Location: United States
Elizabeth Szymczak’s first thoughts of leadership in the fine arts can 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, awards, and 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), a university organization dedicated to raising funds in order to receive more learning opportunities for dance students. 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. 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. 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. For example, she originated the Illinois Art Education Association member’s online gallery, which celebrates the artist-teacher and will hopefully inspire other art educators to model and advocate for literacy within the arts.
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 for her paintings come from her own performance and choreographic experience, which give her paintings a unique perspective.
After completing her graduate thesis project, Elizabeth has been exhibiting in galleries, festivals, and juried shows throughout the Chicagoland area. One of her favorite memories was being awarded Best of Show at the Libertyville Fine Arts Festival (2012) because that landed her a job teaching adults at the David Adler Music & Arts Center in Libertyville, Illinois. Elizabeth is looking to transition into teaching higher education and spending more of her studio time on her own paintings.
Szymczak was commissioned towards the end of 2013 by the College of Lake County in collaboration with Valerie Alpert Dance Company, where she incorporated video and live painting performance into her creative repertoire. The collaborative project entitled, “Notes From An Artist,” has inspired Elizabeth, having had the unique opportunity and experience of performance painting on stage and looks forward, as always, to painting.
Choreographed Color celebrates movement of the human form using compositionally vague atmospheres, anatomy, color, form, light, and expression. These oil paintings take form as the brush moves across the canvas similar to the way a dancer moves across the floor. 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 through 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 of the table, suggesting a sense of relaxation, perhaps surrender, or submission, maybe even comfort. In other words, open for interpretation. The atmospheric gradations in the background suggest the table is floating and that the figures are not grounded. The light hitting the body contrasts with the cooler blue tones suggests an alternative reality, like a dream perhaps. The conception of this idea came from a past performance of mine, a pas de deux with Andre Santiago, from choreography entitled, Family Table, by Therese Crews. For me, the figure can metamorphose into so many conceptual directions, so I try to convey common emotions of the human experience.