Winston Chmielinski, the Artist’s Collector By Emily McDermott
Winston Chmielinski is not just an artist. He’s a collector—a collector of images, objects, and experiences. As a child, instead of playing tag on the playground with classmates, he found himself in a small forest behind the school, collecting fragments of porcelain remains from a Victorian dumping ground. “I would treat them as talismans,” he remembers. “I made my own little rituals around them and with the inventions of stories, I was actually dancing and singing, kind of invoking spirits and things.”
Now, after painting for more than 10 years, he roots his artistic practice in a trove of found and experienced imagery. “When I started painting, I was using a lot of internet images,” he explains, “and that’s always going to stay with me. I’m on Tumblr a lot and it’s my guilty pleasure to spend 30 minutes scrolling through.” After finding an image online to which he is attracted, Chmielinski, through his paintings, strips away what he calls “the limiting narrative material” in order to bring out his initial impressions.
In addition to digital imagery, Chmielinski will also reference photos he’s taken and, more recently, his interests broadened to include forgotten images, such as photo albums at flea markets and unpublished photographic archives. “Using painting to figuratively bring those images back into a place of conversation is where I have a lot of interest,” the Berlin-based artist says.
He then notes how his newfound interest simultaneously juxtaposes and reflects his childhood: in addition to being “obsessed with old trash,” he “fetishized new things,” admitting that he always wanted new folders for school and new notebooks. “Now I have one-page entries in all of these journals,” he adds with a laugh.
Photos in this post are © 2016 Micaela Sousa (Nomadic by Choice). All rights reserved.
Even when Chmielinski depicts more intimate subject matter, like his family, the artwork resonates on a universal level. For the second video piece he ever created, he filmed himself interviewing his father and his sister interviewing their mother, although it is not about his family. “I wanted to take the dynamic between family members and put it out there,” he says. “The questions are not intimate because I wanted them to be something that anyone can connect to.” Similarly, before settling in Berlin—and after moving 18 times within six years between places like New York, Beijing, and Paris— Chmielinski realized that his practice needed space to breathe. “In New York, most of the time, you’re hyper-jaded and the work is about being jaded and having nothing but this dream,” he explains. “I knew I didn’t want my work to be critical about things like the art world or money issues or industry,” he continues. “I want to respond to the world that’s larger, that’s greater.”