Turning Point
Bill Radawec @ exit a gallery space

Movement is identity. Each twitch, every decision and reaction leaves a trace, a track
inscribed – if only in the molecules of the air -- as a stroke in the universe’s ongoing self-
portrait. We all do our part.

Interpretation is harder, though, like the recent NASA photos of a “mudslide” on Mars that
may be evidence of subsurface water, or may just look like that. The dots we connect
sometimes are a match only in our imagination. For instance, when United Flight 93 was
hijacked on that fateful September morning, it was somewhere in the airspace over Parma,
Ohio, perhaps directly over artist Bill Radawec’s house. On that lovely, clear late summer
morning the sky was blue and the 757 jet would have left a huge curving contrail as it
abruptly turned and headed towards its doom, ultimately falling to earth in a strip mine near
Shanksville, PA.

In the thirty small paintings and drawings that make up his solo show “Out of the Blue…”
Radawec imagines walking out his door not far from Ridge Road and looking up, just at
that moment of turning, forming a line-of-sight connection with history.

The paintings are hung at different heights around exit’s two galleries; some are less than
five feet up from the floor, others hover near the ceiling, and all are spaced fairly far apart,
conjuring the wide expanse of open sky. In the paintings the blue is rendered in acrylic, but
the contrails themselves are meticulously drawn in dense accumulations of white colored
pencil marks. The illusion is nearly perfect. Radawec has depicted straight sections of
vapor, headed right toward the ceiling, and strong, thick ones that cut boldly across the
canvas like one of abstract expressionist Barnett Newman’s famous “zip” paintings. Others
are seen as if at a greater height, sharp and clear and ending with ominous abruptness. It’
s as if the mystery of 9/11 and its decisive events were written on the sky. Extrapolating
from Radawec’s reverie, every contrail since has been commentary on that day’s tragic text.

Over the past two decades Radawec has engaged in various projects that sketch a
relationship between mark making as a deliberate expressive activity, and the accidental
aesthetics that time and nature inscribe. It’s worth mentioning that these are by no means
his only concerns. Speaking to a group of students recently he came up with a list of words
and subjects that sample his own interests. Running from “Atomic bomb” and “cooking”
through “fireman” and “stand-up comedy”, it also mentions growing up in the 1960’s,
Hieronymous Bosch and Vermeer. There are seventy-two entries, all of which have been
part of his thinking and process at one time or another, and no doubt he could easily add
as many more. Probably that’s not unusual for an artist in these intellectually engaged,
polymorphic times, but the list does serve to remind us that everything we do and make is
constructed from layer upon layer of intention and experience.

Also known as a curator here and in Los Angeles, Radawec pioneers informal exhibition
spaces with a highly innovative exhibition style (as at exit, in cooperation with that gallery’s
talented Corey Baker), like the series of shows he mounted in friends’ homes in the Los
Angeles area. Collectively called Domestic Setting, those exhibits garnered some national
interest, earning Radawec coverage in Art News. Art Forum, Flash Art and Art in America.
Later, in the fall of 2002, a couple of years after his return from a decade on the West
Coast, the artist/curator began to put together exhibits in a gallery the size of a child’s
bedroom, built for him by Cleveland artist Matt Dibble in a corner of his studio. Called
superior, a gallery space, it offered Cleveland audiences a taste of many different artistic
cuisines, assembled from Radawec’s wide acquaintance in art communities and university
departments around the country.

During these past seven years he’s also mounted several shows of his own work, first at
Shaheen Contemporary and Modern downtown, and later at Per Knutas’ raw & co in
Tremont. Crack-ups at Shaheen, showed elaborate pencil and paper reconstructions of
sections of Radawec’s apartment walls in Venice, CA. Each was an exact replica of damage
caused by the Northridge earthquake, which shook Radawec and a few million other
Californians awake early in 1994. As in “Out of the Blue…”, the artist is obsessively reliving
a moment in time over and over again, like a diamond stylus running in the same groove
on an old LP. It’s hard to tell whether the analogue experience he generates is intended to
close a cognitive gap caused by a catastrophic moment in time, when everything suddenly
veered, damaged, toward a different destiny; or perhaps these works aim to put
themselves between the wound and the weapon, re-configuring the real. Either way,
Radawec proposes a hall of mirrors to the mind.

A post-minimalist/conceptualist in orientation, he seeks the essence of things, but with an
autobiographical slant that usually accompanies a more expressive manner; post-
minimalists tend to park the personal at the gallery door. The late Fred Sandback, for
instance, whose work would figure prominently on any list of Radawec’s influences and
mentors, became famous over the past forty years for his deceptively simple geometric
constructions made with strands of string and yarn, transforming the way audiences
perceive interior space. Those extraordinary sculptures steadfastly refuse to be either two
or three dimensional, instead suggesting the pure volumes of a transcendent realm,
magically translated to real space and time. The constructions at Crackups and the
paintings at “Out of the Blue…” do something similar as they recollect the mere flick of the
tail of mortality, in order to come to terms with that most personal of all subjects – death –
and the sort of transcendent space that death occupies in relation to ordinary, daily life.
Another of Radawec’s themes is what he calls “fake nature” and the way that nature
imitates art when it invades man-made structures. Much of the landscape of Los Angeles is
notably a conversation of that kind, between cosmos and cosmetics – but of course that
could be said of any contemporary city, even Cleveland. Things like the contrails of
modern jets, which are nothing if not fake clouds, are another case in point. That the coin
of art is always forged is half of Radawec’s ongoing thesis; the other half is the disturbing
fact that the reality we buy with it is death.

[Free Times 1/17/07]