Bernadetta Stępień – Reviews

Krzysztof Kuliś

Director of the Malopolskie Office of Art Exhibitions in Nowy Sącz, and President of the Association of Polish Pastell Painters

To be born in Kraków is considered good fortune; to live in this city, an honour; and to be an artist in Kraków means to have the courage to contend with tradition, constantly delving into the unique atmosphere of the history of the nation, into the shadow of the great kings and superb artists whose majestic procession creates the genius loci of this city located under Wawel hill.
It is a constant inspiration, though also a risk, to be able to paint in the city of Matejko, Wyspiański, and Mehoffer, of the great professors of the Academy of Fine Arts, and of the bohemian milieu of the Jama Michalika café. Is it possible for a person to be an isolated, uninfluenced entity here in Krakow where every museum, old street, building, monument, and the Planty park constantly remind us of the achievements of our great predecessors?
Furthermore, if a young artist like Bernadetta Stępień dreams about working in pastels, is it possible for her to forget about all these great painters who perfected this technique right here in Kraków?


Bernadetta will not forget, for she is intimately acquainted with the heritage of the great masters, and grateful for their existence and their creation of the host of magnificent works that have aided her artistic education. She is also aware that they are not with us any longer and that she too has been allotted her time—a time for creating, for fascination, for learning and experimenting, and for the joy of sharing her art with others.
The nature of Bernadetta’s painting is thoroughly Cracovian. She was, after all, born in Kraków, and she graduated from the High School of Fine Arts and the Academy of Fine Arts in this city. She lives here and has started a family here – the spirit of the city as well as the spirit of the times has penetrated her to the center of her being.
Although she is a multi-faceted artist, she has been working in pastels for some time. Since 1998 her works have been present at the national and international biennial of pastel drawing exhibitions organized by the Nowy Sącz BWA (Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych [Office of Art Exhibitions]), and she has been favorably received by the judges of these competitions.


One of these judges was the late Jerzy Madejski, a well known critic, theoretician and populariser of the arts, who favorably reviewed Bernadetta’s paintings as being stylistically distinctly Cracovian. Thus it is odd that, only after Madejski’s much regretted passing away, Bernadetta was awarded the Jerzy Madejski Prize. Why was this?

It suffices to look carefully at her beautiful paintings, which in spirit are “young Poland” (the Polish artistic movement at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries), and in form are contemporary. They are painted predominantly on a dark background, and they look like colourful, shining beings called into existence out of black nothingness.

One can see the impact of colorful lights as well as the lineal, rhythmic arabesques, which are Art Nouveau in form. Pure color placed on a black background gives the impression of a shining stained-glass window. We are therefore dealing with everything that would seem to be an element of the Cracovian style of Stanisław Wyspiański.


Nevertheless Bernadetta is a contemporary artist searching for her own artistic identity, giving her viewers a plethora of surprises in her search for sophisticated subjects and in her manner of presenting them. She creates bizarre works depicting multiplied female nudes playing with a dog—funny dachshunds leaning out of the frame chasing a red ball; beautiful still-lifes being observed from an unrealistic perspective.

Mysterious side streets as well as nooks and corners painted during plein air workshops are on principle devoid of literalism; sensual women hold an ever-present tempting apple; and dozens of paintings have the common denominator and the painter’s distinctive feature of an overwhelming gentle light wandering with delicate reflections among the scenery of the painting, conveying the mood of an afternoon…

I am convinced that Jerzy Madejski, the great Cracovian, art expert and connoisseur, would be satisfied to know that the prize commemorating his name has been awarded to Bernadetta Stępień, a worthy heiress of the long legacy of a painting tradition created by generations of Kraków artists.

I congratulate her on receiving this prize, and I wish her well as she continues to create beautiful paintings and to enjoy many artistic successes.



I like the works of Berna S., both small and large. The smallest are like drops of water, in which a little piece of the world is reflected clearly and luminously. The large ones resemble enlarged photographs from childhood—the real one, not the one that actually happened, but the one that remains in a person’s memory, as in a land of lost safety and delight.

Delight is the main theme of these works. Such work is absolutely necessary in these times when art reflects the horror of the world, forces us to look at it with irony, and proclaims its end. It reminds us that looking is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The joy of life is about enjoying things that are small and seemingly simple. That’s why for hours I can contemplate spots of light on apples, steep streets with pigeons and restless portraits of a dachshund appropriately named Mozart.

I like Berna’s pictures as well for being like their author – they don’t pretend to be anything. This kind of painting is needed at a time when artists pose too much as sages, cynics or cursed geniuses. It reminds us of the value of warmth, sensitivity, and simplicity.

I like Berna’s pictures also because their author knows how to paint. Such painting is needed at a time when art too often barely relies on a clever idea or ​​self-promotion. This reminds us of the importance of talent and abilities.

I like Berna’s works for being good.


Mariola Jankun-Dopart

Bernadette Stepien as a pastel artist is not an easy nut to crack for anyone who needs distinctive labels or compartments for marshaling an understanding of the world and people, and therefore of art itself. There clings to her the reputation of a creator of joyful landscapes, generic nudes and still lifes bubbling over with life, holding on to the intoxication of the moment, of the light, the sun, a joyful sensation, of the presence of a fairy tale atmosphere. Meanwhile, anyone who for a moment looks deeper into the eyes of the creator, would not believe that these works had come from her. Bernadette has a poignantly sad gaze. It’s easy to be tempted to perceive self-therapy in her artistic dissonance, and in her escape from both small and large sorrows. Meanwhile, a longer intercourse with this creativity, breaking through the effect of the first, superficial impression, gives a similar effect to listening to Bernadette and not to the content of her factual, verbal statements, for the artist treads firmly upon the Earth.

Perhaps from this firm treading, which is already in itself a rejection of a lie, of appearances, of all superficiality—along with all the modernist and postmodernist mythology of the artist—from this comes Bernadette’s strength, which supports her talent. A degree from the Faculty of Interior Design, in combination with her abilities, would allow her to achieve great success as a full-time satisfier of the need for artificial glitter, a specialist of the artificial, spiritual resuscitation of the spectacular interiors inhabited by modern “hollow people”. Interior design has become, after all, the stylist’s art of computer matching a fashionable inner life landscape to convincing colors, textures, trends, and exotic-folklore gadgets, which the artist is fully aware of. Following the voice of a deep need, leaning towards choosing a difficult artistic technique—if treated with due seriousness and precision—this has turned out, in the case of Bernadette, to be something more than a profession. This meeting of a calling and courage, talent and consent to difficulty having nothing in common with the impressive mythology of the alienated and misunderstood creator, has produced an artistic originality rarely present in the contemporary market, customarily, though rarely adequately, called art.

The contemplation of pastels from the rich output of the author shows that in the space of these works there is achieved a transformation of what is both childishly joyful and youthfully simple into what is truly mature. The world of the child, the fairytale elements of the imagination, are not here an imitation of the imaginations about this idealized world, they do not constitute a revision of stereotypes of childhood and fairy-tale-ness. These images dazzle with the mystery of a real maturity that slowly builds upon the ruins of a forever lost idyll and grows from the retrieval of consent to the world and life in all its insanely dramatic representations. In this way the retrieved remains the rule, which permits the true enjoyment of the unexpected, the momentary, mixing the random, ugly object with an exceptional play of light, with the reflection of the color of a rotating object. This joy has nothing in common with the ubiquitous world of the pearl-like laughter of families made happy by margarine, or the cat overfed with cat food.

The beauty of the reflected world is sometimes here in a thoughtful look, sometimes in the absorbing-ness of a movement, the flickering of a shape, of tree bark, of random dishes on a garden table—which in themselves are neither beautiful nor ugly. The most interesting artistic images are not in the previous mentioning of creativity a result of any “anti-interior design” aesthetic or any ideology; they are pure art in the sense that in an un-concocted manner they manifest both a new incarnation of coincidentia oppositorum as well as a slightly contrary modernization of the dance of death. Everything that Bernadette tries to show is after all ultimately achieved, and irreversibly exits into the past: childhood passes into its own memory; girlishness here is near-womanliness; the gaze of a mature woman announces farewell to a world forever lost to the world of art . In this there is achieved the miracle of recovering the concreteness of the sensory perceptions, possible only at first contact with a new incarnation of a world, in the meeting: of a child with its mother’s skin; of the scent of grass; of wooden benches and plastic; of the pupil with the smell of school chalk; of a body with caresses and a rap; of an eye with a glowing hue and a gloomy darkness. That which is the first becomes at the same time the last, for there is now born a new consciousness and a new vision. What is rescued by art, not as a random picture, but as a love for what is born from it, resides in the gaze of the author. There it constantly gives birth to new works, both last and first, joyful and sad, works of a world budding like an infinite palette.

Józef Opalski


Have you already breathed of the fir tree,
Under a pine tree have you mused,
Have you got to know the reptile
Is there friendship between the willow and you? […]

Stanislaw Wyspianski

I invite you to the land of Bernadette Stepien. A land of the bizarre. It’s full of a kind of sun and color, but somewhere in these spaces there is hidden a sadness. Maybe that’s why I have recalled the poem by Wyspiański? Maybe that’s why, when I looked at these images, I was reminded of the Impressionists; there come to mind the poems of modernism, the music of Mahler and Debussy… There prevails in them a certain quiet and gloom. A strange combination of a country landscape with a phantasmagoria…like in a kaleidoscopic, there move about shapes, thoughts, colors…a kind of painful reflection on our condition.

Bullfinches move around, but not chirping, frozen in stillness, colorful houses, but without people, a girl like one from Chagall, gazing into a crystal ball and surrounded by flying toys, a girl, uncommonly sad with green eyes and sinking in the greenery, a dachshund among flowers and fruits but with a not too confident smile, a seaside house and, playing on it, chiaroscuro, a green landscape, seemingly cheerful and yet with a choking hint of melancholy, a cottage among mallows, the clamor of urban youth clearly lonesome, swallows expecting…, even bathed in the greenery, the landscapes are not very joyful, and a white cat, it’s just as abandoned as the bike at the wall, where someone has scratched out the words: “I love Debussy”…

Berna invites us to the land of her imagination, her sensibility, subtle and fragile. You have to settle into it gently, without breaking its silence, not pushing out, and not screaming. Then we feel all its brightness and melancholy.

Then even more clearly we are reminded of Wyspianski: Not for this have I given you talent, oh man, That you would do harm, but that harm you would bear.

Małgorzata Zięć

Director of Promotion and Cooperation, District Office in Krakow

My encounters with the art of Bernadette Stepien from the first moment have been accompanied by two feelings: delight and being deeply moved. Our first meeting took place in 2009 on the occasion of organizing the exhibition of artists from the district of Krakow, “A Stroll through Art”, as part of the Three Days of Malopolska in Brussels.

The beautiful works of the artist presented in this exhibition invited the viewer to places and moments to which one wants constantly to return. To a bit unreal (despite all its realness), elusive and mysterious world. Each following exhibition and meeting deepened these feelings and also my perception of Bernadette as an artist who, without any calculating, reacts quickly and intuitively to people, places, and situations in order to preserve their uniqueness and beauty.


Maliarsky plenér v Zázrivej

Plein-Air Workshop in Zázriva