3 Jul 2010
I Am From Here – the Paintings of Maciej Frankiewicz
By Moshe Mikanovsky
Shalom Toronto, July 1 2010
I am from here. The Train. The Suitcase. Singer Sewing Machine. There is No Hope. Wierzbnik Synagogue. Neighbors. Death of the Hassid.
These are some of the titles of the artwork of polish painter Maciej Frankiewicz presented this month in Toronto. The Al Green Gallery and the Ashkenaz Festival jointly sponsored and arranged Frankiewicz second showing at the GTA in the past two years. A prelude to the upcoming biennial 8th Ashkenaz Festival, which will take place August 31st to September 6th at the Harbourfront Centre Frankiewicz participated in the last festival in 1998, when he also visited and participated in meet-the-artist discussion session with festival’s visitors.
What makes Frankiewicz story unique, is that as post-world-war-II child, born in 1968 to a Catholic family at the town of Starachowice, which was known to its Jewish community before the war as Wierzbnik, his body of work is mainly depicting this same Jewish life and their plight and complete elimination from the town, both physically, and for most, from memory as well. In “I am from here”, the show’s namesake, a house in the shteitel (Yiddish for small village in East Europe), along with its inhabitant, are raised above the rest of the houses by larger-than-life bearded figure, whose identity (whether Jewish or gentile) is unclear. One person is running away from the scene while another lady is waving from a balcony. In “The Suitcase”, the entire shteitel is neatly tacked into a suitcase, ready for a trip. And in “The Train”, a transport train is moving away from the town, leaving behind Jewish symbols, while many anonymous hands are reaching to the skies from all directions.
Although these images might look like dealing only with the terrible ending of the Jewish life at Wierzbnik, Eric Stein, Artistic Director of the Ashkenaz Festival, told me that Frankiewicz deals with the life of the Jews as well. Stein met Frankiewicz in 1999 while on a roots trip to Poland with his brother. Before the trip he consulted with the Wierzbniker Society, a group who initially started by immigrants to Canada who supported and helped other immigrants in their immigration and accommodation process. The Society members recommended him to search for Maciej Frankiewicz, the Jewish cemetery custodian. After showing them the cemetery and the restoration work he did there, Frankiewicz invited the Steins to his home, and that is where they first saw his artwork. Both quality and subject matter touched Stein immediately. And the rest of the story is unfolding a piece at a time, with this beautiful show.
Stein continued telling me: “His art ranges from Idolized and Nostalgic to abstract with strong imagery. He sometimes wake up in the morning with a vision of a dream he just had, which he then put on the canvas. In other cases, he meets and interviews people who survived the war, and were originally from Wierzbnik, and then they appear in his paintings. His body of work is an historical recording, like a documentary.”
Last Wednesday the show opened with a special event of The Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada and the Wierzbniker Society with a special program featuring Howard Chandler, a Wierzbniker survivor who told the guests about Jewish life in Wierzbnik before the war, as well as a representative from the Polish Consulate in Toronto.
Frankiewicz, father of 12, could not come this time to Toronto to attend the show. But his presence was much felt with the strength of his artwork and his technique. Most of the work is tempera and oil pastel on paper, where he is using recycled and reconstructed layers of paper for the support of the work.
The show is open until July 8th at the Al Green Gallery on Merton Street. The Al Green Gallery was founded by Canadian real-estate developer, sculptor, and philanthropist, Al Green. The newly renovated gallery continues to embrace Al’s dedication to sculpture, but has broadened its focus to include a range of artistic disciplines. The gallery provides a venue for artists, many of whom have limited opportunities to exhibit their work, while also raising awareness and funds for diverse charitable causes.
The co-sponsors, Ashkenaz Festival, are a community-based non-profit organization dedicated to fostering an increased awareness of Yiddish and Jewish culture through the arts. Through its biennial festival and an expanding slate of year-round programming, Ashkenaz showcases the work of leading contemporary artists from Canada and around the world working in music, film, theatre, dance, literature, craft, and visual arts.
The Al Green Gallery address: 64 Merton Street, Toronto, ON M4S 1A1. 416-440-3084
www.thealgreengallery.com Gallery hours: Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays 12-5pm; Thursdays 12-7pm; Closed Sunday, Monday, Tuesday.
Moshe Mikanovsky writes for Shalom Toronto on Israeli Art matters in Toronto. (firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mikanovsky.com)