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A metaphysics of space... a phenomenology of walls, surfaces; light and mood; containment and liberation... a sense of solid, man-made structure becoming place. Twenty-two urban landscapes (mindscapes, really) by Magda Jesionek are currently on exhibition at Gallery 1112 of The Society for Arts, 1112 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. "Magda Jesionek: Urban Landscapes" will run, together with landscapes by Sacha Stawiarski, until August 6, 2000.
The oil paintings of Magda Jesionek would be inconceivable in any other time. The skyscraper, the canyons formed by high-rise architecture... metropolitan skylines: all characterize the 20th century and humanity's future. In our age, 'Pride of Place' shifts from long-evolved locales and legacies toward the scenarios of architects and the potentials latent in technology. For better and for worse, our crucial being is given over to the metropolis. Artist Magda Jesionek is its poet and its philosopher.
The gallery's statement observes that 'house' serves as metaphor for people and the architecture they evolve; and for Jesionek, the urban range "functions as a natural environment for people." (Aristotle once declared: "Man is a societal animal"; by his very nature, a creature of the Polis.) Rene Dubos, in Beast or Angel? (Charles Scribner's Sons: 1974), noted that there are "... two aspects of the utilization and perception of space which have been associated with human settlements since the beginning of time -- an enclosed area to serve as protection and an open vista leading the eye to the horizon." The oil paintings of Magda Jesionek embrace a wide phenomenology by which humans transform mere 'space' into a living 'place.' Her art investigates and cherishes both objective sight and the subjective perceptions which create a place to withdraw into, a place to be, and a place from which to enter into the greater world abroad. "Magda Jesionek: Urban Landscapes" offers twenty-two such moments of meditation.
Rene Dubos, in his reflections upon humanity and its development of societies, had much to say about our cities and their structures; and he asserted: "Le Corbusier felt that dwellings should permit a direct sensory experience of the elements," adding: "Throughout his professional life, he [Le Corbusier] tried to integrate sunlight, clouds, stars, and winds into his creation." [Treated in Sigfried Giedion's Space, Time and Architecture (Harvard University Press: 1967).] Jesionek's You May Kiss The Bride exemplifies a frequent motif in many of the paintings currently on exhibit. In it, the wall at right, and the steps low in the image form an open frame: one which subtly insists upon the upper left of the painting, a pale, uniform expanse of sky beyond. The skyscraper of the midground mediates what seems an invitation for the viewer to proceed, emerge, and explore. You May Kiss The Bride, as in many of Jesionek's images, draws a direct and simple power from its use of planes facetted in a prominent, nearly schematic three-dimensional geometry. Detail and distractive particulars are minimalized; indeed, Jesionek's paintings at times veer toward a Minimalist art. In these works, flat surfaces, walls and facades -- architectural element often evoke the styles of Contour or Field painting. However, in Jesionek's art, this is always counterpoised against a figurative reference. No matter how much some of the works may approach a direct, unreal, poetic reverie, the artist leaves ample reference to her content and motif -- an umbilicus to the realities.
There is a deep wisdom in Jesionek's approach. Philosophers and psychologists have been long aware that when one is 'at home' in a setting, a strong 'sense of place' develops, but particulars are often unnoticed and easily forgotten. (Much like trying to remember the color of a close friend's eyes.) Configuration and color are foremost perceptions, form deep emotional response, and in our living spaces, contribute greatly to the feelings of confinement, ease and freedom of movement. Jesionek's art works on a subliminal, immediate level, even where her inspiration is overt and conceptualized as in a piece such as ENTER/EXIT.
Dubos, in his Beast or Angel?, took Frank Lloyd Wright as advocate of a different aspect to human feelings and architecture: "The design of his 'prairie houses' seems to invite their dwellers to withdraw into them -- in his [Wright's] words, 'as into a cave' -- for protection against cold, rain, wind, and even against light." Magda Jesionek's ENTER/EXIT presents an icon for the sense of architecture as secure, intimate den. ENTER/EXIT builds upon the very essence which leads humans to delight in garden labyrinths, walled orchards, courtyards, even caves (some fine French estates are built into large caves.) It is significant that the title acknowledges 'in and out.' Jesionek is committed to a will to live together -- urban life. Her art draws from an instinct millennia-old... one which philosopher Martin Heidegger summarized:
Within the image of a painting, Jesionek masterfully exploits contours as compositional fields: they are figurative objects verging toward abstraction. The boundaries between them, and whether these elements are seen to advance or recede account for much of the illusion of depth in her work, even more so than her discrete use of light and shade. The philosopher Martin Heidegger, in Poetry Language Thought (Harper: 1971) observed:
Jesionek is well aware of the implications within her art -- the function and latencies of boundaries -- and this becomes explicit with Between The Lines. The format of this painting is an irregular pentagon: five irregular sides counterpoint the image which they confine: painted contours play against real contour. As it is hung -- suspended by sheer filament, Between The Lines raises the impression that painting and gallery space are elements in a larger, intangible work. Between the lines of the images, and the lines of canvas edge, there is a sense that space about the viewer fuses with his sense of 'place.' Something very much like this was noted by aesthetician Arnold Berleant who, summarizing the earlier observations of others, said: "Our spacial world emerges... from an environmental sensibility that blends sensory modalities, just as it fuses person and environment." (In Art and Engagement.) It should be noted that excellent curation for "Magda Jesionek: Landscapes" brings much of this artist's achievement to full view. The paintings are suspended by filament and positioned a bit away from the walls, which at once concentrates attention to the paintings and weakens the awareness that they are objects on display... vision melds them as a natural feature of the rooms.
Magda Jesionek's twenty-two paintings, in what is a spacious and well-planned gallery space, leave a viewer with a deep, pleasurable and abiding experience. Furthermore, they provoke a visitor's awareness of the space which comprises our aesthetic and conceptual environment, a "sense of place," both as seen and as internalized. They explore our architectural need for withdrawal and security, as well as our need for free and open space. And it was Rene Dubos who concluded: "If human beings are deprived of either one of these two experiences of space, they tend to re-create it in imagination to the extent of undergoing psychological disturbances."
The paintings of Magda Jesionek offer a deep, enduring pleasure. Moreover, they speak more directly, more eloquently than all the books of philosophers about some of our fundamental needs and joys. "Magda Jesionek: Landscapes" offers art, and insights which cannot be exhausted.
The twenty-two urban landscapes by Magda Jesionek are currently on exhibit at Gallery 1112, The Society for Arts, on 1112 North Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago. "Magda Jesionek: Landscapes" will run, together with landscapes by Sacha Stawiarski, until August 6, 2000. Both artists in this joint showing offer an excellent experience for the gallery visitor.
Additional information and images for Magda Jesionek may be found at http://www.schroder-art.nl.
--G. Jurek Polanski
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