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Unveiling The Magical World Of Winston Chmielinski

We converse with Winston Chmielinski during an autumn afternoon in Wilsmerdorf. An aura of ivy-covered buildings and cotton sun shedding light on the picturesque streets around Fasanenplatz was the setting. We, Drury (our photographer) and I, sat rather closely to Winston to unwrap his ways and manners – or how Germans say, his "Art und Weise."

The Beginnings Of A Painter

Winston Chmielinski: I started really painting when I was in Junior year of High School and it felt like a talent: when you start doing something and things work out easily, people like it. I felt like I would have that with me so I wanted to get something that was a little bit more of a technical process. I neglected painting for six years or so and now I’m realizing that, for all the natural impulse that I have for painting, it’s the most important thing to do it every day because otherwise you develop a sort of precious relationship with it, and preciousness ruins everything. It’s going towards a canvas not wanting to make any aberrant strokes because you will ruin what you already have. Once it’s your entire life that is going, going, going then there’s never the sense that you won’t have the time to ever do it again.

Waterfall, 48 x 48 in, oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist

The conversation then drifts a little bit towards the poetry of Rilke, the German language and the politeness of the Japanese culture. “Some people just go to a new city, throw themselves into the situation and pick up the language. I want to come in to the top down, I want to be super polite and super poised but I can’t do that. I am more a voyeur than a participant, I like to look at situations and as soon as I’m in them I shoot out of my body and that’s a bit debilitating. When I was a kid, I was so nervous around people that I would just start crying and I’m not like that anymore so I’ve come a long way. At the same, what I would say about painting in my studio, is that I experience some of the highest highs and lowest lows when I’m in there. For me it’s healthy to have a relationship like that were it’s constantly challenging me and breaking me down and building me back up. 

"Low to the Ground," currently on view at Egbert Baqué Contemporary Fine Art in Berlin. Photo: Drury Brennan

APs: When you speak about your experiences as a kid you sound vulnerable but at the same time you’ve been in so many places and you’ve done so many things. What moves you to still be out there and do all these things?

WC: The traveling is on a schedule: every year I get an itch to leave but I do believe there was a shift a couple of years ago. Before that, I was traveling because I put ideals into what that other place would bring me, whether it was new friends or a new start, or fame. After 2010 that I came to Berlin for the first time, that was the first trip where I came to work, to isolate myself and really consider what it was that I was going after and in the space of two months it felt like I had been beating myself up for a year and it was incredibly painful because I decided after a month or so that I was never going to paint again. A week after that decision, I was painting again. I go through those metamorphoses: what I discovered new in painting, I find it later to be old and then it starts again. It has taken these isolating moments to re-calibrate.

I left New York because there’s this sense of “false rock bottom” where people feel the world is coming to an end. That was beginning to affect my work because I’m very susceptible to what goes on around me. It helped then that Berlin was affordable, because I realized here that the studio is a stomach, it’s where things digest. I’m not wasting energy, I’m putting it in this stomach and it’s disgusting: there’s paper towels everywhere and I get paint on my face. It’s so important to give things time and it’s not important to reveal the process, it’s important to come to something that is whole and show that. I wouldn’t want to define my work as “figurative painting,” but then again I find every painting of mine to be figurative because I believe what comes from my hand is something innately that relates to the figure.

The Berliner sun doing wonders for Winston's paintings. Photo: Drury Brennan

APs: Explain the Universe to me.

WC: ​ (After explaining to us a recent TED Talk that he viewed on string theory) I think the Universe is one giant fun moonwalk and that there are parallel universii(sic) and I like the idea that there are an infinite number of me having this exact conversation. (We then waved to all the other versions of ourselves happening in other dimensions).

APs: Tell us some music you’ve been enjoying lately.

WC: I’ve been going back to some old favorites around 2001: The Shins, Metric, Le Tigre. I decided that I love the banjo more than any other instrument lately. One of my favorite people is Little Dragon– she’s so cute and small. Her name is Little Dragon because she’s feisty in the recording studio.

Geysir, 48 x 60 in, oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist

APs: What is your approach to fashion?

WC: I think the best designers have something recognizable about their garments. I think Dries Van Noten is amazing. He's always faithful to himself yet constantly reinventing, which is already an impossible pairing. The stores are like curated apartments- I also really like Comme des Garçons.

APs: What do you think about hipster culture (the homogeneity of originality)?

WC: I live in Neukölln, so I’m in the epicenter of hipster culture. I like that my generation is defined by its options. I think that we haven’t quite realized how much of a gift that is and so seeing people waste everyday of their life committing to the idea of a cool lifestyle is a bit bothersome. At the same, I in no way take advantages of my resources, although I’m trying to. It happens when you live in a place as comfortable as Berlin or New York where real problems don’t hit you in the face. I can’t hate a way of living that I probably participate in. I think we do need a little bit of a shock because there’s so much potential for all of us to engage in some kind of creative output but I think a lot of that creativity is not actually relating to anything, it’s simply building on its own blown up idea and you end up with really shitty art –and they call it art.  In a way, artists now are academics in the sense that they reference anything possible but they don’t come up with a solid thing yet, a polished book that’s enjoyable to read.  I think that they have a lot to learn if they want to be more academic or more conceptual, there’s a lot to be learned by looking at people who really polish their work. On the other hand, if you want to embrace the idea that art fundamentally has something to do with an unsettling feeling or a resonation within, then do that and go for it. One last thing about art in High School: it’s really important to have a space where you can be yourself and you can just fail.

"Sunrise" (detail). Photo: Drury Brennan

APs: Talk to us about intoxicants.

WC: I have not done acid, I actually hallucinate already. I suffer from sleep paralysis so I’m hallucinating on a normal frequency, but if I do it it would be Ayahuasca. I think ceremony is such a big part of the experience. As for recreational drugs, my biggest fear is losing the sense of empathy or losing touch with a day where things are just even and not swinging too much because I need that swing to happen in the studio. In the studio I’ve always had this rule where I don’t drink, I don’t listen to music; I have to be completely conscious. When I paint, things happen quickly and if I’m not fully there then I won’t recognize these moments.

APs: What did you read as a kid?

WCFantasy novels, they were called the Dragonlance Chronicles. From the ages 0 to 11 in my life, there was magic everywhere. I would talk to trees, I would go into houses and clean them of their evils and I would go on top of our roof and carve stones for hours.

Winston is an attentive listener and an enthusiastic speaker. Photo: Drury Brennan

Winston's recommendations:  the movie Sans Soleil, a reading of the poem “Like This” by Tilda Swinton and the book The Master and Margarita.

In conclusion, Chmielinski may not realize, but he is still very much magic, wonderfully charming and his art resonates very well with his personality: trying to understand, explore and create the ineffable in layers of color. 

Winston Chmielinski [Price range of works: 800 – 6,200 Euros]

Article by Sofía Martinelli