CHARACTER IN LAYERS, BY JEFFREY WECHSLER
In his recent series of paintings and related sculpture, Mark Dziewulski has determined to explore two of the most central and venerable images in the history of art: the human face and head. As the anatomical feature that has long been identified as the source of intellect and emotion, the head offers the opportunity to depict or suggest, whether in realistic or symbolic modes, the internal qualities of thoughts, feelings, and perhaps consciousness itself. The face, specifically, can become the visual conduit for the external expression of those qualities. The stylistic choices that artists make when rendering the head and face represent their comprehension of how particular manners of physical delineation may be effective vectors to emphasize particular internal characteristics. These inner states might touch upon standard emotions (love, hate, happiness, fear) or might turn an artist toward the more fluid enterprise of evoking more imprecise concepts including psychology and spirituality.
The faces created by Dziewulski can be associated with a modern tradition that moves away from naturalism, and instead delves into the conceptual possibilities gained through partial abstraction, altering the image to varying degrees and with different styles to capture a given background idea. Thus, the early 20th-century painter Alexej von Jawlensky ultimately simplified the human head
and face to semi-geometric areas of color, leaving only hints of facial features, the better to convey an essentially spiritual notion of the individual. Decades later, Francis Bacon twisted and contorted the human visage using aggressively expressionist brushwork to obliquely touch upon the changing, unmoored aspects of an existentialist world view. Many other artists have developed their personal formulas within this multifaceted method of probing the human personality and psyche.
To this fruitful format, Dziewulski has now added his own contributions, with work not only in painting,
but also in three dimensions. Many of the paintings carry the general title Sel e followed by a number. These works are often linked through the use of rapidly brushed horizontal strokes that build up an image of a face, sometimes rather ethereal in effect, but varying in apparent solidity throughout the series. The linear flow of the lines as they whip across the surface also act to evoke a sense of action,
of the blurring of something seen in rapid motion. However, here the title of Selfie begins to bring out a range of notions that make the conception behind, and interpretation of, the images to be a rather complex matter. It is probably safe to assume that, for many observers, the contemporary selfie is rarely considered to be an image to be taken particularly seriously, much less as a method of producing fine art. Thus, it seems reasonable to speculate that the artist has a purpose behind choosing this title. Significantly, these images are not self-portraits of the artist, whereas standard selfies depict the person taking the photograph. Indeed, various faces are seen, and many of them are female. Also, the distortion of the faces renders them unidentifiable, certainly to a random observer. Since the realistic details of exterior features seem secondary, could it be that the images are meant to show the more indefinite concept of the Self -- the psychic components of the human being? Thus, taking the series title as clever wordplay, these individually painted Selfies may not be self-portraits, or even portraits of oneself, but allusive portrayals of the Self.
Where the paintings may refer more directly to the common selfie is in the suggestion of a fleeting moment captured. A photograph, after all, freezes a moment in time. A painted Selfie by Dziewulski, being a static surface, is also a frozen image, but what is captured here is the chimerical nature of our inner life.
Some faces seem caught while rushing across the picture surface; some appear as if enshrouded in a fog or an obscuring horizontal webbing; some have sharp right-left divisions created by shadow lines (two sides of a personality?) All are indistinct, perhaps fading, perhaps changing before our eyes. This is a logical rendering of psychological and emotional mutability -- the natural, constant flux of our thoughts and emotions. As Dziewulski noted: "With paint you have the amazing ability to incorporate into the still image the extra dimensions of time and memory."
In two of the Selfies, the artist has produced an unusual visual effect. In Selfie 27 and Selfie 32, part of a face is laid down with a rather thick application of deep blue pigment. This image gives the illusion of hovering slightly in front of the rest of the painted surface, providing an intriguing sense of three- dimensionality. Complimenting the general ambience of semi-materiality and evanescence of the artist's imagery, these quasi- floating forms fit within an overall concept of attempting to secure meaning through an accretive process, whereby conceptual subjects (the facets of personality, or the depths of thought) can be approached only through the accumulation of relevant, if incomplete, sections and details. Dziewulski has stated: "We discover the nature of people's character in layers that build up to create a whole."
Given this notion, and the fact that Dziewulski is a successful architect, it is quite natural that the artist would translate and expand his philosophies beyond the painted surface and into the third dimension, specifically in a format that realizes "character in layers" in a compellingly physical way. This
is realized in his Layers of Self series, in which faces are painted upon a set of transparent plastic squares, which are then aligned and rigidly mounted with space between them into a free-standing structure. Due to the transparency of the plastic, the faces, which vary in size, create the illusion of
a solid portrait head when seen from the front, and maintain that illusion for a while as the viewer moves around the piece. Perhaps just as interesting is the sensation evoked at the point when the viewer moves enough to the side that the illusion of solidity falls away. Now revealed as an illusion, the thought process of the work's creator and the revelation of the piece as a mental construct comes to the fore, emphasizing the role of analysis and discovery in the development of the final visual product. Viewed from about forty-five degrees from the front, the work becomes a synthesis of two fundamental trends of modern art: expressionism, as seen in the painted faces, and the geometric machine aesthetic of the overall structure. By allowing the viewer full access to inspect and understand the background of this particular work's process and meaning, bolstered by the Layers of Self title, Dziewulski reveals the intersecting interests, philosophies, and materials that are a hallmark of his creative process.
Jeffrey Wechsler is a specialist in twentieth-century American art, who has organised over 50 exhibitions and authored over 50 writings. He acted as Senior Curator at the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University for 36 years, and has served in advisory roles for numerous arts organisations, from the National Endowment for the Arts to the New Jersey State Council for the Arts. Wechsler is currently on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Women Artists, and contributed greatly to its establishment through a role that actively oversaw its acquisitions.