University of Wisconsin, 2007, BSE
My figure paintings celebrate movement of the human form using compositionally vague atmospheres, anatomy, color, form, light, and expression. For me, the figure can metamorphose into so many conceptual directions, so I try to convey common emotions of the human experience. The ideas are inspired by my own performance and choreographic experience, which give the work a unique perspective... from the inside looking out.
I have always had a passion for dance, particularly the juxtaposition between the physicality of the discipline and it’s expressive aspects. As a dance student, I was required to wear the same colored leotard, tights, and have my hair pulled back into a tight bun. Dance institutions try to shape your identity to their needs, the need for uniformity. Dance is a technical art with its own vocabulary, it takes so much control and rehearsal to achieve the beautiful results seen on stage, and celebrates careful thought with unfiltered expression. I see the process of painting the same way, this body of work is a direct mirror of my love for both disciplines. Just as a dancer is trying to find their artistic voice, a visual artist is trying to do the same; yearning for that delicate balance between technique and expression.
I primarily focus on the contemporary dance genre, as this is the discipline I am most familiar with and less costume gets in the way so that I can study more anatomy. I draw and paint dancers as they move in rehearsal and on stage, which helps keep my brushwork fresh. I choreograph dancers into compositions for photographs, which allows me to control the costume and lighting conditions. In addition to working from life and photographs, I rely on anatomy books, invention, travels, thumbnails, drawings, and color studies for referential material. But the real magic happens in the unplanned moments of painting, when I find the right balance between technique and expression.
As a semi-professional dancer, I toured with small dance companies in the Midwest. I have chosen to continue my passion for dance with figurative painting. I choreograph strong and purposeful figures with emotion and energy. For example, in the painting, Repose, I composed the figures lying on their backs so that their limbs would be flaccidly hanging off the table, suggesting a sense of relaxation, perhaps surrender, or submission, maybe even comfort. In other words, intentionally open-ended. The atmospheric gradations in the background suggest the table is floating and that the figures are not grounded, like they are in a dream. The light hitting the body contrasts with the cooler blue tones to create the mood.
Elizabeth Szymczak is a leader, and has experience in initiating ideas from the ground up. She has made significant contributions and has played various leadership roles within arts education. Her first thoughts of talent in leadership and fine art actually take her back to her days in high school. She worked closely with her first painting instructor, Mr. John Mayer. Together, they presented to the board of education to acknowledge college credit for advanced placement art students. Szymczak was able to bypass introductory classes and take higher level art courses as an underclassman.
For her undergraduate degree, Elizabeth Szymczak attended the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater to study studio art, education, and dance. She ended up graduating with a Bachelor’s of Science in Art Education and a Dance minor. Elizabeth was involved in/or spearheaded many opportunities for the student body and community in the area of fine art. She received several scholarships and awards in juried exhibitions, her favorite being a Purchase Award from the University of Wisconsin because her work is now part of the university’s permanent collection. She is one of the founding officers of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Dance Company (UWWDC), an official university organization dedicated to raising funds for more learning opportunities as students of dance. Inside the company, Elizabeth was the founding director of the Emerging Choreographer’s Concert (ECC), an additional opportunity for dancers, choreographers, and guest artists to showcase their work.
Upon graduation, Elizabeth’s strength as a visual communicator landed her a job as a technological literacy and graphic arts instructor for grades 6-8. During that time, she was on the Technology Standards Review Committee, working with a team to update their standards to the 21st Century, which were presented and approved by the board of education. She was also awarded a Technology grant for an animation unit she authored. A year later, she was teaching art for a K-8 school district, where she provided an incredible amount of enrichment opportunities for her students and community. For example, she spearheaded an annual district-wide exhibition by partnering with the local library for Youth Art Month, a collaboration that awarded the library a generous grant from the Illinois Library Association in 2013.
From 2009-2012, Elizabeth Szymczak attended the Academy of Art University where she received an MFA in Representational Drawing & Painting. In the summer of 2010, she studied landscape painting en plein air in Italy. Szymczak’s graduate thesis project entitled, Choreographed Color, used dancers as models for her representational figure paintings. But Elizabeth wasn’t looking to become another Degas, and wasn’t interested in making paintings of beautiful ballerinas leaping across the stage either. The ideas are inspired by her own performance and choreographic experience, which give her paintings a unique perspective.
Upon graduation, Elizabeth maintained painting, exhibiting, directing, performing and choreographing along with a full time tenured teaching position. She originated the Illinois Art Education Association member’s online gallery, which celebrates the artist-teacher and advocates for art educators to model literacy within the arts for their students. Elizabeth was awarded Best of Show at the Libertyville Fine Arts Festival 2012, which landed her a job teaching adults at the David Adler Music & Arts Center in Libertyville, Illinois. Elizabeth transitioned into teaching higher education, arts administration and spending more of her studio time on her own paintings.
Towards the end of 2013, Szymczak was commissioned by the College of Lake County, Grayslake, Illinois, in collaboration with Valerie Alpert Dance Company of Chicago, where she incorporated video and live painting performance into her creative repertoire. “Notes From An Artist,” inspired Elizabeth, having had the unique opportunity and experience of painting on stage and looks forward, as always, to all that it leads to.
Elizabeth Szymczak moved to the Los Angeles region of California in the spring of 2014 and continues to exhibit in galleries and teach in higher education.