The young man with longish hair and clad in green, graphic suit shirt seemed to age with a look of regret.
Visiting Polish artist Natalia Biegalska explained that the portrait was a nod to Dorian Gray, the handsome but vain character whose face showed remorse after indulging in a vice. The Oscar Wilde character suffered the curse to keep his youthful looks as his portrait aged with every sin that he committed.
Another portrait was that of a cancan dancer, a homage to Toulouse-Latrec’s Moulin Rouge posters, characterized by her dark silhouette against a swath of flat red.
Another small-scale painting echoed the passive and solemn expression of Frida Kahlo in a self-portrait. She was Natalia’s favorite female painter.
After graduating from art school, Natalia was selling her paintings for 400 to 1,200 euros, depending on the size of the canvas. Polish businessman Maciej Podhajski saw her works at the Polish embassy in Kuala Lumpur and told her that they should be shown in Manila and Dubai.
Emilio Mina, owner of Caruso Ristorante Italiano, recently hosted a private viewing. “In Italy, food is an art. I believe in presenting cuisine and art together,” he said.
Natalia’s paintings now cost 4,000 to 6,000 euros.
Still, the portraits and the nudes sparked interest. The viewers were attracted to the subtle whirls of energy her works exuded.
The artists’ brushwork lent an impression of spontaneity and simplicity that concealed their prudently constructed composition.
The 31-year-old artist recalled how, since her childhood, her parents had nurtured her interest in visual arts. In art school, she developed a penchant for painting with a knife instead of the brush.
“I find that painting with the knife is more expressive because it produces a variety of effects,” she explained. It produced unexpected yet painterly results.
Her works showed the knife’s range, from sweeping, clean strokes of flat color to textured highlights and shades and subtle scrapings that blended colors.
All her subjects were either culled from her imagination, uploaded from the internet or spotted on the street or the train.
“No one has the time to sit for me,” she pointed out.
Although her paintings look naïve because of the looseness of brushwork, there is evidence of formal art school training in the correct proportions of nudes and the play of light and dark colors.
Natalia pointed out that some portraits were inspired by the paintings of her idols, Renaissance master Rembrandt and Baroque painter Caravaggio, both proponents of using shadow to emphasize light areas. Her portraits took after the old masters’ use of darkness to create drama.
One such painting was a lady holding a rooster—an animal associated only with male cock breeders, not women.
“I wanted something classical. That’s why I painted humans with animals and used darkness to bring out the light,” she explained.
Natalia’s collection also showed a red-headed male, a sophisticated woman with a black hat, an innocent young girl with her dog, transitioning in two other canvases as an adult.
“I wanted to capture her in phases of her life,” said the artist.
She favored a subtle palette for mood and psychological depth. The expressions of her subjects were somber, brooding or pensive. There were hardly any smiles—a half smile at the most.
“When you see unsmiling or thoughtful faces, you wonder what’s going on inside of them. There’s the feeling of elusiveness,” said Natalia. “You can’t feel the person who smiles and I don’t like to paint teeth.”
Natalia Biegalska’s paintings will be on view Aug. 19 at the Peninsula Manila Gallery.