Inside the Studio

Fresh and Honest: Zoë Pawlak

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?

I have two main bodies of work, landscapes and abstract figures. I am inspired by the ocean and the mountains of the west Coast of Canada, where I grew up, as well as by the strong female figures in my life. I want my artworks to be fresh and honest. When you look at my work, I want you to feel a sincerity and openness. My collectors and collaborators are attracted to my work for these qualities.

How did you first get interested in your medium, and what draws you to it specifically?

At university. I attended both Concordia and NSCAD in Canada. Then, I studied six months in Mexico, where I obsessively studied the human form, drawing and painting it. When I paint, I have full autonomy. It has saved me and keeps me sane, it allows me to release emotions, and publicly explore ideas. Oil on canvas with acrylic underpainting achieves the highest brilliancy; the medium is a tool to communicate. The more you know your medium, the more command you have over how to speak clearly.

How has your style and practice changed over the years?

In the past decade, I’ve been to many client’s homes, working with interior designers. I have also been to many design shows. When I see something missing in the market, then I want to make it. I want to bring something new. There is a thread that runs through all the work I am making, and my aim is to have a cohesive career. Bringing my style to each medium is not difficult, but it’s an opportunity to learn how to speak a new language. Sometimes the medium itself is new to me and I have to learn how to use it, bend it, have it obey or surprise me.

Can you walk us through your process? Do you begin with a sketch, or do you just jump in? How long do you spend on one work? How do you know when it is finished?

My workflow is pretty similar in each project. I write in my sketchbook everyday to sort out what matters. Writing always informs my art and design work. I keep notes and voice memos in my phone. I collect and print visual ideas, put them up around my studio, letting the lines and colours seep in. Then, I purchase a number of surfaces, put on the music, and go for it. Sending the work out into the world and to clients through Instagram or email is very important to me. My career is about making great art and moving it through the world.

If you couldn’t be an artist, what would you do?

A singer and a leader!

Who are some of your favorite artists, and why?

M.I.A. and Banksy. I admire them. Risk-takers, they take political content to advocate for people who don’t have a larger voice. That’s badass.

What are some of your favorite experiences as an artist?

Art making has brought me relationships with my amazing clients, but it has also brought me my relationships with my team (whom I love) and fellow designers, artists, and collaborators. It has brought me a rich life full of love.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?

Get a good accountant!

Prefer to work with music or in silence?

Of course I need quiet times to think, but I do love listening to music at the studio. I believe good tunes on any rough day can get a human through. We listen to a total range. We love 90’s hip-hop, especially on a fine Friday.

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?

I have collected for over a decade, I love my collection SO much. I could never choose. Okay, maybe, my Ed Pien, Two Blue Heads Kissing. Ugh, but I really love my Megan McCabe piece, too. See?!

Who are your favorite writers?

Currently loving Anne Lamott and Glennon Doyle Melton. And, I have read Just Kids by Patti Smith about 6 times – at least.


About the Author

Katherine Henning is Senior Associate Curator at Saatchi Art. Need help finding art? Contact her via our free Art Advisory service here.