The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place)

Jan Sawka was a world renowned artist with artwork held in collections of 60 museums. Originally from Poland, his life took on unexpected direction when he was exiled from his country during the Cold War. He landed in New York and eventually made his home in High Falls, where he continued to make art from 1985 until his death in 2012.

Currently, the Dorsky Museum has a one-person thematic exhibit of Sawka’s work, The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place), curated by the artists’ daughter, Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer. The artworks clearly show Sawka’s love for his new country and especially the Hudson Valley. This is seen in the large four-panel painting depicting the Ashokan Reservoir, a place that reminded Sawka of his home country. Hanna Sawka, the artist’s daughter, commented: “This was a favorite place for my parents to take walks. The Hudson Valley was a place tied to my father’s memories.”

Sawka, his wife and daughter would travel for summer vacations to Asbury, New Jersey. Sawka felt the urban decline of Asbury Park reminded him of the conditions in Soviet-dominated Poland. The painting, “Asbury Notebook,” contains a multitude of small sketches and paintings that describe one detail about the place. Together, the images create a symphony of visuals.

Sawka-Asbury-Notebook-HR-1536x970-2
Jan Sawka, Asbury Notebook, 1981 Acrylic, graphite, mixed media on Masonite Courtesy Jan and Michael Solow

An entire gallery space is devoted to Sawka’s series, “Post-Cards,” which includes 36 drypoint prints of places around the world that were meaningful to the artist. What is especially exciting about this exhibit is a recent discovery of a letter from Sawka to Elena Millie, who was the Fine Prints Curator at the Library of Congress, where he described the inspiration and memories that he associated for each print in the “Post-Cards” series. Visitors will find these descriptions available in the gallery to guide their exploration.

Sawka-Postcard #32
Jan Sawka, Post-Card #32 (from the series “Post-Cards”), 1987-89, printed 1990, collection Samuel  Dorsky Museum of Art, gift of the Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs

Each of the artworks was created using drypoint, which is a scratching tool to create line on thick sheets of Plexiglas. Hanna Sawka provided this memory of visiting her father’s studio: “The persistent sound of a steel needle scratching Plexiglas is a part of my earliest childhood, it was a sound that I would hear well into adulthood.”

Artists scribe lines into the Plexiglas to create the imagery for a finished print. Lines that are deep and thick will print darker when put through the printing press. Hanna Sawka explained, “The length and the rhythm of the scratches would change with the length of the lines or hatchings. It was not a quiet scratch, but a determined, loud sound as my father scratched hard to create lines deep enough to hold ink for the printing process.” The exhibit includes a glass vitrine that contains two Plexiglas plates for the printing process as well as Jan Sawka’s drypoint scribing tool.


This article was originally published in the Hudson Valley News Weekend, February 26, 2020

Special Events: Planned symposiums were canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic. An online symposium is planned for Saturday, May 2, 2020. https://www.newpaltz.edu/museum/programs/specialevents.html

Symposium: Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place): A two-day symposium co-hosted by The Dorsky Museum and The Kosciuszko Foundation in New York City including panels of scholars who will help illuminate aspects of Jan Sawka’s practice, his biography, and the social and historic context of his art. Speakers will include Peter Schwenger, Tom Wolf, Beth Wilson, the exhibition curators and others.

YouTube video exhibition views of Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) Curated by Hanna Maria Sawka and Dr. Frank Boyer at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art.

View the catalogue:

Jan Sawka: The Place of Memory (The Memory of Place) is up through July 12, 2020.

The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art is located at State University of New York at New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive (75 S. Manheim Boulevard for GPS), New Paltz, NY.

Call or email to check gallery hours: 845.257.3844 | sdma@newpaltz.edu

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Featured image: The Letter #3, 1979 Acrylic, watercolor, ink, varnish on board. Courtesy Jean Feiwel | Gallery photo by Linda Marston-Reid

 

The Art of Collecting

Gallery view with Carrying in the foreground.

One of the most important milestones in the career of an artist is to have their work included into a permanent museum collection. The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art has established an annual purchase award and acquired artwork over the past 12 years through the Alice and Horace Chandler Art Acquisitions Fund. The exhibit, Collecting Local: Twelve Years of the Hudson Valley Artists Annual Purchase Award is a rare opportunity to see selections of the collection together.
Entering the gallery, it’s apparent that the collection has been built with a discerning, yet diverse eye. The exhibit includes video, sculptural installation, paintings, photography, mixed media and ceramics, yet all these artworks together create a vivid picture of the work of contemporary Hudson Valley artists.
Many of the artworks included in this exhibit turn the mirror back onto our culture as they examine climate change, violence in our society, and displacement. Curt Beishe and Lise Prown collaborated on the installation, Carrying (Pistol Packing Pupils) 2010, an artwork that makes a statement on our gun culture and gun laws in schools across the United States. Seen in a context of when the sculpture was created, we have seen ten additional years of gun deaths in our schools.

Libby Paloma creates wall hung multi-media pieces that memorialize her Chicanx and queer culture. In Chingona AKA Libby, she remembers her family roots while she claims her own individuality. The piece is embellished with seed beads and tiny objects that depict her world.
Several paintings are featured using a variety of style and approaches to working with paint. Nestor Madalengoitia’s work, Simon Bolivar – Hero 2, uses the artists’ trademark signature of portraiture with lettering and designs that feel inspired by Incan civilization from centuries ago. Thomas Sarrantonio’s small paintings on paper show us the birds eye view of forests with waterways from his series, Forest Paintings. Charles Geiger’s works are not only beautiful, but also a statement on the environment as shown in his painting, Out of Sight, inviting the viewer to search within the jungle of flowers and plant-like objects. In Stephen Niccolls’ painting, Strapat, the artist has pared down shapes to explore the essence of painting. Looking closely at the artwork, you will see the deliberate brushstrokes and placement of color.

 

Strapat – painting by Stephen Niccolls

There are several fine examples of photography in the exhibit from François Deschamps series, Available, where the artist places an image of a person alongside an empty storefront, to Richard Edelman’s dramatic piece, Rebekah Creshkoff in Search of Matilda, a study of shadow and light.
Several artists use existing materials to reconceptualize the work, such as Barbara Leon’s Homo Naturalis, where the artist has taken an existing poster and painted over the images. Don’t pass by the grouping of steel engravings; look closely to see how Jean-Marc Superville Sovak has inserted images that change the perception of these formerly bucolic landscapes.
As you depart this exhibit, pause a few moments at the gallery entrance to enjoy Patrick Kelley’s ethereal video, 175 Rome Churches.

The exhibit Collecting Local: Twelve Years of the Hudson Valley Artists Annual Purchase Award is on exhibit until July 12, 2020 at The Samuel Dorsky Museum of Art.
State University of New York at New Paltz, 1 Hawk Drive, (75 S. Manheim Boulevard for GPS), New Paltz, NY. Phone: 845.257.3844 Email: sdma@newpaltz.edu

This essay was originally published in the Poughkeepsie Journal, February 28, 2020.