and folklore is probably the strongest in Poland. Indeed, these two years were very traumatic and hard for me, and I hardly ever left the house – I didn’t want contact with folk art and folk mentality... I hated this town and its folklore and I was more than over the moon when I moved out of there. 

On the other hand, we have here, in Poland, wonderful big cities with strong traditions like Krakow, where I live now, or Gdańsk, or the capital of Poland, Warsaw, which is also our capital of modern art. I think that what must be remembered above all, is the fact that Poland has a very tragic history: so many years of wars and being under partitions. We are a country that went through both World Wars in a very dramatic and terrible way. In fact, every Pole had a parent, grandfather or great-grandfather or other relative who either died in the war or was imprisoned or died in concentration camps or was deported to Siberia. This left deep marks on us Poles, and it is the fact that these tragedies passed into next, present, generations. Deep inside we are still a martyrdom nation, what has also strongly affected to art. Andrzej Wróblewski, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Alina Szapocznikow, Xawery Dunikowski, Zdzisław Beksiński - these are just a few names of artists, who were creating under the influence of wars. However, these days actually, fortunately, things are changing very much, but in our blood, for sure, flows the blood soaked by wars and martyrdom. All of these long tragic years made us Poles a very strong nation.

Are there any projects or shows coming up in 2019 that you’d like to share?

I'd rather like to keep it a secret. :)

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