In the fall of 2019 when Hurricane Dorian roared over Prince Edward Island at speeds topping 100 km/hour artist Mark Czajkowski stood safely inside the back door of his St. Peters Bay home and feverishly sketched the scene that changed with every gust of wind.
In the days after he painted not only what he saw but what he felt and experienced in the way only he knows how to do. Just as hurricanes draw energy from the water and atmosphere, Mark Czajkowski channels the forces of nature into his artwork pulling at all of the elements that can be sensed in a fixed moment in time.
“A gallery owner once asked me if I was schizophrenic,” says the artist from his cozy home studio on the north shore of the island; his paintings are expressively busy. “I knew I was in trouble when I met this owner about a show and when I saw the previous exhibit was all white canvases.”
While some of Czajkowski’s paintings begin with a flourish of activity necessitated by the moment, his process is quite calm, and the artist speaks about the experience of flow and calmness that he settles into when he paints. He professes that he has no fear of colour and he uses it instinctively but not always in the conventional way. There is an intensity to his work that is balanced with a sense of spirituality.
The mystical subtly finds it form often in the shape of the ski, wind and water. He points to two paintings on his studio wall. They were painted in the days after a young fisherman from his community was lost at sea. Fishing vessels swirl in a search and storm clouds morph into faces of grief, pain and longing. “I stood on the banks and watched the fishermen and the search and rescue vessels. What they were feeling, what the families were feeling, what we were all feeling is in those faces,” he explains.
While he says he find inspiration in the most simple aspects of life like the landscape of the near by St. Peters Bay where he paints frequently, the last year has yielded an endless source of inspiration. He is currently working on a painting inspired by the pandemic and at some point he wants to find a way to express his feelings around the discourse of Black Lives Matter, race, and equality.
As a person of colour, he feels a responsibility to do something creatively to respond to these issues. Czajkowski grew up in Stratford, Ont. His father is Polish and his mother of African American descent. His mother’s ancestors came to Canada by way of the Underground Railroad. His father is a sculpture and he gives credit to a lot of who is as an artist today from what he learned from his father. “My dad encouraged me to steer away from art school and to develop my own individual way of painting,” he says. “When I was a kid, I would do drawings and sell them on the weekends at our local market. I got a little taste of making money from something that created but I also learned to talk to people about my art.”
Describing their art is something that a lot of painters find difficult, but it is very important when it comes to exhibits and selling your work. Czajkowski says that he will spend a lot of time titling his paintings because if consumers cannot understand the painting the title will help lead them to what the painter is trying to achieve.
Fascinated by nature, life experiences and connections to the spiritual world continues to ignite Czajkowski’s imagination. Fifteen years ago, Czajkowski and his partner Wendy purchased their property in P.E.I. He had worked and pursed his art mostly in Central and Western Canada, but the East Coast has become his new muse.
Algonquin Park has been one of my favorite places to paint but
Cape Breton has the wow factor. “We have lived many places but my wife and I both agree that there has never been a place that so quickly felt like home than where we are right now. It’s the people in the Maritimes that make it different from anywhere else. My paintings are mostly based on the subjects of my own backyard,” says Czajkowski. “It is a pretty amazing place to be as an artist. In P.E.I., the earth kind of nurtures you.”