Interview: Basia Smolnicki

I enjoy that 'print' is such an incredibly useful and diverse medium to work with,
and thought I'd highlight some of it's many applications,
both in art and other aspects of craft & design.

Here's a little intro to Basia Smolnicki, a very interesting artist based in Wellington.
I recently saw images of these glass works, installed in an open-plan office at the Ministry of Health.
I really like that they are print installations / applied design, yet still very arty
 and in keeping with the style and look of her other image-making.
I thought you might like to see how Basia is applying 'print' in inventive ways,
inside and outside of galleries.

What is your favourite thing about printmaking?
Printmaking is a very exciting and stimulating process for me
because of the many print possibilities that can be either worked by hand or using new technology.
I have a traditional etching press and a computer in my studio.
Every day I am constantly making decisions about the quality or type of ink to use,
creating masks and stencils for new work and looking at the layering of the artwork.
Either I'm mixing real pigments by hand, or on my computer manipulating pixels and vector shapes.

How did you come to be a printmaker?
I was first introduced to printmaking by John Drawbridge
while studying Visual Communication at Wellington Design school in the 1980s.
I became interested in applying my printmaking techniques and ideas to media other than paper
when I met my husband architect Paul Kerr-Hislop.
In particular I started exploring the use of sandblasted glass as an element of architecture,
using diffuse and clear areas of glass as 'figure and ground'
to introduce images and iconography into the architectural environment.

Basia Smolnicki, Recovery, 2009
Woodcut (white ink on black paper)
Describe your work:
I now spend about a third of my time making works on paper to sell through galleries,
a third of my time teaching printmaking in workshops around Wellington
and the final third producing sandblasted designs on glass as commissioned artworks.

I've often been asked what my work is - craft, design, or ʻinstallationʼ?
I'd like to think of it is a hybridisation of contemporary art that explores these boundaries.
My work may have started out as printmaking
but it has evolved into something between fine art and applied design.

Sandblasted design on an internal glass wall
allows for maximum natural light to reach an otherwise dark room in the middle of a house.
Architectural renovation designed by Paul Kerr-Hislop and artwork by Basia Smolnicki.

For example, sandblasted glass work employs many techniques acquired from printmaking on paper,
just using a different medium. 
 In sandblasting, the sand fractures the exposed surface of the smooth clear glass surface
transforming it into a shattered, rough textured glass surface.
You can blast a variety of materials, metal, perspex, mirror and different types of glass
and even colored ʼcathedralʼ glass.
Once installed the glass comes to life when light is directed through the glass plane.

Sometimes clients have asked me for sandblasted designs on panes of glass already installed.
I have found a stick-on vinyl that closely resembles the sandblasted glass effect.
Designs can be sketched by hand, scanned onto the computer
and then digitised ready for laser cutting.
I can then take the laser cut vinyl to the site and apply it carefully to the pane of glass in situ.
The process is very versatile, I could adapt the designs on computer file to produce cut out vinyl
as artwork for corporate logos, or for an entrance lobby floor feature, the list goes on....

 I also continue to use the same masking and stencil resist methods
when etching zinc and aluminium plates in copper sulphate and salt,
and manage to achieve a good range of contrasting dark to light tones
with or without using aquatint methods.

Basia Smolnicki, inked up laser-cut woodblock with a proofed image
combined with collaged hand-colored paper on Magnani Pescia yellow paper.
Image size 18x26cm, paper size 28x38cm

What are you working on now?
My latest project is exploring my Polish heritage, Mum & Dad arrived in NZ after WW2.
I have been creating artwork that is scanned into Photoshop on the computer
and then digitised ready to laser-cut a wood block from MDF board.
The wood blocks are based on decorative and traditional Polish paper cut outs, but with a kiwi twist.
The wood block is inked and printed onto paper,
 collaged with hand-painted coloured papers for a simple but multi-coloured print.
The possibilities are endless!

Basia is teaching printmaking classes in term 3 in Wellington
at Artsight and also at Inverlochy Art School,
and you can see more images of Basia's artworks and glass installations on her Flickr gallery.