Krystyna Sadej learned to weave as a young adult and found her passion. She now creates a variety of work reusing materials to communicate and emphasize the urgency of our environmental crisis and the need to protect our fragile planet. When she gets inspired for a piece, she pulls out her materials and gets to work – always finishing the piece before starting the next.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
I am an artist; I am a dreamer; I am a wife, mother, and grandmother. My best masterpieces are my children, my three daughters and my son. They have always been my priority, but now that they are all grown up, my daily life centers around art.
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Although tapestry is my first love and my main medium, I also experiment a lot with all kinds of fibre art, mixed media, and multimedia. I stopped asking myself, a long time ago, to which artistic category I belong. Instead, I focus on what feels right in the moment and where my inspiration takes me. This freedom helps me develop and grow as an artist.
When did you get started making fiber art?
I used to live in the beautiful town of Zakopane, Poland, in the Tatra Mountains. There, I met many successful and well-known people, like artists, writers, mountain climbers, and so on. They made their lives in Zakopane because of its amazing culture and beautiful scenery. Many artists in Zakopane were tapestry weavers, and I had always wanted to learn to weave after observing their work.
I only really began my craft after my first husband died in 1978 in a mountain climbing accident. I was left on my own with two young kids, and I was very lost. However, I did not feel completely hopeless because I had many friends who helped me, kept me company, and continued encouraging me. One of my friends gave me a beautiful hand-made frame-loom and another showed me some basic weaving techniques. I made my first tapestry pieces soon after. I was able to channel my grief into weaving and move forward with life.
After learning basic weaving techniques and experimenting on my own, I was introduced to a famous tapestry weaver, Marta Gasienica Szostak, whose work inspired me so much. She had a young assistant, Ewa Bartosz Mazus, who became my friend and my teacher. Ewa showed me some of Marta’s more advanced techniques, and I continued experimenting on my own.
Later, I remarried, moved to another town, had two more kids, and went to Art School. The three-year program at the school had tapestry weaving, but only the basics were taught. So, I was “sheltered” with my big frame in the sculpture studio, where I also partook in sculpture classes. It was there that I developed my love affair with 3D tapestry.
Together with my husband and four kids, we immigrated to Canada in 1989. The art of weaving became (and continues to be) my remedy for depression, loneliness, and nostalgia.
How does your artistic practice align with your daily life?
Now that my kids are on their own, my schedule and life is a lot more flexible. I must admit that sometimes when I feel inspired, I will neglect housework or other daily tasks and disappear in my studio for hours.
Sometimes, I don’t feel inspired for days and won’t work on specific pieces or series much. However, at those times, I’m often working on videos, presentations, or social media posts instead.
How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
My work is very personal. It reflects my life in Canada, my longing for my homeland and loved ones, the passages of time, and a continuous search for new ways of expression.
Using upcycled or recyclable materials allows me to communicate and emphasize the urgency of our environmental crisis and the need to protect our fragile planet.
My fashion from rescued material:
From left: my daughters modeling – Katarzyna with “Dark Angel”, Justyna “Golden Cape”, and Weronika “Dance for Peace” with my fashion from rescued material.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
I really like creating work in series. So, I will immerse myself in a style, medium, topic, or theme for months and produce many pieces and experiments. I do prefer to be inventive, so I experiment a lot with various mediums and apply what I have learned to new series. Over the years, reoccurring themes have become more and more apparent.
In recent years, I have been continuing with my favourite series and themes. Sometimes I’m inspired by the creative possibilities of a medium (ex. using upcycled materials). Other times, I’m inspired by a personal significance of a theme (ex. my circular woven pieces). And, at other times, by the importance of the topic on a global scale (ex. environmental crisis).
Using upcycled materials allows me to take something common and turn it into something extraordinary. I like to be innovative, and I like to push the boundaries of a “traditional” medium. Examples of my work with upcycled materials include fashion – capes and dresses; Cosmos; circles, orbs, and spheres; Faith, Hope and Love; Red Spider Dance; Time and Space; In Search of Lost Time, Finding Time Again, and The Past Recaptured (inspired by Marcel Proust).
Circular woven pieces:
I always return to circular woven pieces. I have made many different pieces in this style in a variety of circumstances, and they always bring me comfort and peace. Circle and ring shapes inspire continuity and connection, things we all need more of right now. I experiment with different materials for these pieces.
For example, Sunflower-Circle of Hope is woven on a small hula-hoop with a dark warp and a weft of different gold, black and metallic yarn. Ugly Duckling is made on a recycled hoop from an old lamp shade.
I am also always thinking about the environmental crisis we are facing on a global scale and the importance of protecting our planet. This is the main inspiration for my Iceberg series.
What do you do differently? What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My signature is making up new techniques by blending various techniques and challenging the traditions associated with weaving and its materials.
For example, working with manipulated warp that goes in different directions, then adding new metallic threads, and then taping everything together.
I did not follow anyone’s instructions or examples. I have also not come across another fibre artist who is doing the same. This of course does not mean that my work is absolutely unique and one of a kind in the world, but it does make me stand out in the fibre art community.
What motivates you artistically?
I am motivated by continuous participation the artistic community:
- Meeting other artists and going to different exhibitions.
- Participating in solo and group exhibitions.
- Forming art groups (ex. Harmony, Woven Bridges, Fibre without Borders, etc.) and organizing their exhibitions.
- Organizing exhibitions, in-person in my studio or online, such as the yearly Friendship Shows.
- Being recognized and appreciated in the art community.
I am also always motivated by my continuous need for creative expression and the positive impact on my life and health that art has.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I don’t always make plans for what I am going to make. Sometimes a plan does happen, but I often change my mind during the process.
I improvise a lot because I am very spontaneous.
I rarely take the time to prepare designs, take notes, and so on. I start by finding the right materials, which generally involves making a horrible mess around me in my studio, and I start making art immediately. I usually clean progressively during the process of creating as I eliminate materials that I definitely will not be using in the current piece.
How do you manage your creative time? Do you schedule start and stop times? Or work only when inspired?
I cannot work when I’m not inspired.
When inspiration comes, I will spontaneously start working, and often I will keep working until I’m done with a piece. I’ve only left a piece unfinished a few times in my life. I have gone back to finish some pieces, but a few times I have also just abandoned a piece all together, recycling its materials for another piece.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I am very lucky. I have two dedicated studio spaces in my house. My old studio in the basement and a new studio space on the main floor.
My husband had the garage converted into a spacious and bright studio for me. It’s my sanctum. It’s my creative space. And, it’s a space just for me. It has high ceilings. My husband built a large wall frame for me, so I can create very tall pieces. I will still use my old studio space once in a while to create work, especially on hot humid summer days. But often, I use a part of the basement as storage for my many pieces and another part as the Studio Sadej gallery space “B”.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I have so many notebooks and sketchbooks.
I often start a plan in a notebook, but then forget about it, and when I start creating, I do it from my head. Sometimes, inspiration just hits me, and I start creating and lose myself in a new piece, and when I wake up the next morning, I am amazed that I came up with something like that without planning.
How often do you start a new project? Do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
When I’m inspired, I just start working and work until I’m finished. I never have a set timing for projects, but of course, once in a while, I have specific deadlines that I need to meet. On the most part though, I work very organically and just follow my inspiration.
I never work on more than one piece at a time. Sometimes, when I’m working on a more creative or innovative piece or when I’m combining different techniques, I will have a small frame loom in addition to my main frame loom. I will use the small one to create samples or to practice different techniques that I then incorporate into the main piece.
Which part of the design process is your favorite? Which part is a challenge for you?
I call my favourite part “creative chaos”.
When I get an idea or inspiration, I go to my studio and start a warp. I then pick the materials I want to try. This entails me spreading all kinds of materials all over my studio floor.
From an outside view, it would look like one great, giant mess. For me it’s a fantastic activity. I put different colours and textures together, and this creates more ideas in my mind. It’s quite soothing to be in this space as I know that it will all arrange itself from madness to clarity. When I’m ready, I start creating, and clean up the space progressively as I only leave out the materials I want to use.
Sometimes the challenge is to keep to the original idea. As I lose myself in my creative chaos, many different possibilities and ideas come to mind. Often, I will change my original plan and do something that I did not intend or something that will surprise me the next morning. However, once I’m engaged deeply with a piece and have made progress on it, I will go with the flow and finish it. Occasionally, I will start another piece right after that follows the original idea.
Tell us about a time when you truly stretched yourself as an artist.
Usually, I like to work organically and let my imagination and inspiration dictate the progress and design of a piece.
A few times though, I have done commissions that were based on specific plans and subject matter. It doesn’t happen often, but it can be hard to follow such confining parameters.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“Don’t try to please everyone around you or spend too much time on what others think. You can’t be everybody’s cup of tea.”
Taking this advice to heart has alleviated a lot of anxiety for me and the freedom to be myself really boosted my creativity and confidence as an artist.
When was the first time that you remember realizing that you are a creative person?
I have always felt that I was creative, but I was not able to pursue my artistic side when I was a child. My mother liked art and my aunt was a good painter, and I always imagined it would be great to be an artist. Unfortunately, I was not encouraged to be artistic or creative by my mother. I did not have access to a lot of art supplies either, so when I entered high school, I started with making collages (from magazines). I had to create my first few pieces in secret.
One of my first pieces was a collage on the inside of my closet doors. Unfortunately, it was discovered by a visitor one day, and my mother tore it down. She was very angry and told me I was not talented enough to be an artist.
I was also good at writing and many of my teachers encouraged me to pursue this talent, but it was not considered art in Poland at that time, and this made the idea of pursuing visual art even more impossible. It wasn’t until I started with tapestry weaving in my 20’s, after my first husband’s death, that I started to believe that being an artist was a possibility for me.
What traits, if any, do you think that creative people have as compared to people who are not creative?
I think that anyone can be creative in their own unique ways.
This could manifest itself in ways other than what we traditionally think of art, and the requirements and manifestations of creativity.
For example, being a good storyteller without being or considering oneself to be a writer, taking many photos without considering oneself as being a photographer, choosing how to dress to express one’s personality, decorating one’s house, being a good problem solver, singing and humming a lot without considering oneself to be a singer, and of course gardening.
People are just shy and insecure. Many have also been told that they don’t have any talents, or they have convinced themselves that, because they are not visual or have musical talents, they are not creative at all.
Many don’t recognize creativity in simple everyday actions as they look in awe at great visual artists. And, lastly, many people just don’t have time, capacity, or the right circumstances to think about it.
What (or who) has been your biggest inspiration in keeping your creative energy going?
Many amazing artists have influenced me, my work, my inspiration, and my creative energy, For example:
- Austrian artists Klimt and Hundertwasser
- Contemporary artists like the French-American sculptor and installation artist Louise Bourgeois
- Textile artists: Micheline Beauchemin (Canada), Olga de Amaral (Columbia), and Magdalena Abakanowicz and Wlodzimierz Cygan (Poland)
However, so much of my inspiration and energy came from my children. They are all very talented and have all done a lot of visual art and music in their lives, alongside other creative and professional pursuits.
Two of my daughters have pursued art in education and continue to be practicing artists to this day. My youngest, Katarzyna Sadej, is a mezzo-soprano and composer, who has, in recent years, focused on bringing to light many environmental issues with her music. She has just put out an amazing album of contemporary music consisting of vocal layering of her own voice in various styles, colors and ranges.
My oldest daughter, Justyna Szluinska, is a contemporary photographer and fibre artist. We have collaborated on various projects such as the Fibre Without Borders fibre art group, and she has curated and managed various exhibitions with me. We also have an ongoing project which consists of a dialogue between the two of us using my fibre work and her abstract photography. We had a duo exhibition in 2016 called “Shades of Light” and an online continuation called “Indelible” in 2022, for which Katarzyna provided her music.
Where can people see your work?
Most recent exhibition in Nova Scotia Archives – Chase Gallery – Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, 2023
Blogspot: http://krystynasadej.blogspot.com/ and http://krystynarecycled.blogspot.com/
Interview posted September 2023
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