Since we last checked in with painter Agnieszka Nienartowicz, she has continued to hone her skills and produce stunning oil paintings. Inspired by the world of Old Master art, her canvases typically incorporate motifs from well-known artists like Caravaggio, Hokusai, and Sandro Botticelli. Popping up as contemporary tattoos on the skin of the women she portrays, they are a wonderful tribute to the past that also looks toward the future.
One is initially drawn into Nienartowicz’s work due to her technical skill. Bordering on hyperrealism, her paintings have barely a brushstroke that’s visible to the naked eye. Each woman is portrayed with incredible accuracy and detail. It’s only when drinking in these visuals that the historical details begin to reveal themselves. Whether it’s John James Aubudon’s Birds of America peeking from beneath the shirt of a woman with her back turned to the canvas or Guido Reni’s depiction of Jesus and Mary as sleeve tattoos on a downtrodden girl, each classic painting informs the significance of the artwork.
Particularly meaningful to Nienartowicz is her Girl in White triptych. Over the course of three canvases, we see the same girl in different stages of undress and as she slowly unzips her dress, a spectacular surprise awaits. The Last Judgement by Hans Memling, a masterful 15th-century triptych, covers nearly her entire torso. The paintings are deeply personal for the artist, as they are partially an expression of her experience as a Polish emigrant.
Reflecting on the difficult past of her ancestors and how this has informed her outlook on life, she writes about her initial impressions of Americans and how different their attitudes were in comparison to what she was used to. “I remember my surprise after the first contact with these people—how much joy, openness, and positive attitudes towards the world is in them,” she recalls. “I think that there is a sadness in me that transferred from the blood of previous generations, who experienced suffering. I think many of us Poles are—often without even knowing it—deeply scarred by hard history; the stigmas of unfulfilled dreams, traces of surgery on aching souls, disfigurement after difficult choices, and wounds of tragic events. These scars are the tattoos of survival.”
Still early in her career, it’s thrilling to see Nienartowicz’s art grow and progress. As she continues to develop her craft and find her voice, we’ll be anxiously waiting to see what’s next.