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Q&A with Award Winner Paul Zapatka

The second of three still lifes recognized with awards in the May All-Media Exhibit, the tall, colorful Cherry Blossoms by Paul Zapatka (below) is the third place award winner. The artist, Paul Zapatka, told us about his influences, his approach to still life, and using a tall canvas to “stop time.” Read about it in our Q&A, below.

Painting by Paul Zapatka
Cherry Blossoms by Paul Zapatka

What’s your goal with a still life, and with this one in particular?
Paul Zapatka: My goal with a still life is to allow the viewer to take the time and appreciate things (whether fruit, vases, glass objects, or in this case nature/flowers) in a special way. With Cherry Blossoms, as well as other flower still lifes in the past compositionally, I chose a tall or sometimes thin canvas to stop time (as the title of a short story book I read in college is titled) and to stand for the “joie de vivre” I find when painting nature. I would hope the viewer could feel this as well as the beauty of its warm light colors contrasting with the darker background color.

How did Cherry Blossoms start?
My Cherry Blossoms painting started in 2010 when I decided I had enough of painting cherry trees (over the last seven or eight years) and I wanted to focus on cherry blossoms themselves. So with metal clippers I cut a few cherry tree branches, found the best branch of cherry blossoms and put that in a tall glass half-filled with water and painted Cherry Blossoms.

What’s your artistic process like?
I paint and draw in the basement (and former recreation room) of my parent’s house. I find inspiration in nature locally in DC, Maryland, Virginia, and in other places I’ve traveled. Still lifes usually are inspired from in-house themes, or sometimes from supermarkets where fruit or flowers can be a theme. Occasionally I’ll draw or paint people — portraits of friends or family or live musicians at a night club or athletes at a ballgame.

Oil pastels by Paul Zapatka
Autumn Drive Through Virginia 1 through 3, oil pastels by Paul Zapatka. These three paintings are part of the Spring 2013 Art in City Hall exhibit.

Why oil? How is oil paint an integral part of your artwork?
I painted Cherry Blossoms in oil and many other recent paintings, including an April 2013 large painting of my front yard cherry trees, because of the good advice from critiques I received after applying for a solo show in 2008 at The Art League Gallery. To enhance the quality of the color of the oil paint they recommended I try painting with glaze mediums (damar varnish and linseed oil). From this advice I have enjoyed painting in oil with glaze mediums tremendously over the past five years and will continue to do so.

What other media do you work in?
I also paint a little in acrylic paint, especially when I travel and need my canvases to dry quickly. I have found since 2011 that Faber-Castell color pencils and Sennelier oil pastels are the best mediums for me to draw in. There are no other drawing mediums like them.

Who are your major influences?
For Cherry Blossoms, William Bailey, Matisse, Van Gogh, and Monet were my major influences. Ever since about 2005, one of my former art dealers in Washington, DC suggested that I look at the Midwestern still life painter William Bailey. I have been “hooked” ever since. The background, foreground, colors, and composition were influenced by Bailey’s still lifes. For other still lifes I’ve painted since 2005, I’ve had the same influence. Matisse’s vivid and expressive style I especially like in his painting, Interior with Egyptian Curtain, at the Phillips Collection. This style I tried to show or reflect in the foliage in my Cherry Blossoms painting. The blossoms themselves were inspired and influenced by Monet and the shape and expression of the blossoms’ stems/branches were directly inspired by van Gogh’s paintings of trees and their branches in his Aries period. So these artists along with occasionally Edward Hopper are my major influences.

Is one technical element most important in your paintings — color, composition, line, etc?
Color, composition, and line were all important in my paintings. Oftentimes when I was learning to paint at American University, color was especially emphasized since my painting professor would show us Henri Matisse reproductions a lot. Now though, especially in Cherry Blossoms or for that matter in my recent Cherry tree painting in front of my house (along with a moonlight painting of these same trees), composition was very important. Both of the tree paintings were inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting, The Lawrence Tree that I once saw in a show at the Phillips Collection. In both paintings, like hers, I painted only the top part of the trees and sky, no land at all.

What are you working on now?
I am now working on two other cherry blossom paintings. One of cherry blossoms, close up, based on a photograph taken of a few of the branches of my front yard cherry trees, that I painted with a palette knife on wood. The palette knife technique was inspired by palette knife painters I saw painting in Montmartre in 1985. When using this technique, I really enjoy showing the texture of the blossoms and leaves close up against the background sky. I’ve also been painting cherry trees, photographed on the American University campus several weeks ago, with a palette knife on canvas board.

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