Zofia Kostyrko, Painter

Dec 14, 2009

zofia-kostyrkoWe recently caught up with the creative whirlwind otherwise known as Zofia Kostyrko. She’s one of the Altadena artists behind the now-famous Fork in the Road at Pasadena and Bellefontaine avenues, pulled in by Ken Marshall to create “Photoshop voodoo” to visualize his wacky idea. After designing the Put a Fork in Hunger logos, T-shirts, banner and flier, Zofia volunteered at the Thanksgiving food drive and was floored by the community’s generosity.

She’s now collaborating on more such guerrilla artworks with her fellow pranksters and will celebrate Altadena and its many creative spirits next year with a portrait show at the Coffee Gallery tentatively titled— courtesy of her eighth-grade daughter Lara — ‘Hey, You With the Face!’” We’ve posted some of her recent portrait work here.

Beppe, an Italian nuclear physicist

Beppe, an Italian nuclear physicist

Meanwhile, through her company, deZign sKape, Zofia’s working on themed environments ranging from theme parks and resorts to the NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries & Hawaiian history exhibit in Lahaina, Hawaii. A peek into her diverse portfolio reveals that she has created hand props for Pee Wee’s Playhouse, worked a 13-year stint at Walt Disney Imagineering and designed for Cirque du Soleil and the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. She recently mentored a Girl Scout doing her Gold Award project, a mural at Beyond Shelter (a homeless shelter in Downtown L.A.). “It came out great,” she says, “and it means a whole lot more than a lot of my commercial stuff!”

Born in Warsaw, Poland, to a nuclear physicist and a metrologist (a specialist in weights and measures), Zofia has a first memory of William Blake’s watercolors for Dante’s Inferno. She also recalls wondering what happened to the arms of the Venus de Milo. Growing up she imbibed the avant-garde art culture of communist Poland. “A formal framework for state-censored art existed,” she explains, “but the work that was produced was subversive and sophisticated, full of layered meaning for those in the know.” The scene there, which honored craft (and craftiness), as well as what Americans would consider “high art,” made her both analytical and antsy.

Works from her show Eye of the Beholder

Works from her show Eye of the Beholder

As a teenager Zofia came to California to visit her aunt, a film teacher at Art Center, and had her first art show at Barnsdall Art Gallery. When she returned to Poland she thought, “Where are all the crayons?” So she left the repressive “gray box” of her homeland in 1980, came to Pasadena and graduated from Art Center in 1985. Days later she and her boyfriend, photographer Charly Edwards, eloped and got married at City Hall in Downtown L.A. “We took our first married lunch at the Fox’s Dining Room in Altadena and moved here as soon as we could,” she says. They have two daughters: elder Veronika is a senior at Westridge, and younger Lara in middle school at Flintridge Prep.

Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame

Robert Pattinson, of Twilight fame

What motivates you?

• Curiosity.

• I can so I do. Having a talent is a gift but comes with a responsibility to use it.

• Making art makes me happy. It surprises me — whatever inspiration flows through me makes me high, powerful, curious and hungry for more of it!

• The need to make a living while having fun at it.

• Interaction with and learning from others.

• Being a role model for my kids. Being a cool mom and an artist.

• Breaking a lot of silly social rules and getting away with it, because as an artist I can!

• Doing something out of nothing, getting better at what I do, and finding ways of making my mistakes work in the most unexpected ways.

• Figuring out what I want to do when I grow up, if ever.

What inspires you?

• My mom. She still works at age 75 as a scientist in Poland and keeps finding new ideas, projects and grants, while practically all her contemporaries were forcibly retired more than 15 years ago. She gets excited about nanowires! I love her spirit and energy.

• My kids. They have this amazing energy, potential, knowledge, spirit and fantastic taste in music. They keep me young and they (and their teen friends) think I am a cool mom.

• My husband Charly. He is my best friend and best storyteller I know. After 25 years of marriage he still keeps surprising me.

• There is so much cool stuff to do, and so many cool people to meet! I keep meeting them everyday. Last week I met Bill Viola, my longterm artistic inspiration! Yay!

• Nature: everything in it and how complex it is.

• Great writers and storytellers: Ann Patchett, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Haruki Murakami, Alan Lightman, Michael Pollan —  these names just came to mind, but there are sooo many others…

The eyes of Brigit, a Pasadena native, Westridge grad and current college student.

The eyes of Brigit, a Pasadena native, Westridge grad and current college student.

How do you balance your family and your art?

The best I can. Thankfully they are both resilient and tolerant, because art makes me happy and fun to be around. So while I love the family life, cooking and all that stuff, it comes and goes depending on how deep I get my head into my studio, either screen or canvas.

My husband is my number-one fan and a great life partner, and he holds down the fort when I go art AWOL. We trade places and duties as needed. My girls are independent and self-sufficient. That said, I find it easier to balance my art, work and family working on my own and running my own business than holding a full-time job for a corporation; I go to school events and have time to interact with my kids during the day, and just work ungodly hours at night when the work needs to be done. In the end it all works out. The wonderful extended village of the moms of my kids’ friends helps fill in my recurring planning gaps when I drop the ball.

What do you do for fun?

• Drive fast on PCH while listening to a loud music mix from my girls.

• Make sidewalk art at chalk festivals.

• Read read read or listen to books on tape.

• Knit, hang out with friends, look at my garden.

• Hike, row, walk with Nina (my genius dog) up in the Altadena hills.

• Go to see something new and different in L.A.

• Go to the ocean and just hang out there.

• Travel travel TRAVEL!

• Theatre: plays, live music or comedy.

• Work really late on some art I’m having a lot of fun with.

• Cook great food for my family and friends.

1 Response for “Zofia Kostyrko, Painter”

  1. Sandy Gillis says:

    Lovely interview with a lively subject. Ah, Kostyrko’s magic color’s… energetic and calming at the same time. How’s that possible?



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