Return to the Beginning
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June 04 to July 18, 1998
by Irena Vormittag
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Review by Fred Herscovitch
"Return to the Beginning" is an exhibition of large paintings by Irena Vormittag. Three works from the Krakow Series, honouring her birthplace, appear in the show. They are large canvases : Krakow II, for example, measures 84" x 108" and was painted last year.
The artist layers acrylics to build up dense textures; brushwork is restless, animated and complex. Because many analogous colours are used- colours close together in hue- the fragmented images tend to recede and merge with the textural field, then reappear again. In this painting semi-recognizable architectural or figural forms are outlined with thick black lines whereas in Krakow III ( 66" x 90") white lines play the same role.
I grew up in suburban Niagara Falls in the early '50's. My adolescence was nurtured by immigrants who had left a war ravaged Europe. These people had a dream. They wanted big front lawns, big cars, good schools, and a bedroom for each child, lots of food on the table and a steady work that paid well. I lived in that suburban dream, but I always marked myself as being the odd person out. Who could blame me? I spent the first six years of my life in Nazi occupied Krakow.
>Can you imagine how those experiences could color the mind of a six year old?
If anyone needed to embark on a search for identity, it was me. I moved from a place where they rolled up Niagara sidewalks at sunset to New York where the sidewalks were like 24 hour Broadway shows. New York was so big and alive it swallowed all my speed and aggression. Back in Canada, the only people I could relate to were Cree Indians. They started me on an inner quest that took me to the Hopi Indians in the American Southwest and eventually into Tantric:Indian mysticism. In 1996, I was ready to return to Krakow, Poland. I wanted to see my roots in these new perspectives.
I discovered a city whose people inhabited the most intact medieval city in Western Europe. The history there is not confined to schools and libraries. It's painted in building tiles, jammed into corners and cornices and waves at you in flags. It's even under the sidewalks. With no space in the cemeteries, during the worst of occupations, the citizens had to bury their dead under the cobblestones. Every cobblestone holds the history of a moment. The irony is that in this city that is a corridor for martial dreams, the people are so alive. That life, that bhakti, blazes out in even the eyes of the very old. I see 80, 90 year old people going to the market. Energy fills them. They are old but life still dances in their eyes.
It's crazy but in Canada there's almost too much safety here. Too much security. There is nothing to prick us awake.
My paintings are alive. For thirteen years now I have been getting closer and closer to painting on canvas the spirit that moves us. In my paintings, I wat people to see and feel and sense this spirit that I found so readily in Krakow. May it create an opening for their own searching.