Barbara Januszkiewcz Color Riffs: A Passion for Color

By Guest Author on October 19, 2015

By Elizabeth Carberry (Guest contributor)

Image courtesy of the artist.

To be so inspired by art but not to imitate it can be a difficult task for some artists. Barbara Januszkiewicz, on the other hand, is making her influence of the Washington Color School (WCS) completely her own. In Color Riffs, seen now at McLean Project for the Arts, Januszkiewicz is able to transform music into painting in her own stunning, signature way. One can immediately see Januszkiewiczs’ WCS connection through her bold use of color, but the deeper connection in this series, is not as obvious.

Over the past two years, Januszkiewicz has been exploring the WCS through her documentary Unprimed Canvas. While conducting historical research for the film she became close with Washington Color School artist, Paul Reed. During an interview with Reed at his home, Januszkiewicz began to explore some of his old work that had been stored away. Upon searching through this work, Januszkiewicz discovered an old, unprimed roll of canvas, never used by Reed in his practice, which dated as far back as the 1960s. It is on this roll of canvas, divded into each piece, that Januszkiewicz produced more than half of the work presented in Color Riffs.

Image courtesy of the artist.

Besides the physical connection to the canvas, Januszkiewicz reminds us of another important attribute of the WCS—the ability to fuse color and canvas as if they were created as one. Over the past five years, Januszkiewicz has been developing her recognizable painting technique. Starting with watercolor on paper, she was interested in the way color could come alive, how it could blend together and how each one could stand alone in her compositions. A year ago, Januszkiewicz had a breakthrough. Based on a suggestion from friend and fellow artist Robin Rose, she began to use acrylic. Still mixing her pigments from scratch and creating the desired shades, Januszkiewicz took her work to an unparalleled level.

Image courtesy of the artist.

However, Color Riffs is about more than just color and canvas. Januszkiewicz built the series around the influence of music on art. With musical song titles and lyrics as the names for her work, she insists that there is not a direct correlation. She says that each piece is “A moment. A frozen moment.” While her process and composition are very much inspired by the artist, song, album or lyric she is hooked on at the time of creation, it is not necessarily dependent on it. Januszkiewicz not associating a color or stroke to anything specific; she is reacting to it. Those reactions can manifest into a color, stroke, line, or curve of the brush to create a single mark on the canvas or to fill its entirety.

The titles of her work, although they are names or lines to a song, are not necessarily the direct influence of what you see, but rather she says they are the history of the piece. Experiencing a song in different environments or associating a lyric with various memories, or hearing different musicians perform the same song, are all part of what makes each composition. The same way a song can sound and mean something different to each individual, so too can her work.

Image courtesy of the artist.

For me, experiencing the work of Januszkiewicz is a moment of reflection, the recollection of a memory or simply an appreciation of some of the deepest, truest colors I’ve ever seen on canvas. I equate the experience to spending time in the Rothko room at the Phillips Collection. Januszkiewicz’s connection to the WCS, appreciation of color and inspiration of music are clear. What is harder to see is her deep passion and appreciation for her materials, inspirations, colors, predecessors and peers. In every way she pours this passion on to each canvas, in bright, brilliant color.

Color Riffs is open at Mclean Project for the Arts through October 24. For more information on Barbara Januszkiewicz visit her website at, You can next see her work at the Hirshhorn Holiday Shop with WPA in December.