By Jeffrey Wechsler, Senior Curator, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University

Paintings by Bohdan Osyczka, Marko Shuhan, and Ilona Sochynsky

April 8 through May 28, 2005

Zorya Fine Art focuses on work by artists of Ukrainian heritage, and the current exhibition features the work of three American artists who share this ancestry: Bohdan Osyczka, Marko Shuhan, and Ilona Sochynsky. These artists represent different generations and work in different media, so a three-person show of their paintings could have resulted in an unrelated trio of individual artistic approaches. In selecting the paintings for the exhibition, however, it became clear that significant aspects of the artists’ work revealed intriguing interrelationships, demonstrating how apparently diverse styles and methods can nevertheless have commonalities of perception and intent. But before noting such a linkage, brief descriptions of their work will serve to introduce the artists.

Since the 1960s, Bohdan Osyczka has been enlarging the range and complexity of the medium of watercolor through inventive techniques and powerful abstract imagery. Shattering the traditional notion of watercolor as a small scale medium of modest and delicate scope, Osyczka has produced works on paper reaching up to seven feet on a side. By pouring, puddling, trickling, and otherwise manipulating pure watercolor pigment suspensions over such formidable expanses of paper, Osyczka creates surfaces that are varied and rich in chromatic density, with sweeping veils and rills of color that take on a multitude of organic and gestural configurations.

The paintings on view by Marko Shuhan generally emphasize the visual and expressive potential of the painted gesture and active linear motifs. In certain works, networks of curving strokes may congregate toward the top of a canvas, releasing independent gestures that reach into the lower areas, suggesting solidity and depth through contrast with open, relatively blank areas. According to the artist, the strokes may be read as “symbols in space,” with suggestions of graffiti, or a form of primal notation. Evidently, the element of line is important to Shuhan, who has stated that his work, in part, is an attempt “to push the envelope in using pigment as a drawing tool.”

Works from an important phase of Ilona Sochynsky’s career -- her art from the late 1980s -- comprise a fascinating group of paintings that incorporate many of the artist’s pictorial concerns in a strikingly coherent manner. These works harken back to Sochynsky’s earlier interest in Photorealist technique, and look forward to her recent and progressively more abstract imagery. For these paintings, Sochynsky used photographs as source material, but by breaking up, fragmenting, or otherwise deconstructing the original imagery, she suppressed the recognizability of the objects, dealing out a shuffled and splayed deck of decontextualized shards of reality. The complex, dynamic visual constructions that result are clever interplays of illusionism and semi-abstract formal composition, each image offering, as the artist has noted, “something that speaks to you, but not literally.”

When viewing the work of the three artists together, it appears that their three approaches to imagery have independently developed around a central tenet of modernist art, the creation of a sense of depth or spatial ambiguity within an essentially flat painted surface. Their methods tend toward a pictorial middle ground where the elements that produce two-dimensional shapes and three-dimensional illusions become interdependent and even interchangeable. While Osyczka and Shuhan use non-objective means to indicate depth, space, or volume (through variations of pigment density and absorption, overlapping, “empty” areas, and the occasional sharp edge of hint of geometry), Sochynsky often reduces some of her fractured images to mysterious forms which retain little indication of their sources in reality beyond the pictorial illusionism itself: that is, the suggestion of space and volume (patches of shading or modeling, sharp edges, shifting “illumination”). All three artists distribute images and shapes so that they tend to drift or flow or tumble over the surface. Sochynsky’s fragmented glimpses of cloth or curtains, which interject snippets of folding, semi-abstract depth into the paintings, have parallels in the randomly illusionistic rippling effects of Osyczka’s color washes. There is even a case to be made for acknowledging spontaneity and the role of chance in each artist’s methods. Spontaneity is an essential element at the outset of any work by Osyczka, where the initial poolings and meanderings of liquid pigment form the basis for the ultimate image. Shuhan’s recent work actually builds upon a period of intense work in watercolor which taught the artist the importance of spontaneity, and he now states that he “does everything in his power to avoid planning” his paintings. Even Sochynsky’s work employs a method of fragmentation and reconfiguration which incorporates the effectiveness of chance juxtapositions of shape, color, and surface incident. Indeed, she often turns paintings on their sides or upside down while working, accepting the happy accidents of visual composition.

Thus, moving from painting to painting in this show, one may observe an unsuspected visual coherence. By exemplifying fundamental and related goals of pictorial moderrnism -- though achieved by following highly personal methodologies -- the works of Osyczka, Shuhan, and Sochynsky engage in an enlightening three-way visual conversation: a serendipitous convergence of individual paths.

Jeffrey Wechsler
Senior Curator,
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers University