Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist
 

Signpost featured artist: Elzbieta Kaleta

Paper artwork, by Elzbieta Kaleta

To cut and create: the mixed-media art of Elzbieta Kaleta

—Oli Robbins

We’re all exposed to certain cultural traditions from early childhood, but few inspire such beautiful results as the Polish folk craft of paper cutting. Mixed media artist Elzbieta Kaleta was fortunate to have grown up in contact with the colorful and whimsical paper art of her native Poland. Originally from Krakow, Kaleta relished her family trips that took her to the country and away from the bustling city. Escaping to a family farm meant being in a village teeming with paper art, a pastime that brought with it relaxation and creative release.

Kaleta has forever practiced art-making, even while achieving a doctorate in biology. While in graduate school, she worked as an illustrator for scientific books. A post-doctoral position brought her and her husband to Harvard Medical in 1981 and to Albuquerque a few years later. Kaleta has produced research on early embryo development, genetics, and melanoma—a hot topic in New Mexico due to our intense sun. Kaleta eventually took pause from teaching and researching biology when her son’s health required her to stay home. This period prompted her to resume her devotion to art, the therapeutic properties of which she deeply appreciated.

Rooted in her heritage, Kaleta’s art draws upon the Polish folk art tradition of layering several paper cutouts of different colors atop one another. The works are mixed media, incorporating a variety of papers as well as fabrics, small objects, embroidery, and photography—an art form long practiced by the artist. She explains that once a part of her mixed media works, her photographs don’t read as strict documentation, but rather as artfully-constructed backgrounds. Says Kaleta, “my process is very often spontaneous. I see the complete design in my head, and I follow this. So I just start working on the main cutout, then I work on the background, which may be simple or a complicated collage.”

The designs themselves originate from Kaleta’s feelings, imagination, life experiences and relationships. “It’s all connected to my heart and my beliefs,” says Kaleta. “It’s always embedded in me.” New Mexico itself has been creatively stimulating for Kaleta, who finds inspiration in the colors, culture, landscapes, and abundant art. She usually cuts her images freehand with scissors or a knife, sometimes completing a preparatory drawing beforehand for more complex designs. When the image demands a specific background, Kaleta alters her photographs in Photoshop, experimenting with lighting and filters to make a complementary background—which is always remarkably different from the original photograph. Says Kaleta, “My lifelong passion for photography resulted in a big collection of images, often focused on the beauty of nature forms, objects touched by time, repetitive patterns, and striking typography caught in the image.” For Kaleta, the process itself is paramount to the ensuing image. She explains, “I work in silence, never even listen to music. I don’t need it because my head is full of thoughts and ideas.”

Kaleta feels fortunate that her parents believed in and encouraged her artistic predilection. Her father practiced art and design, favoring painting in watercolors. As a child, Kaleta constantly created cutouts, and remembers at one point cutting out huge snowflakes from newspaper and gluing them to the windows. She considered going to art school in Poland, but it was difficult at that time due to the country’s educational system and political climate. Fortunately, Kaleta developed a keen interest in biology and was able to continue making art while studying it. When she had her own children, she nurtured their creativity by building a home environment full of craft supplies and devoid of television. “My kids had to invent and create and play.” Kaleta also hoped to foster creativity in the Albuquerque schools, where she’s taught many programs over the years. She promotes artistic individuality, discouraging students to try to make a uniform artwork in a standardized, rote fashion.

Kaleta’s images serve to remind viewers of “the importance of love, peace, kindness, compassion, and friendship.” She will also touch upon environmental issues, and feels particularly passionate about lessening pollution since contracting bad asthma in the then heavily polluted Krakow. She’s gained international recognition for her mixed media works, which have been featured in such far off locales as China and Tokyo.

You can contact the artist via phone or email (266-9225 or ewkaleta@gmail.com). Her work is on display at Albuquerque’s Tortuga Gallery, Amapola Gallery in Old Town, Corrales Bosque Gallery, Conley Studio Pottery, and Friends in Madrid.

 
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