Can you start by telling us a bit about your art – what originally inspired you to become an artist, and what has your career looked like so far?
I’ve known ever since I had memory that I was going to be an artist. We came to America as a first generation Polish family so we didn’t integrate that much with American culture. I was home a lot drawing and that’s how my talent developed through the years.
I eventually studied painting at Columbus College of Art and Design, but it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I started to edit the themes I was using. I wasn’t really connecting with the images I was painting until I started to think about what I wanted to represent in my work. That’s when I started researching the fact that I was born as a caul bearer.
A caul bearer is a baby born inside the embryonic sac; I was essentially born with a veil. I started extensively researching the topic of the veil: how it’s used in art and painting, and what it represents. In many different cultures globally, there’s folkore around being a caul bearer. In Poland they say you’re a lucky child, and that you’re psychic, which I find fascinating. Since then I’ve incorporated it into my work as a major theme.
The artworks are interpretations of the 2019 Season operas, so what was the process you went through to distil them down into these images?
I started by researching the operas, watching them, and reading synopses. I wanted to capture the moment when I felt the veil was the strongest within each piece. It was quite easy for me to start gathering images; in fact the hardest thing was to dissect what I was actually going to use.
Can you talk us through some of the themes in the paintings? Let’s start with Un ballo in maschera.
In Un ballo in maschera, Verdi created the most exquisite opera. I initially wanted to depict the fortune teller, Madame Arvidson, and you can see the green in the painting, which represents the herb that Amelia receives from her. But in the end I settled on representing Amelia herself. She’s shrouded in the veil, which is coloured red to symbolise love and death – it’s specifically quite dark because it also represents her shame. She’s holding the mask (itself a veil) from the ball, which shows how she’s forced to live while this great love she actually never had dies.
Next, what can we see in the image of Manon Lescaut?
In Manon Lescaut the veil represents the sand of the desert that Manon Lescaut and Des Grieux end up in. They’re ultimately intertwined, but it’s not a happy outcome, so the yellow veil is entangling them and swallowing them up. This is a love story that talks about liberation, but neither of the characters are really liberated. The pearls from Manon Lescaut’s lover, Geronte, are around her neck; a symbol of the freedom that she never quite reaches.
How about L’arlesiana?
The veil here is the woman that Frederico is madly in love with, L’arlesiana, and it represents his longing and lust for her. He’s veiled in red, which again symbolises love and death. He spends so much time dreaming up how beautiful this ghost is – L’arlesiana has never been involved in his life; she’s essentially a ghost to him – so the veil is draped across him with no human form to it. You can also see the eye of the woman who’s to be his wife overlooking the entire scene, the window that represents his dream world and ultimately leads to his death, and some texture to symbolise the hay of the hayloft where he ends his life.
And finally, Iolanta.
Iolanta was the opera that I was magnetised to. The obvious veil references here are blindness and light, so that’s something you see in my image. We also have the floral symbols, because Iolanta’s attendants bring her flowers, but it’s also the symbol that reveals the truth about her blindness. It’s a happy and hopeful story, and Iolanta is such an innocent character. There’s a strong linear aspect behind her, like she’s looking up straight into the light.
I found it quite interesting that Ibn-Hakia, the physician, talks about the two worlds, one veiled and one not veiled, and the interdependence of mind, body and spirit. People often think about the veils of consciousness, and this opera is a lot about unravelling truths and coming to that light.
What have the most challenging and fulfilling bits of this process been for you?
I wanted there to be a balance between the four paintings, so they would flow from one to the next as a unit rather than being isolated pieces, and I was aware of that as a challenge throughout the process.
The whole experience was so fulfilling. I love opera and I enjoyed the process of being conceptually discerning in what I depicted and how I gathered the essence of each story.
What are you working on next – do you have any ongoing projects we should know about?
Next up, in January, I’m working with an organisation called BFAMI (British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel) on an auction at Sotheby’s. My painting will be in Sotheby’s and then auctioned at The Dorchester. To have my work in Sotheby’s is an honour, especially just after the Jenny Saville auction. We’re using the same auctioneer, which is very exciting.
And finally, which of the 2019 productions are you most excited to see and why?
It’s a tough question. I fell in love with Un ballo in maschera; I felt the music was the most successful in encapsulating every aspect that opera represents. However, Iolanta captures my heart, so between those two I’ll have to see.
If you would like to see more of Ewelina’s work, you can do so on her website. Her piece, Iolanta, will be auctioned as part of a silent auction for the OHP Gala 2018, in aid of our Inspire project. Keep an eye on our website for more details about how to get involved in the bidding.