April 30 - June 1, 2020
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, May 2020
The works of mid-career, Warsaw-based Aleksandra Waliszewska appear to have been influenced in several ways. According to press notes, Goya and American outsider artist Henry Darger play a role in her art, as well as the small but active group of Polish surrealists in the last century. Whatever her influences may be, the artist is putting out enigmatic imageries related to allegories whose meaningfulness seems so personal as to evade our ability to read them as public statements. Often presenting a single figure in a dark background, these paintings present mystery and brooding in equal measure. The key of the work is quiet, however. They imbue everyday life with a foreboding and imaginative cast that leads us in the direction of trauma based on our casual existence rather than historic events notable for their fame and powerful discord.
The works are more than illustrations. They are all untitled, undated, small mixed-media images on cardboard. In one, we see a bridled horse in the middle of the sea, with dark gray-to-black clouds billowing in rows above the lighter horizon just above the gray waters. In the foreground, there exists a thin array of fronds and ferns, whose stems and leaves add decoratively to the frame in which the horse seems caught. It is a powerful image that refers most meaningfully to its own unease. In another work, an attractive young woman, with bangs and braids, looks out into the distance. We see her eyes, but the rest of her features are not visible; strangely, encircling her neck is a thick scarf of flesh, with a spidery network of red veins. The eyes are a dark blue, which are matched by the background, also a deep, dark blue. Who is this a portrait of? The artist? A friend? We don’t know. Waliszewska subverts the portrait genre by eliminating the nose and mouth and adding the snake-like ribbon of flesh.
In another piece, the image is of a dwarf-size figure, dressed in long folds of what looks like a white shroud, with no face but patch of black. The background consists of contrasts: a black curtain drops down to cover two thirds of the painting, beneath which is a brushily painted whitish floor. In yet another work, the influence of Goya is palpable; a heavy curtain on the left, thick with folds, frames a bare apocalyptic scene in which a skinny devil, its horns rising above the head, makes his way. The two paintings are difficult in their refusal to offer solace, but that makes them more powerful as well. Waliszewska is an artist who comments trenchantly on the human condition, in ways that disturb. Her surreal reading of the atmosphere is as much to be feared as admired. In this way, she critiques humanity, but in memorable fashion, not without precedent. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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