Artist Anna Pietrzak at The Place. Right: Curator Katie Hector.
Artist Anna Pietrzak at The Place. Right: Curator Katie Hector.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Katie Hector.

Somehow, my feet always lead me to DUMBO. Sure, I enjoy the iconic views and riverside park but those are not what draws me back to the neighborhood time and time again. What brings me back is a deep love for the artists who live and work in the area and the affable creative community they foster.

It all started when I met Steve West in 2015 through the introduction of a former professor. He owns 68 Jay Street Bar and was eager to offer it as a venue for artists to show their work and come together. After years of organizing countless screenings, performances, discussions and group shows at 68 Jay, Steve offered yet another opportunity to collaborate. A few days into 2020, he expressed a desire to turn his live-work loft into an exhibition space. After a conversational brainstorming session, The Place was born!

We decided to center our programming around six-week, one person solo shows, which meant I was now on the lookout for artists with a clear vision and a realized body of work. Anna Pietrzak’s formally impactful work was on my radar and minutes into our initial studio visit, it felt like a perfect match. After two weeks of administrative hustle, transporting artwork and installing lights, the inaugural show “Before Shadows” opened at The Place on February 8, 2020.

Each show is unique, but there is something downright magical about this one. Perhaps it’s the way the daylight pours in through the windows and onto the gold leaf, ultramarine surfaces of Anna’s work, or maybe it’s the collaborative energy that went into manifesting Pietrzak’s first solo show. Whatever it is, it feels right.

I’m excited for the opportunity to chat with Anna about her work, her take on artist-run spaces and the inspiration behind “Before Shadows.”

Detail of Bending by Anna Pietrzak
Detail of Bending, 48 x 60 inches, 24K gold leaf, and acrylic on wood panel, 2019.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Rob Ventura.

Katie Hector: Where did the title “Before Shadows” derive from?

Anna Pietrzak: I asked around for suggestions about titles, especially after you had mentioned that the title could derive from a work of poetry or story. In a conversation I had with my parents, my dad brought up Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” We talked about how all the shadows in the cave had origins and discussed the significance of looking beyond projections to discover their sources.

The message of the allegory echoes the intent of my work and my role as an artist, which is a search for and extraction of essential qualities in things. The work exists somewhere between figurative and abstract and the compositions emerge through distillation.

The title Before Shadows is a poetic way of describing where the origins and essences of things exist.

Installation of Before Shadows.
Installation of Before Shadows.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Rob Ventura.
Installation of Before Shadows. Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak
Installation of Before Shadows.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Rob Ventura.

KH: During our initial studio visit you mentioned how integral your parents were to your creative development. Can you share any memories of how they encouraged and pushed you to create?

AP: I was really lucky to grow up in a home that valued art. My mom was the one who taught me how to draw and my parents were pretty adamant that wherever we traveled, we visited museums and looked at paintings. I have a pretty vivid childhood memory of looking at a Monet book with my dad that had several haystack paintings.

I remember seeing the same haystacks painted again and again, sometimes from the same angle, but with different colors each time. I remember talking with him about how even though the subject of the work, a haystack, was pretty evident, that this was not necessarily what the painting was about. Those paintings could be about less tangible things like light and that you can paint mundane things like haystacks in interesting and beautiful ways.

 
“I’m attracted to and gravitate towards materials that are packed with latent, embedded energy. There’s something in their potential that, if you let it sing, brings life to the work.”
 

KH: “Before Shadows” combines two distinct bodies of work. Can you explain your relationship with materials and use of color?

AP: I’m attracted to and gravitate towards materials that are packed with latent, embedded energy. There’s something in their potential that, if you let it sing, brings life to the work. I once made a really small piece that could fit in the palm of your hand; it was a brilliant, thickly painted ultramarine piece with a little dash of gold leaf. My friend came into the studio and literally gasped when she saw it. She said, “That’s not a color, that’s an emotion.” I think about that reaction a lot.

Before Shadows at The Place
Installation of Before Shadows at The Place.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Katie Hector.
Detail of Drape, 36 x 96 inches, mixed media on canvas, 2020
Detail of Drape, 36 x 96 inches, mixed media on canvas, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Anna Pietrzak and Rob Ventura.

KH: Considering this isn’t your first time showing in an artist-run space. What role do you think artist-run spaces play in the larger ecosystem of “the art world”?

AP: Every setting has its own value. What I’ve come to realize is many artist-run spaces place significant emphasis on community, which cannot be underestimated in its importance on an artist’s life and career.

Working alone in the studio can be necessary, but isolating. So, meeting other artists, visiting their studios, meeting curators, mentoring younger artists, finding your own mentors, hanging your work, seeing other people’s shows and just needing a reason to get out of the studio—these are the kinds of connections these spaces facilitate and strengthen.

There is something really lovely in your description when you first told me the sense of what you wanted The Place to be. I remember you said, “I want it to be a kind of gallery where people could take their coats off and stay.”

Portrait of Steve West and Katie Hector
Portrait of Steve West and Katie Hector at The Place.
Photo courtesy of Ernesto Gonzalez.

KH: Thanks for chatting with me today Anna.

“Before Shadows” is on view until March 22 at The Place, 25 Jay Street #502 in DUMBO, Brooklyn. There will be a closing brunch reception and artist talk on Saturday March 21 from 12–3 p.m. Tickets are available via Eventbrite.

Katie Hector @katiehector
Anna Pietrzak @anna_pietrzak