Art follows Heart How to create impactful work

The contemporary figurative paintings of Aleks Bartosik aren’t something you’d typically see hanging in a dining room. With wildly intense subjects and colour, her paintings are vivid and disconcerting. How do you create powerful and memorable work? Aleks tries not to worry so much about what will or will not sell. Instead she sticks to her goal as an artist, which is to create visceral pieces that give viewers an emotionally moving experience.

Originally born in Poland, Aleks Bartosik moved to Canada at a young age and spent her formative years in Mississauga. Now she teaches classes at the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) and paints from her Toronto studio. Dreamy landscapes and bowls of fruit aren’t part of her repertoire. When your goal is to elicit a strong emotional reaction, sometimes an unconventional approach is warranted. She recognizes the fact that darker subject matter can affect the overall marketability of a piece, but that doesn’t stop her from following her artistic vision. The point is to create with intensity. Rather than aiming to capture the hearts of many, she aims to build stronger connections with those that appreciate the work.

“Money is necessary to pay the bills, but the most rewarding aspect is to see people connect deeply with my work.”

Outside of her artist studio, Aleks also does live painting performances. She recalls a time during her street performance when she noticed a mother and daughter that kept passing by repeatedly. Finally, to the mother’s chagrin, the daughter approached Aleks and revealed that her mother had literally been moved to tears. For an artist, there may be no higher compliment.


Aleks takes her inspiration from everyday life. She’ll often think of a certain feeling or theme like “flying” and then take her research online to see what kind of imagery will come up. The research serves as a starting point from which she crafts the narratives in her pieces. In the early days of her career, Aleks did thumbnail sketches as part of her process, but now she is able to start directly with an underpainting. Acrylic paints serve as the initial base, and then is layered with oils. We often think of a painting as the finished product, but the process and journey is just as important as the final piece.

How does your process play into the story and narrative of your work?
A: I work narratively through my subject matter, but also through the techniques I use. I like to tell the story of the painting by revealing bits and pieces of the under painting. I like to show what the painting may have gone through to get to where it is. Things like sanding, scratching into it, and simply painting over the existing parts that once were, is all part of it. Through technique I feel i show a bit of my thought process, and depending how the paint (material) is applied that too can sometimes reflect the ‘mood’ I was in when creating the work. I like to use beautiful and sometimes flashy colours (like fluorescents) to attract the viewer to my work, yet express the opposite in subject matter (ie. violent subject matter).

Personally, I like to go to art galleries and figure out for myself what the artist may have done to get the images that they did. This is fascinating to me.

Be Collaborative

Painting is usually viewed as a bit of a solitary activity, we picture artists toiling away, alone in their studio. Then they need to go head-to-head against a multitude of other artists to get their work seen and recognized by the community. The truth is that successful people don’t create in a vacuum, they surround themselves with other creatives with new and different influences. They don’t guard their ideas and expertise, they give them away. In her art classes, Aleks doesn’t just teach painting skills but also shares advice on where to seek out new opportunities.

“Sometimes people are surprised, like are you really telling me this? But I view everyone as an artist on the same level.”

Aleks recommends a slightly different approach to art residences, where the point is not just to immerse yourself in a solo project, but to use it to seek out collaborators and new creative friends. You will go further if you adopt an attitude of cooperation rather than competition.

Do you have a “dream” collaboration? What kind of people do you like to work with?
A: That’s a very difficult question to answer for me, as I enjoy being thrown into collaborations sometimes without any pre-planning or even meeting my collaborator before hand. I find that very exciting and challenging for my practise! But if I have to answer, I think that collaborations with artists of different mediums is more interesting and artistically challenging for me, which is probably why I like to work with musicians, sculptors, or film makers. In a dream world, I think doing something in a harsh or different environment would be ideal. I think working with a dancer/performer in a climate or environment of Yukon right now triggers something in me for some reason. Furthermore, it would be nice to be able to collaborate with someone you love, that is the most difficult and dangerous collaboration in my opinion, yet, it can also be the most beautiful collaboration as well!

There’s Always Something to Learn

In her teachings, Aleks will often introduce a varied array of art and art history for her students to learn from. She advises that even if you dislike a piece, there may be some element even if it’s just a colour scheme that you can take away and incorporate into your own work.

And what do you do if the piece you’re working on is turning into a complete disaster, and you never want to look at it again? When a student feels discouraged, Aleks recommends looking at the areas that are working and learn from those.

Is there any common advice that you often give to your students and emerging artists?
A: I always encourage ‘mistakes’ to be made when creating a work of art. Mistakes can sometimes be very beautiful, and when those small bits of beauty are found it can be very exciting in the development of the students’ practice. I believe teaching is a form of sharing, not lecturing or telling my students what to do. I often tell and show the students that they will learn from each other more than me, by simply a way of discussion of their craft with each other.

Another piece of advice is that I tell my students is to not get attached to their work. By allowing things to be destroyed, cut up, shared, re-painted, or painted over, the student frees him/herself from pressure to create something that in their mind they think is ‘correct’ or to reach some form of perfection. There is nothing that is right or wrong when creating a work of art, it is the level of comfort in creating that builds confidence. Only then, will something greater be achieved. I often like to encourage collaborations to kick-start their attitudes about ‘sharing’ and ‘letting go.’ This exercise often frees their mind, allows them to share more freely, and they are able to paint better.

Art as Escapism

When asked about how her art has changed over the years, Aleks says that she used to incorporate a lot of feminist themes. She has since moved away from that, but strongly supports the artists that do explore politics and current events in their work. She views her pieces as a break away from everyday life, like a book that takes you to a different time and place.

Can you expand on the transitioning of your earlier work to what it is now?
A: When I was younger I dealt with issues and topics that interest me or related to me, and on a more intellectual level i suppose. I wanted to research the subject matter’s meaning and try to address that visually. I focused on what I wanted to paint, rather than how I wanted to paint it. With every painting and as time goes on, I believe that each artists reaches a level where they feel they need to explore more the technique and what a painting is to them (the medium itself and on a broader level in contemporary art), rather than ‘illustrating’ their thoughts and/or opinions. How an artist chooses to paint can sometimes have a more powerful meaning rather than forcing a meaning through the images portrayed within the work. I do believe that my work can relate a little better to the viewers based on the raw energy and emotion that they can see put into the work. I think this is especially visible when I do live painting or drawing performances.

A Fair Price

Every artist has their own way of pricing their art, and it’s never an easy answer. Some employ a pricing per square inch, or by the time spent on a piece. Aleks receives input on the pricing of her work through her representation at the La Petite Mort Gallery. She is a firm believer that even though galleries take a portion of the earnings, artists should price pieces for what they are really worth. Artwork should not have its price doubled simply to factor in the gallery’s commission.

Current Projects

Aleks is working on a number of projects. Her upcoming solo exhibition at the La Petite Mort Gallery is FALLEN TEETH, a series that dives into the exploration of dreams. It investigates an unusually common dream that people have, of their teeth falling out. The exhibition will run from September 5th-25th, 2014.
For more work by Aleks Bartosik, check out her website at
For updates on exhibitions and workshops visit her blog at


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