By Rachel Cameron-Potter
Earlier this week I interviewed York-based artist and freelance illustrator Joanna Lisowiec to discuss her most recent work, created using the University of York’s newly installed Thin Ice Press print studio, located in the Department of English and Related Literature. Joanna used the 1838 Columbian model to create the piece, The Light-Keeper, displayed at the Thin Ice Press Launch on 25th Jaunary 2019.
Hi Joanna, it was great to meet you! Tell us a bit about yourself and your background as an artist.
Nice to meet you too! A brief overview of my background:
I was born in Poland and shortly after my parents emigrated to the United States of America where I lived until around the age of 14. Our family then moved to Switzerland and after finishing school I decided I wanted to study illustration at the Edinburgh College of Art. Though I’ve felt like I don’t strictly belong to any of the places I’ve lived, something about this place has taken a hold of my heart and I consider it my home now.
After finishing studies, I tried to work as a freelance illustrator for a year and while I had some success I was still naive and unsure of myself, so I really doubted whether I was doing the right thing. Since I wasn’t sure I’d figured out my calling I decided to go back to the safety of academia and do an MA in Advertising and Design at the University of Leeds. Following that I worked as a graphic designer and illustrator at agencies for a few years and while for the most part I enjoyed it, I felt I wasn’t entirely fulfilled.
I’d been thinking about having another go at freelancing now that I’d learned some more things and developed a keener sense of who I was – so I saved up some money and last year took the leap and left my job, not really sure if I would land on my feet or not. It’s been a bumpy ride but so far it’s worked out. I’m always astonished that I’ve made it this far without screwing up.
You’re currently working with the University of York’s Thin Ice Press studio to create your work. What inspired you to do so?
I’ve been interested in print-making as an art form since my days at uni because we had a big print workshop and were encouraged to explore different methods of printing. Although I’ve carried on with it when I can – you’re really restricted in terms of what you can do without access to a working print press. These days they are not only hard to come by but very expensive to purchase and get working properly. There’s not a lot of people who do this sort of thing so when I heard about Thin Ice Press I got in touch to find out what they’re working on. Hopefully some interesting projects will come out of this relationship!
How do you think using 19th century presses to create art differs to more modern techniques, for example the use of modern technology, including smartphones and editing apps?
Creating a linocut or letterpress piece requires a lot of foresight and planning and if you make a mistake you can’t just hit the undo button. Not only do you have to work out your composition, but you have to figure out what order to print the colours in, carve it out as a mirror image and think about how you are going to achieve the desired effect with only positive and negative – what you carve away and what you leave behind to carry ink. You sort of have to work backwards from what you want the final piece to look like and strip it down layer by layer.
I think this process ultimately makes the product more valuable than if it was done on a computer. I use digital software to draw and design all the time – especially for client work because it’s much quicker to work with and easier to make changes, but I rarely consider work produced in this way to be ‘art’. If I do get physical copies of digital work printed, I expect a high level of print and paper quality and keep it to a limited edition in order to maintain value in my work.
Do you have any other comments you’d like to make about modern art in general?
My views on modern art are quite tied to my above views on value. In general, I dislike post-modernity, the avant-garde and pop-art movements though I can understand the reasons they came into being. I’m not of the opinion that ‘anything can be art’ and I believe that for something to really be art then it has to have meaning and value. It would take a long time to explain what I mean exactly by ‘meaning and value’ so I’ll just conclude in saying this: I believe art and beauty have redemptive powers which give us meaning in life. This is hugely important, particularly in our predominantly secular society so I desperately hope it is true and that what we do as artists, musicians, writers etc. is valuable and somehow makes life more bearable.
Joanna Lisowiec is a York-based freelance illustrator and designer. To see more of her designs, follow her on Instagram at @joannaliso, and visit her website at www.joanna-draws.com/.
Picture: Lisowiec, Joanna. The Light-Keeper. 2018. Thin Ice Press, York.