Fresh Eyes

A Richmond transplant explores the city through her paintings.

On viewing the oil paintings in the exhibit “Cityscapes: RVA,” it would be easy to assume that the colorfully bold depictions of Richmond neighborhoods are painted by a native.

In fact, artist Joanna Tyka is a graduate of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Poland who has lived and worked in Germany, Spain and, most recently, Miami. But by 2007, she was ready for a change of scenery that would allow her to discover the unknown.

“It was a spontaneous decision,” she explains, clarifying that while it wasn’t a matter of blindly putting her finger on the map, she felt the same kind of excitement and anticipation. “Change is important for life and the creative process, as is the discovery of different living patterns and a fresh, new atmosphere.”

Like so many new arrivals to Richmond, Tyka found herself captivated by the city and its relative lack of traffic congestion. It wasn’t just finding a historical house with a garden near the river, it was also the proximity to her interests: the Bay, where she could indulge her passion for sailing, mountains within two hours so she could ski regularly, and an easy commute to Washington, D.C. and the international culture that the capital offers. “It’s the ideal spot for an artist with a studio overlooking the garden, hearing the birds singing and enjoying the beauty of the changing seasons,” she admits. “After 20 years in Miami, it was perfect.”

Tyka quickly realized how much of the city was within easy walking distance of her home and began to fall under its spell. “It’s very charming, with lots of history, a vibrant university with spirited young people, excellent museums and the beautiful James River,” she says. “The old historical architecture surrounded by nature at once inspired me to create a series of new paintings of Richmond.”

“Cityscapes: RVA,” currently at the Branch Museum of Architecture, showcases various historic Richmond neighborhoods, albeit with a modern sensibility. So many of Richmond’s distinctive features – trains on bridges, the views from high atop Church Hill, Jackson Ward’s distinctive storefronts, the James River – are captured in her bold, signature style, colored by the sun and seasons.

On her walks, the artist always brings a camera so she can document a moment of perfect light, a seasonal effect or even a time of day. “I possess exceptional visual memory and remember a moment that gave me a spark of joy and happiness upon seeing it,” she says. “I take a photo in my mind and with my camera simultaneously, then edit both, taking a long time to structure how I’d like it to be and eventually starting the project on canvas or wood panel.”

Tyka is the first to admit that she’s a slow painter who takes her time on details, contemplating the subject, harmony, composition and colors. She makes a point not to repeat a view unless she has something more to say about it, such as another perspective. “Everything has to sit right and that takes time, and I don’t like to rush,” she says. “Very often I go back to an artwork, after weeks or years, to add and improve. It’s like children, you work on them constantly.”

After a long international career with art galleries and art edition companies, Tyka took her career into her own hands as a way of having personal contact with the people who bought her art. She explains, “that interaction produces a synergy with positive results for both the collector and me. It also allows me the flexibility of deciding independently what I’d like to paint and when I’d like to change direction.”

As a result, she’s created long and successful relationships displaying her cityscapes regularly in Richmond at Bridget Beari Design, Corporate Museum and Frame, and Urban Farmhouse in Shockoe Slip. With a nod to the 21st century, she also actively shows her work on social media, online galleries such as Saatchiart and her own website,

Her goal with each work in the Cityscapes series is to express her fascination with the beauty of architecture as well as the ambience. “But the moment of creating a Richmond cityscape is a moment, and it too will come to an end,” she says. “It will be finalized by moving on to a new adventure, the beginning of something new. Once I have nothing more to express or it doesn’t bring me fulfillment, I end the series.”

Just don’t ask her about when a painting is considered completed.

“I create one at a time until it’s ready. Completion takes all my life. Completing requires love, passion, education, and all levels of life experiences,” she insists. “It’s necessary to create many unsold paintings to finally create one good one.”

“Cityscapes: RVA,” runs through Dec. 31 at the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design, 2501 Monument Ave.


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