This month’s juried exhibit asked our artists to consider “Habits” in all their forms: rituals, addictions — or something as simple as repeated strokes of the paintbrush.
Andrea Cybyk won the Gallery Director’s Award for her painting If Only, a twist on her long-running “Color Strands” series. She told us more about how this fits into her work, why she’s a “nomadic, social painter,” and how she moved from engineer to artist:
What was your goal for If Only?
Andrea Cybyk: I’m interested in repeated lines, shapes and marks, so I use these as parameters to unify each painting or series. I’m very process-driven, preferring a certain viscosity to the paint, a rhythm & variation in the lines, & a balance of color and white space.
How did you arrive at this color palette?
Creature of habit, really. I gravitate to the same colors over and over, favoring transparency over opacity. Each line is left to dry before another crosses it. Where one strand intersects another, they build unexpectedly lush, complex colors, not mixed on my palette. I love the way the pigment is backlit by the pure white surface. The colors are fresh and happy, but hide a darker secret.
Is this part of the Color Strands series? How does it fit in with, and differ from, that series?
If Only is definitely part of my Color Strand series — long, exacting diagonals that tangle into a bit of chaos, echoing the hectic pace of our busy lives. This particular painting is different, though, in that I’ve included handwritten messages of longing and uncertainty. Written in pencil before I began painting, it was a personal outpouring of a very emotional time for me.
If only things were different.
If only I could…
If only you knew…
My challenge then was to conceal much of what I’d written, mostly with paint, but some by erasing. From a few feet away, you can barely see the words, much in the same way that we’re all “fine” on the surface even if, underneath, we’re not.
What is your creative process like? How do you know when a painting is finished?
I have a perfectly good studio in my basement, but I’m more of a nomadic, social painter. After years of Art League classes, my supplies tuck happily into a rolling carry-on suitcase, and off I go.
I’m an Artist-In-Residence at Palette 22 Restaurant in Shirlington, so I’m in the studio there a couple times a week and with my studio group in Herndon on Fridays. I’m super productive at P22, despite all the noise and people. It’s forced me to think more independently and to adapt my process to the peculiarities of that environment.
I always work flat on a table, not on an easel. I want the paint to pool and dry rather than dripping. It’s a control thing. I’m always working on more than one piece at a time, moving one forward while another is drying and alternating between positive shapes and negative space.
Knowing when a painting is finished is tricky and fraught with doubt and indecision. All the classic principles of design and composition apply in abstract painting as well, so that helps. I leave a lot of white space in my paintings and use it both as a pathway to move the eye through the painting and as a resting place from potential color overload. Step back, walk away, leave it alone for days, and finally solutions become clear, or I realize it was already complete.
How did you get started in painting? How has your art changed over time?
I was a software engineer. After college, my friends and I frequented the First Friday gallery openings at Dupont Circle, lured by free food and wine. Along the way, I got hooked on bold, intoxicating colors, though it was years before I had the courage to pick up a brush and take my first painting class. The engineer and the abstract artist battled it out in my head for a long time. Eventually the artist won, but my engineer side still likes to have a say in the order of things.
I studied painting, turned to printmaking for several years, and later returned to painting, bringing with me the brayers which I currently favor over brushes and a love of the luminous glow of pigment on paper. I’ve done a lot of loose, expressive abstraction, but currently prefer more structure in my paintings, hence the focus on repeating shapes.
What are you working on now?
Three different series all at once: Color Strands, Floating Forms, and the newest, Openings. This latest obsession is a series of small works on paper with a grid reminiscent of old windows and ancient buildings. I’m using a gelatin plate, brayers, and a template rescued from the recycle bin. Each acquires a delicate, time-worn patina composed of dozens of layers of acrylic paint.
I’ll show at Artomatic Crystal City in March/April because it’s always fun, and I’m a guest artist at the Vale Arts Spring show April 28–30. In October, I’ll be the featured 2-D artist at the Cooley Gallery in Leesburg.
“Habits” is open through Sunday, February 5. If Only is sold and has been shipped.