Eyes Wide Shut
Maria Winiarski @ True Art Gallery
There are all sorts of reasons to make a painting. But it may be that most of them also
share an impulse to transform the artist’s experience of the world into something magical.
Maria Winiarski has long been known to local audiences as a highly expressive painter
of passion and romance. For many years the romance took a back seat to passion in
dramatic oil on canvas works. Recently her visions have opened on new meditative
depths, presenting a sense of profound emotional discovery in works where romance and
the immemorial human structure of romance is the order of the day. In her show Silence
at True Art in Collinwood the artist portrays scenes and images that could be used to
illustrate Jungian psychologist Marie Louise Von Franz’ expositional essay Interpretation
of Fairy Tales.
Each of the twenty-two paintings crowding the walls in the refurbished storefront gallery
at the corner of Waterloo Rd. and East 152nd Street seems like a stop-frame moment in
a dream sequence. These are not confused or random impressions, but paradigms for
emotional states and human relationships of the sort encountered in certain rare,
instructive dreams that depth psychologist C.G. Jung thought emerged from a collective
unconscious. However it happens, truths and teachings do seem to well up from the ages
as we sleep, and sometimes as we meditate or draw, distilled from a vast reservoir of
human experience and fundamental physiological structures.
Though it definitely carries a message, it’s hard to know exactly what a painting like
Winiarski’s Pod is saying. The largish oil on canvas work depicts a seated woman in a
yellow dress. Green slippers emerge from beneath the red hem of her wide skirt, which
spreads along the ground. We see her left profile, gazing upward. On her lap is a curious
oversized object resembling a milkweed pod or a nut of some kind. It is slightly open
along a vertical seam, revealing a serene blue interior.
Everything in this simple painting is freighted with significance: a cross-like pattern
visible on both slippers, the contrasting blue and yellow, red and green colors, the red
lips pressed upward toward the sky and red fingernails that lightly rest on either side of
the “pod.” Perhaps her long hair net, spangled with pearls like an array of stars, is a clue.
The could almost be the “Queen of Heaven,” whether in Christian iconography or the far
more ancient myths of every human culture. From another point of view, the yellow of her
dress is the opposite of the Virgin Mary’s traditional blue, and the carefully rendered, star-
spangled cone-shaped hairnet is as charged with sexual innuendo as the burgeoning
pod. Winiarski has perhaps painted a “Queen of Earth”, but one giving birth to the blue of
In the lovely painting Silence a woman in a red dress is asleep beneath a misty full
moon; a pile of dry flowers is near her head. Her pose and bushy, mane-like hair surely
add up to a visionary conflation of the two figures in Henri Rousseau’s famous Sleeping
Gypsy, where the supine figure is haunted by a huge lion.
But the second figure here is another woman. She holds a white-gloved finger to her lips
and wears a broad black hat shot through with writhing golden lines, as if she were
wearing the night on her head. The sleeping persona here seems very much like the
artist herself, who we are warned not to wake. In her sleep she brings dead experience
back to life as her dream weaves the moonlight.
Not everything at Silence is so symbolic. One of my favorites is a small work titled Van
Gogh’s Goose. Sketched in paint over a rough underlying surface, it could be an eastern
European folk painting like those admired by Chagall, and it brings into focus the range
of influences underlying Winiarski’s notably sophisticated and literary manner. The
folkloric aspect, for instance, is also reminiscent of German Expressionist Max Beckman’s
works. It was Beckman who said, "My aim is always to get hold of the magic of reality and
to transfer this reality into painting -- to make the invisible visible through reality. It may
sound paradoxical, but it is, in fact, reality which forms the mystery of our existence.”
Another painting here that recalls Max Beckman’s allegorical figures is Lust for Life. The
title of course coincides with that of the famous Irving Stone biography of Vincent Van
Gogh, which above all was an account of a painter’s obsession with his craft. Winiarski’s
work shows a masked male figure clinging to a violently blushing, red-haired woman. As
in Pod, her head is tossed far back and she faces left – Jung would say, into the
unconscious. Their long hair together forms a red and blond cascade down the right side
of the canvas. Both are nude, and the woman’s nipples are a red that matches her lips
and cheeks and hair. But they seem to be engaged in a pantomime or ritual dance – in
allegorical rather than actual sexual activity. It’s worth noting that the masked figure in this
painting is, except for the figure of Van Gogh, the only male represented at Silence. We
feel he may be here only conditionally, only if he dances.
Yellow Dress is among the strongest works on display. A young woman in a yellow dress
listens at a wall through the bottom of a drinking glass. Behind her, through a curtain,
Winiarski shows us two shadowy girls in nightgowns and black socks, fighting. The theme,
which might be jealousy but anyway deals with adolescent energies, brings to mind the
French artist Balthus, but without his sexual edge or surrealist bent.
Several of the paintings at Silence were seen last year in Winiarski’s solo show at e.
gordon gallery. That space has been one of Cleveland’s most serious-minded showcases
for emerging and mid-career artists in the area. Due to close later this season after a
brief, intense lifespan of less than 31/2 years, it will be sorely missed. It’s to be hoped that
Joan Deveney and Jim Tomko, who opened True Art this past April, will be able to keep
their doors open. It may help that just across the street Arts Collinwood’s gallery presents
exciting programming like the current Degrees of Frank exhibit and the upcoming
Grovewood Days, which will include works by Gary and Laura Dumm, Randall Tiedman,
and others. Both are just a short block from the Beachland Ballroom.
[Free Times 10/25/06]