Never one to enjoy the spotlight, artist Marcia Gawecki is a conundrum as artists go. Since she prefers to write and talk about other artists, interviewing her is a bit like trying to herd cats. The fact that she has been a writer longer than she has been a focused artist is evident as the interview progresses; her skill at shifting the conversation away from herself is impressive. Persistence, however, does pay off, and Gawecki finally accepts her role as interviewee.
Growing up in Omaha, Neb., the second of seven children, Gawecki saw art and her proficiency at it as a way to shine in her large family. “I took private lessons when I was 9. I started with landscapes, painting the Base Lake and back alleys, and still life, but art wasn’t cool back then,” she said. “I started winning awards, and it was great for a shy person to get some attention that way.” High school followed and cheerleading and friendships replaced art for a time.
The University of Nebraska proved to be challenging for Gawecki. “I started to be an art major and I got really bad grades in design — Ds, Cs — and I was like, ‘Oh, God, this is not good.’” Changing her major in art to an art minor, Gawecki pursued another talent she possessed, writing. “I became a writer in advertising and I minored in art. Then I just worked for corporations and agencies and I always wrote, but I always did art on weekends and during the holidays to make extra money,” she said.
A move to Chicago followed where Gawecki freelanced for the Sun Times and the Chicago Reader interviewing Latin American artists. In Chicago, Gawecki lived in the Flatiron Building in Wicker Park, comprising four stories of nothing but artist studios. She began doing some “interesting” self-portraits. “I started doing self-portraits with stuff like snakes coming out of my head because I had migraines and it was one way of expressing myself,” she said. “It appalled me that some young girl bought one like that. I was like, ‘Oh God, it’s got a green face and red hair and she thought it was beautiful,’” Gawecki laughed.
While conducting the Latin American artist interviews as a freelancer, Gawecki, who did not speak Spanish, took classes to acquire that skill. “I was taking Spanish lessons but I wasn’t learning fast enough and I’d talk to the curators, and [the artist] would talk for like 20 minutes and the curator would say, ‘Oh, he liked it.’ And you’re like, ‘I’m missing something,’” she smiled. “So I moved to Chile for two years.” To fund her move, Gawecki painted a lot of portraits. “I think that’s when my style developed,” she said.
On her return to the states, Gawecki moved in with her mother who lived in Temecula. A job at the local casino (Pechanga) followed. “It was only going to be temporary,” and on the suggestion of her mother, the two took a trip to Idyllwild after seeing the work of a local bear carver. “My mother showed me a photo in the paper of the bear carver [in Idyllwild] who had done an eagle,” Gawecki said. Her mom said, “That’s only about an hour away, let’s go.” And the rest, as they say, is history (in this case, “herstory”). “I fell in love with the place. In Temecula, they were tearing down whole orchards and calling the new development ‘Old Orchard’ and there would be no trees,” Gawecki explained. “Now I have a little house on Marian View and I have 40 trees in my yard.” She has lived in Idyllwild for about eight years now.
Her Idyllwild adventure has included a stint at the now defunct Chamber of Commerce, a writing job at the Town Crier, and a job as a driver for Idyllwild Arts. Gawecki’s passion, however, has always been her art. Her portraits employ bright colors (reds, oranges, pinks and greens) in a somewhat Andy Warhol-ish style. Celebrity portraits include Idyllwild’s own Casey Abrams (Gawecki is friends with Casey’s Mom), Billy Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Michael Jackson, Frankenstein (yes, the monster) and many others.
Gawecki met Bill Cosby while working at Pechanga casino and gave him a portrait she had painted of him. “Maybe this is hanging in his garage somewhere,” she laughed. A photo of Cosby, Gawecki and her portrait of him is what she likes to call her “bragging point.” Currently, Gawecki works a few days a week at the Acorn Gallery on North Circle Drive and spends the remainder of her time focused on her art.
For Gawecki, there is much to love about Idyllwild. “I have raccoons that come to my door every night. There was a mother with three babies that came once; raccoons are like puppies, they knock over paint cans, they knock over water cans, so this one knocked over the water can so now nobody can get water,” she said, clearly enjoying recounting the story. “So I take a turkey pan and fill it with water and I put it down. They always test the water to see how deep it is because they can’t swim. I went back to painting and when I looked out about 10 minutes later, all three of them were splashing around in the water like little puppies; they are so cute.”
It’s the nature that inspires Gawecki’s love for and fascination with Idyllwild. “I see coyotes and hawks and owls; I don’t know of any artist that doesn’t have a special connection with nature,” she said. “I have a brother in Carlsbad who is so jealous that I have four seasons and I have nature outside my door. I am so lucky. We are so lucky to have so much nature around us.”