Zoë Pawlak’s expressive landscapes captured our attention years ago, so when we heard she’d released a new collection of figurative pieces, we were excited to take a look. What we found were deeply meaningful paintings that capture both the beauty and difficulty of life. A Break in Pace is a set of thirteen paintings of the female form that explore the idea of vulnerability. Captivated, we asked Zoë to tell us more. 

What inspired this new line of painting?
I went to make this same body of work last year, but I was not ready or brave enough. Making emotional work is tiring. Brené Brown gave a great talk on vulnerability in which she explains that, although everyone wants to see other people being vulnerable, no one really wants to do it themselves, because it’s uncomfortable.

This collection is essentially about the body, what the body can carry and how we move through our lives bearing the quiet weight of what we have been through. The title refers to a ‘break in pace’; taking time to pause and to reflect.

It seems like a very personal collection. What was different about creating this collection?
This collection was very difficult for me to make. I was cranky each day that I came home. In the studio, I was living in a totally other world. That contrast of studio life and regular life is what makes artists crazy. Going into your mind and heart into what you have experienced and then translating that to imagery is one thing. To take all of those individual pieces and try to make a cohesive body of work that will resonate with your audience while remaining true to your experiences is a whole other challenge. You have to make sure the whole show works, not just the individual artworks, and that the content is both personal and universal. That is what it is to make a strong exhibition.

My career had been so outcome-oriented as of late, I felt it was imperative to balance that with a really honest show that wasn’t driven by what I thought would sell. That said, my figurative work sells because people relate to it. The content is more pointed than, say, a teal landscape, but the essence that is in the figurative work draws people in. It sticks with them and they call me a few weeks later like, ‘You know that painting? I can’t get it out of my head, can you please bring it by?’ Then we go to their place and have wine and discuss life. This type of work makes for great conversations. I believe that we want for connection now more than ever, and so people want to be reached out to, told that their experiences are shared, and see those experiences reflected in the work. I also make my portraits intentionally look down or away to reflect introspection or melancholy. The colours and scale are approachable. I want everything about the work to be inclusive. Honest and inclusive.

In the past you’ve had many collaborations, do you have any current or upcoming collaborations?
I am currently making my second line of rugs and love working on that process with the rug designer, Ainsley Jones. I just released a new line of credenzas with Jeff Martin at ICFF in New York. We are really excited to show those at IDS West in Vancouver in the Fall! Jeff and I are working on a few other prototypes right now and making time for studio experimentation, which is imperative when making new ideas come to life. Experimentation is expensive time, but the best work comes from times set aside for play, fantasy, imagination and making. When you say stuff like, ‘What would happen if we put this here or made it in bronze?’ ‘Can this drawer work if it doesn’t have a back?’ ‘What colour would that be if it were to reflect how we are feeling?’ etcetera. I do this a lot with my new assistant, Ariane, which is really what gets me the most jacked up!

When we last spoke, you were just settling into a redesigned studio but you’ve since moved? 
Yes! In my last feature in Rue, I was shot in my Vancouver studio, designed by Rachel Harrison, which I was in for four and a half years along with Canadian painter, Fiona Ackerman. Man, was it hard to leave that space! I had so many great conversations, dinners and firsts in that studio. It was so special! I have since moved to Montreal and have been here 6 months. I am LOVING it here. My new studio is massive with high enough ceilings so we can show and hang the 10’ high rugs. We are hosting our first dinner at the end of the month with 10 incredible ladies I have met here. It’s new friends in a new city and a new studio to celebrate in.

Having a great support group is so crucial to moving to a new place. Besides your studio, what other changes has the move caused in your life?
I am working on a sculpture that I am really excited about. It’s so challenging. I am not certain it will work, but it’s keeping me up at night, which is a great sign that I am pretty pumped about it. My New Years resolution is to write one song, which no one will ever hear, so I guess that’s not too exciting for any of your readers. I’m really working hard to get better at basketball since I joined a women’s team here in Montreal. It’s so new to me to have a hobby. It’s great to move around and do something totally unrelated to my work. I am loving it!

Start the slideshow for a closer look at Zoë’s latest collection!