Provoking the imagination through self-portraiture: An interview with Iness Rychlik
Left: Innocence Lost
Iness Rychlik’s self-portraiture provokes something visceral in the viewer. Her work bites down and tugs at conflicting emotions. Sometimes alluring, sometimes unsettling, it doesn’t let go.
A resident of London, Iness Rychlik was born and raised in Poland. She suffers from a chronic skin condition that she has utilized to channel her own body into a canvas for artistic expression.
Her renowned self-portraiture has been featured by ‘The British Journal of Photography’, ‘Cultura Inquieta’, ‘Beautiful Bizarre Magazine’, ‘L’Officiel Italia’ and BBC Scotland. See her minted work on SuperRare here.
I sat down with her for a short discussion about her artistic approach.
Revenge, Target, Thaw (left to right)
LW: What draws you to self portraiture?
IR: Both in my personal and artistic life, I tend to avoid being dependent on people I don’t have a special relationship with. Creating a conceptual photograph is an intimate act – the process is just as important as the final image.
I also suffer from a rare skin condition, which renders it extremely sensitive to touch and temperature. This allows me to draw, scratch or ‘burn’ patters onto my body without any permanent consequences.
Love and Devotion (listed on SuperRare), Exhibition, The Puppeteer, (left to right)
LW: Generally speaking, releasing creative work to the public can be a vulnerable act. Is this amplified with self portraiture? If so, how do you manage that?
IR: In my case, this beautiful act is certainly amplified due to the difficult themes I explore. However, my audience value and relate to this vulnerability. I’m grateful for an amazing community of people, who share their own stories or interpretations in return. I appreciate that I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but I don’t wish to engage with offensive comments or justify my art. My energy is limited and I prefer to use it in a way that advances my creative practice.
LW: How has where you grew up in Poland shaped your work?
IR: I turned to art as a form of escapism from my bleak surroundings. I devoured one book after another, from Lucy Maud Montgomery’s heart-warming and age-appropriate ‘Anne of Green Gables’ to the atrocities of Stephen King (discovered at the tender age of thirteen). I think being such an avid reader in my formative years helped me develop a strong visual imagination.
My fascination with the nineteenth-century also began in my early teens. I loved examining how filmmakers translated the narratives of Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë into the moving image. Eventually, my role shifted from being an art-consumer to being a consumer-creator; I began photographing my sisters and myself as heroines from a bygone era. I remain faithful to this long-lasting inspiration; it is apparent in many of my most recent pieces.
Artwork analysis: The Weight of Your Words
Can you tell me when the Weight of Your Words project began? How you formulated the idea for this piece?
My projects stem from my very own feelings or experiences, and this piece I created last year is so special to me. I had observed that the most careless of words can cause the greatest pain, even if it was not our loved one’s intention. I chose to use the feather as a symbol of something light and flimsy, which marks us deeply nonetheless.
Where was this shot and using what equipment? Do you work alone? What do you use to make the markings on your skin?
I shot this image in my improvised home studio, using my trusted full-frame Canon DSLR and a standard portrait lens. I prefer to work alone like with this photograph, although my partner is incredibly helpful when it comes to creating more complex scenes, or posing as a mysterious and menacing figure. To mark my skin, I experiment with a variety of mundane everyday items. Every piece is different – I need to find the right object, pressure and timing for each self-portrait. Working with a live and changeable canvas is one tricky endeavour, which is why I make the time to shoot so many tests.
Do you find that, sometimes, you’re mentally in the right space and the process of shooting just work, sort of like a “flow-state”? Alternatively, do you find the opposite sometimes? Is the process emotional?
On a couple of occasions, I was so affected by recent events that processing my emotions through art was the only thing I would obsessively think of. All my other plans were put on hold until I completed the work. In most cases, however, my approach is more structured and disciplined. Because of a full schedule, I need to plan my artistic explorations in advance. Saturday mornings are my favorite. I get up early, take a quick shower, turn on the music and set up the camera. After a few minutes, I disappear into a world of my own.
What does the post production process look like for you?
I see post-production as a delicate balancing act. Because of my experience in editing product photography, I developed a sharp eye for detail, particularly when it comes to fabrics and textures. However, I’m not drawn to the kind of photography that looks almost unnaturally polished. I believe that the color-grading process deserves the same level of careful consideration. My post-production takes several days, because I like to let my image rest at least for one night, so I can look at it with fresh eyes and ensure I’m on the right path. Ultimately, storytelling is at the very heart of everything I do. Inspired by the amazing NFT community, I’m working on expanding my process to incorporate other forms of digital art. Watch this space.