In 1988, while a student at the Academy of Fine and Design Arts in her hometown of Wrocław, Poland, Maja Godlewska opened a National Geographic magazine and discovered Ansel Adams’s famous photographs of Yosemite National Park, in the far west of the United States. The vastness, the majesty of the landscape thrilled her. I want to see that place, she thought.
The following year, before completing the thesis for her Master of Fine Arts, Godlewska flew to the U.S., bought a Greyhound bus pass, and spent 12 weeks seeing America. She visited 24 states, encountering the landscape and the people. “It was such a positive experience,” she says, “the beauty, the sublime experience of the national parks. And the people I met on the bus were so open and friendly.” Her thesis paintings of actual and imaginary landscapes reflected that adventure and expressed themes that continue even now to influence her work: travel, the relationship of people to nature, and the artistic manifestation of the sublime.
Godlewska returned to Charlotte in the 1990s and in 2004 became a professor at UNC Charlotte, where she teaches painting and has helped to build an exchange program between the Department of Art & Art History and her alma mater in Poland.
Godlewska has shown work in more than 100 group and solo exhibitions in United States, Poland, Greenland, Italy, Ukraine, France, Germany, South Korea, Czech Republic, Ireland, and Chile, and her work is held in numerous collections, including Charlotte’s Mint Museum of Art. In the past few years, she has become interested in the spectacle of tourism, and especially tourists in nature. In 2014 and 2017, she had summer residencies in Mauritius and Key West (Florida), respectively, where she watched the “almost choreographed” behavior of tourists as they “consumed nature.” She is particularly fascinated, she says, by “the necessity to photograph and upload it on a device and share it with everybody else.” Those experiences resulted in series of large-scale paintings, mixed-media canvases, and works on paper.
In the summer of 2018, Godlewska retraced the path of her 1989 tour through the U.S. national parks, experiencing again the spectacle of the American landscape as research for a new body of work. This time she traveled with her husband, the artist Marek Ranis, who is also a colleague in the Department of Art & Art History. Although Ranis has his own research focus, which frequently takes him to the Arctic North, the two also find intersections in their work. In May, the two traveled together to Tasmania as the 2019 University of Tasmania Cradle Coast Campus Artists in Residence, where they collaborated on the project Landscape: A Place Remembered and Imagined.