GALLERY: Artist Spotlight on Emily Zielinski

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GALLERY: Artist Spotlight on Emily Zielinski

By Katherine Bauer / For The Pitt News

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For most of her life, Emily Zielinski has had a close relationship with art. But after battling an eating disorder, she realized just how important it was to her.

“[Art] got me away from other things,” said Zielinski, a senior studio arts major. “It has a calming power that gives me a way to express myself.”

Before coming to Pitt, Zielinski studied art therapy for two years at Mercyhurst College but had to take a medical leave due to her battle with anorexia. During this time, she turned to art therapy, which she had decided to pursue as a profession at the end of high school. She learned early on that the process of creating is sometimes more important than the finished product.

“I found personally in my recovery process that art was integral,” she said. “ Art was an exploration for me discovering what influences me and what makes me angry about our society.”

Art has continued to play an important part in Zielinski’s recovery process, such as in “Self Healing,” where she painted a self-portrait and learned how to show self-compassion in the process. Zielinski intends to continue her studies with art therapy after getting her studio arts degree.

In the meantime, Zielinski has received a grant from Pitt to launch her own pilot program with the Caring Place Downtown, a non-profit organization that specializes in helping children and teens to cope with the loss of a loved one.

Zielinski intends to create a program just for children and teens, giving them art supplies to create collages — combined with their personal items — or paintings of their lost loved ones. Afterwards, Zielinski plans to set up a gallery so that the kids can display their work.

“I want the art to bridge the disconnect that sometimes forms between parents and children after trauma and make discussing something that’s hard to express more approachable,” she said.

To look at Zielinski’s work and read what she said about each piece, click the first photo to open up a captioned slide show.

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  • “Self Healing”: “I painted this a year ago as part of a self-portrait assignment for a class. While I was in recovery, I had so many amazing people to help me, but I wanted to show how I could help myself as well. I needed to show myself compassion, and every mark, every line of paint is something expressive of what I was feeling.”

  • “Standing Up”: “This was a final project from last fall, and there’s a lot of different ways it can be read. I see it in three ways: 1. A person is hanging. They have reached their lowest point in life and probably won’t recover. 2. The person on the floor has been beaten and is battered and bruised, but at the same time, 3. They are able to stand back up, and walk away. They’re able to leave that broken identity behind.”

  • “Untitled”: “This piece was made last spring, much later in my recovery process. I painted the canvass to look like bruises and cuts on skin, then I cut it and wove it back together. The act of weaving and sewing are both traditionally viewed as “domestic” and “feminine” which is in contrast to the uncomfortable, abused look of the canvass. However, the material is stronger after being woven and sewn back together, just like I have become stronger through my recovery.”

  • “Woven” View 1: “This is an older piece from a few years ago. It’s entirely made up of magazine pages that I cut and wove back together.”

  • “Woven” View 2: “I was working through my anger at the impossible standards that the images in these magazines portrayed, these images that had formerly contributed to my anorexia and body-image issues.”

  • “Tree”: “This was very different from the rest of my work and a different representation of what art therapy can be. I deconstructed the piece of wood by cutting it up, and then I reconstructed the pieces in a new way. I then physically carved the grooves in the wood before burning the whole piece with a blowtorch, careful to leave the grooves untouched. The most important part of this piece was the process: the physicality of the the repetitive, meditative, work. You get lost in what you’re doing.”

  • “Untitled” View 1: “This was very different for me, and the pieces are much larger than they look in the photos. Each pill is nearly the size of a hand.”

  • “Untitled” View 2: “I used a fabric mold which I then covered in plaster to make the bottles, and for the pills I created molds and cast the pills from those molds. I had to buff all of the pieces to make them smooth, and it was a very laborious process. Again though, that repetitive process is part of what makes the piece so fulfilling.”

  • “Dress” View 1: “This piece was in displayed in Hillman for a few weeks last year. The dress form is an idealized shape and size for a body, and the whole piece looks very delicate from afar. However, the woven pieces all over the dress say ‘Anorexia and Bulimia are the two deadliest mental illnesses,’ and the images on the bow on the back are those of broken bones, torn esophagi and other ugly and painful results of these eating disorders.

  • “Dress” View 2: The juxtaposition of the grotesque images, blunt words and graceful form were what interested me, and it’s a reflection of my own battle with anorexia. You want to obtain that graceful ideal, but when you look closer, that’s just an illusion hiding an ugly, dangerous truth.”

  • “A Memory”: “This is rice paper woven with fabric. Both are covered with ink and pastels. This was my first integration of fabric into my work — besides canvas — and I see it as a representation of a fragmented memory. Something intriguing in the way that an old piece of clothing was once beautiful.”

  • “Mask”: “This piece is ink and thread on paper and was made for an assignment for the Drawing 2 class. Again, I drew the face, then cut the paper and wove it back together. I wanted to look at how we use makeup as masks in our society, but I also wanted to examine how idealized images of beauty persist through art through time and place. I looked at African tribal masks from the Congo and noticed how different their idealized features were, but they’re still idealized. I wanted to look at how we modify our appearances to fit different norms.”

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