Colorful, lively and playful. These are the words that describe local artist, Katarzyna Lappin’s paintings. Calling Chula Vista home since 2005, Lappin’s work centers on scenes from California, San Diego County and Chula Vista. Originally from Poland, she has chosen our little ‘neck of the woods’ for her pieces because, she explains, “the California landscape is absolutely mind-blowing.”
From Warsaw To Chula Vista
Born in Warsaw, Lappin’s father worked for the Polish airlines. At the age of four, her father became the Director of the Polish Airlines in Denmark and moved his family to Copenhagen. There Lappin learned Danish and integrated into the culture. Four years later, at the age of nine, she returned to Warsaw. She recalls, “It was like being thrown out of some kind of heaven. For a long time, I felt like I didn’t fit.”
Lappin searched for her niche. After high school she wanted to become an actress and was recruited into the actor’s studio of Szymon Szurmiej who ran the Jewish Theater in Warsaw. There, at nineteen, Lappin studied drama, ballet, singing and pantomime. She learned the Yiddish language and “all this beautiful whimsical world of the Jewish culture.” The Jewish Theater was like being in a fairy tale.
After several years, however, Lappin realized that she didn’t want to be an actress for the rest of her life. Instead, she became fascinated with painting. A professional artist who was also an art restorer at the Royal Castle in Warsaw helped train her in the style of the Dutch Masters. She began to paint in oils, watercolors and gouache artworks as a freelance artist.
“In the meantime, I was also doing a lot of other things like occasional jobs for journalism, doing interviews for celebrities.”
After a time, she began to work for an American telecommunications company and soon became a General Manager. That gave her opportunities to travel, so in 1999 she went on vacation to Cancun. There, she met her husband. Within the year, she moved to Danville, California and in 2005 they both moved to Chula Vista.
The Chula Vista Centennial Show
In 2010 Lappin won second place at the Harbor Days Juried Art Show for her painting, Otay Lakes Dam. Given the award at a Chula Vista City Council Meeting, she began a series of twenty paintings related to Chula Vista. Her solo exhibition was presented at City Hall in 2011.
Three Painting Styles
The Chula Vista Centennial series of paintings exemplifies one of her three styles. A city once filled with lemon groves Lappin’s Lemon City marries the 17th century Dutch style with the history of Child Vista.
Lappin explains, “Going out from the Dutch, it gives you a certain discipline and techniques, but they were pretty dark and dramatic, so I implemented more colors.”
While Lappin retains her Dutch background, she says, “This beautiful California is forcing me to loosen up my brush and do things a little bit more without the tightness.”
Her second style is landscape plein air, where she enjoys a more loose, spacious style. As a member of California Art Club, the San Diego Chapter contacted Lappin and said they were going to have a plein-air meet up at Otay Lakes. Excited that this prestigious group would be in her neighborhood, she met at Otay Lakes and created her first first plein air painting on the spot, straight from nature, fighting the elements and chasing the sun.
Lappin’s third style is a kind of a whimsical realism where she experiments with depictions on the edge of surrealism. Her images are a bit like Alice and Wonderland with a distorted perspective. “Surrealism tends to be darker, more twisted, like a demon might jump out at you. Whimsical realism is lighter, happier.”
An example of her whimsical realism is Swimming Lesson, which depicts the YMCA on Paseo Magda. An important venue for locals because it provides many activities for people of all ages, her centennial series included the picture with deeper colors and a more playful view.
Lappin’s Centennial Series turned into a book with twenty pieces specifically depicting Chula Vista. One fascinating picture depicts Eisenhower in front of Chula Vista’s City Hall. Among other trivia nuggets, during Lappin’s research into Chula Vista locations, she discovered that Eisenhower was the only President of the U.S. to visit in 1960. To commemorate the moment, Lappin painted the face of Eisenhower next to Chula Vista City Hall and the tree, which was dedicated to his visit in 2009. The painting, appropriately, was donated to the Chula Vista Veteran’s Home in 2011.
About once each year, Lappin holds gallery viewings by invitation only, held in her Eastlake home. Eventually, she hopes to have a gallery space. With the Millenia project creating an entirely new downtown area in Otay Ranch, her dream may come true in the coming years.
For now, her open studio includes framed pictures for sale. With hundreds of paintings under her belt as well as many awards, Lappin divulges the secret of how she is able to paint so prolifically: “The more you paint, the faster you become. In the past it could take me months to make a painting. Now I can do a large painting, let’s say I would sit everyday for 5 hours, then in about 10 days I would be able to finish.”
Her largest painting presents the hills of Central California. Lappin took a trip about two years ago to San Jose. Captivated by the oak trees, she took a large number of pictures from many different angles.
“Very often, it’s not like one picture, but I take a series of pictures from many different angles and close-ups and then I work and I’m creating my own composition, taking a little bit from here, a little bit from there, so it’s never any copy of the picture.”
For updates on Lappin’s work and for invitations to her open studio, you can sign up for her Email Newsletter.
All the artwork of Katarzyna Lappin is copyrighted.