Abstract painter Jasmina Danowski points to a painting in the corner of her New York City studio. It is a large wooden panel dressed in white spackling and oil paints. It is the kind of piece that is difficult to fully understand if not seen face-to-face. The roughness of the wood and oil, like grooves in a mountainous landscape seen from above, are tempered by her soothing sensual color palette. The piece is representative of the vernacular seen across her body of work–large tactile works that both pull from lived experiences and dive headfirst into the depths of her imagination.
“I don’t believe in stifling for aesthetic. I really don’t. I like the idea of playing everything out in your mind and having all of these ideas going at the same time,” explains Danowski. “Here I was really trying to bring out the texture of the wood. I oiled the wood and started to see what was coming out. Once you have the drama you can start to relate to it. I put spackling on in relation to the wood until I began to see its place in the world. Now I think of it as two scorpions that are fighting.”
At the time of this interview, Danowski was prepping for her next show, titled ‘Field Trip,’ at the iconic Pierre hotel on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. The show, which opened in December 2017, was featured in the New York Times and is on view through the end of February. The exhibition was also filmed for the Orangenius ART360 platform, a revolutionary new tool that allows users to virtually “walk” through an exhibition.
Danowski sat down with Artrepreneur to talk about making the leap to work full-time as an artist, her evolution as both an artist and small business and her upcoming solo exhibition.
Jasmina Danowski: Early Life and Career
NM: Can you start by telling me about your early life in Germany and what made you want to be an artist?
Jasmina Danowski: That’s a long question! I always had an affinity for painting. When I was in school and my friends would bring me their homework, I would draw for them when it was art-related. Like horses, flowers, deer, and all these things. I loved to draw when I was a kid. But I never thought of becoming an artist. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. I think one of the key things that made me feel drawn to visual arts is that I like the idea of communicating without words. I find that very romantic in many ways. I always wished to be understood without having to say anything. Deep down inside, this is really what makes me paint.
NM: When did you make that decision to become an artist?
Jasmina Danowski: I have another master’s degree in psychology and sociology, and during all this time, I was always painting. And during my time at university there was this really great program offered for people who wanted to participate in art classes so I did that, and it just took over my life, it took me over. When I finished my studies and all I wanted to do is do art and that’s what I ended up doing.
NM: How did you end up in New York?
Jasmina Danowski: My father is American and I had visited him ever since I was a kid. I always wanted to live in California. I had gone to California to study in San Francisco and the school sent me to an exchange program in New York and I thought, I have to come to New York. How am I going to do this, is this crazy? I lived in San Francisco 3 or 4 years and felt like there wasn’t enough.
NM: What were you doing when you first arrived to New York?
Jasmina Danowski: I worked for a German company when I first arrived. I helped them establish their business for selling pigments. I worked for them for 14 years.
NM: Were you making work the whole time?
Jasmina Danowski: Always. After work, I would paint. New York at that time was a great place to be because I would walk to work past all the galleries in SoHo. I would look at shows before work, we would go to openings after work, and all of our clients were basically artists. I got to know a lot about that life without having to really live it. It was a great introduction to New York in many ways.
Transitioning to Full-Time Artist
NM: How did you decide to leave your full-time job and dedicate yourself to making art?
Jasmina Danowski: I was really bored in my job. It just wasn’t going anywhere. I quit without knowing what I would be doing next. Fourteen years is a long stretch of time of having put very little attention into my work. So I used my new time to do all these things I should have done much earlier. I had put up a website, reached out to people and was trying to get my work out there.
NM: Can you tell me about those first few years putting yourself out there after leaving the security of your job?
Jasmina Danowski: My first break was through a girl that found my work on my website. At the time, the internet was just becoming big and Re-title gave out free exposure to people. It’s a website used by a lot of consultants and galleries. Now you have to be invited. Through Retitle, we sold four large paintings to a big company and that is how I survived that first year.
NM: How did you initially figure out things like pricing your work?
Jasmina Danowski: They just gave an approximate idea of what they thought that they could ask. It’s very arbitrary. At first, I was willing to take anything. Then this woman I was working with began working for a gallery called Spanierman Modern and they brought me on. They put my works on paper in the window and everyone who saw the paintings all responded to it so I ended up with a show and they gave me a show each year after that. With each show, we increased the prices by 10% which was based on the feedback we saw from the market.
NM: How has your pricing evolved today?
Jasmina Danowski: Even today, I am still learning, because the market is very difficult to understand. Pricing is difficult because once you begin selling, all these people take their cut. You pay your dealer, the framer, the transportation and the taxes and then, in the end, there isn’t that much left. It is impossible to break down into hours. It is a difficult work to measure.
NM: How has your painting changed?
Jasmina Danowski: I take my time now. I love it. I use my vocabulary more selectively. All of these years were build-up years and it’s a different type of pleasure to paint. Not go for something so fast. I wait a bit. I have more choices.
NM: How have you built on that vocabulary and allowed your work to evolve?
Jasmina Danowski: I’ve always been narrative-oriented. I like creating a narrative that gives me a project. It’s almost like a writer when you set out to make a book. That narrative has put me through most of my shows. They have a narrative I like to wrap my mind around and like to grow. Having that binding theme allows you to stretch certain things and reach out in other areas because the works are already tied together.
Showing Work in a Nontraditional Space
NM: What is the narrative for the show at Pierre?
Jasmina Danowski: It became ‘Field Trip.’ It was such a fast decision. I had few paintings that were already super far along, and I just didn’t have the energy to finish them and then when that show came up as an opportunity, I thought: There we go. I’ll put these out and see if we can pull them together. I had just come back from France, for a little perspective and air. So it was a great challenge to pull these paintings together.
NM: When you are painting are you planning beforehand or doing what feels right in the moment?
Jasmina Danowski: I put something down and respond to what I put down, and usually go from there. Your mind goes in and out from various things you know or relate to or have been through until the painting more or less finds its place in the world. Like this painting is very different, for example, but I love it because it related in a really different way to an experience where we were taking a walk in New Mexico and there were two wild birds of prey fighting over a snake in mid-air. And it’s such a biblical scene, and they were screaming, and the snake was curling in the air. It was wild. Such a memorable wonderful scene. Some of these things just stay with you and keep happening emotionally. I was really afraid that the snake would fall onto my head but it was fantastic to watch it. And the landscape behind it just dropped down.
NM: So you put something down, respond and then step back.
Jasmina Danowski: Sometimes I want to try to fight my usual responses. There are a lot of inner challenges to be creative.
NM: Tell me more about ‘Field Trip.’ What does it mean to you?
Jasmina Danowski: You think about life, you’re on a trip with life and there are all these experiences you have had. Everybody has their own biography, their own dreams, their own wishes. That’s what I’m thinking about. Besides the fact that also it’s a nice title and fun, joyful.
NM: A metaphor for the departure of a traditional gallery for a hotel, if you will.
Jasmina Danowski: Yes, that’s right. It has been so fun, such a great experience. People have been so friendly. I love the idea of showing there because people don’t even go to galleries anymore. Having a place where people lounge, enjoy, sit back and relax is the best venue. And it’s such a beautiful room.
NM: Do you think that the fact that the paintings are being shown in a hotel versus in a gallery changes the context of the work at all?
Jasmina Danowski: Of course. Galleries have a more serious approach in terms of what they stand for and how they want to promote their artists, but I think this is just such a great opportunity and I love this space.
NM: What is your perspective on using the internet and social media to build your business?
Jasmina Danowski: I’m not a big social media person. I think it is important to have the work out there and have a presence but I don’t think it is effective to only do that in terms of selling. I think fairs are quite important. You do want to see the work physically and see how you respond to it, and I think you can’t do this over social media. With people who are experienced, they might get a certain clear idea of what they can expect but I think other than that, you do have to see the work. Social media is hard for painting. And also, at a certain price point, people don’t just send you a check.
NM: To wrap up, if you could give an emerging artist advice, what would it be?
Jasmina Danowski: That’s a challenging question. Following your own path is what I would encourage young people to do. Also seeking advice. If you need to have an outsider opinion, ask a person you trust and see what they say, and then check in with you, see how you feel about it and take it from there. You might still not agree.
To learn more about Jasmina Danowski, visit her Orangenius profile.