After growing up in Poland, under the rigid rules of conformity imposed by the Soviet Union, Agnieszka Pilat brought her artistic talents to America, where she is now known for her industrial-inspired artwork. Upon moving to San Francisco, Pilat noticed a divide between the tech industry and the art community and began putting her own perspective on this discrepancy in her now highly sought after pieces.
What unique challenges do you face as a female artist?
Well… Lets start with some facts: female artists are underrepresented in museums and galleries. In a study of 820,000 exhibitions across the public and commercial sectors in 2018, only one third were by women artists (The Art Newspaper, 2019)
Only 26% of the winners of the Turner Prize, one of the most well known visual art awards, have been women.
On average, only 30% of artists represented by commercial galleries in the U.S. are women.(Hyperallegic, 2014)
So it’s a bit of an uphill battle – making it in the art world, you know…
That said, I have many collectors who are men and they support my work because they are acutely aware that being an artist is a hard career path for a woman. I value that enormously.
Which artists and styles are your biggest influences?
I grew up in Eastern Europe surrounded by Soviet propaganda posters so that certainly shaped my taste to some extent.
Most of my influences are European and in particular Soviet/Russian artists: Ilya Repin, Vladimir Makovsky, Valentin Serov.
From the contemporary, living artists, Jenny Saville for her painting style; She’s the one of most talented and creative contemporary painters and I respect her for the mastery of craft and technical aspects of her painting.
It’s often said about your work that you “humanize machines”. Was that intentional?
Oh yes! That is the premise of my work. You see I was trained as a portrait painter. Now I am machine painter. They are very connected – I might even say that machines represent the best of humanity: every time man wants to do something great, he builds a machine! Machine is nothing else then an extension of human mind, human ideas made real… How great is that!
I see the role of an artist as a compass, a DJ re-mix the Old and New, perhaps an oracle for what the future might bring. I like using the old medium (oil painting) to tell the story of innovation – it’s that contrast, dissonance of old and new, jazz of different ideas that excites me.
When we look at history of art, portraiture is most re-occurring theme: portraiture was reserved first for Gods, then Aristocracy, than the common men. This is a new century: century of technology and painting human portraiture is too archaic; it’s the Machine that holds the reins of power today. Hence my heroic machine portraits.
Your latest tech-themed series is titled #disrupt. What is its message?
Technology is disrupting industry, culture and our way of living. There’s growing anxiety in times of sweeping changes like today. In times like these, humanity is looking for answers about the future by learning from the lessons of the past. Europeans study the ruins of their predecessors, ancient Greece and Rome to see historic patterns and perhaps avoid making the same mistakes or find comfort.
For me, in America, built on Industry and technology, derelict machine or an old factory is the equivalent of that culture.
Have you succeeded in your efforts to establish a greater patronage for San Francisco’s cultural institutions from the barons of Silicon Valley?
Let me start by saying that telling a story about American technology is a calling for me, a service to America, not just a career. My attitudes and expectations are always grounded in that. Having a strong career is necessary to tell that story, but it helps to avoid entitlement trap that would be so easy to fall into.
Now… Let’s be honest: being an artist, a female artist in Silicon Valley is not easy. It’s ridiculously hard. We are talking about selling art made by an eastern-European woman in a place that Emily Chang called Brotopia.
Now, you add on top of that another layer: by large, Silicon Valley does not support the arts, this is not New York’s patronage culture. Everything I have accomplished, all access, commissions and residencies are a result of direct personal introductions by a handful of my patrons, collectors and friends. I have not received any support from San Francisco’s cultural institutions.
Now – I have been generously welcomed by some of the corporate giants in the Valley and my work has been met with a spirit of curiosity and support. Most of my patrons are actually private collectors; many of them are in the space of technology – executives, investors and founders. If it weren’t for them, I would have to get a job, (many artist have to teach to support themselves) or leave Bay Area.