A Fractured Image

Harry Wozniak. Photo by Matt Rose.

Harry Wozniak. Photo by Matt Rose.

If the task of an artist is to explain the world to us, then the work of Hendersonville painter Harry Wozniak is a rewarding guide. Using Cubist themes as a starting point, Harry dissects his subjects in the sharp angles and curves of a bright palette, creating an almost three-dimensional depth of field on a flat canvas. It was this kind of dislocation that left art lovers of a century ago, lulled by decades of soothing landscapes and portraiture, aghast at a radical new way to interpret the world. One critic in 1911 complained of “reducing the human body…to pallid cubes,” which is precisely what Marcel Duchamp accomplished the next year in his Cubist landmark Nude Descending A Staircase.

Harry’s career as a painter follows the historical progression from traditional forms to something more exploratory. He began experimenting with the Cubist universe nearly 20 years ago, when he was still living in his native Buffalo, New York, beginning with a series of still life subjects. “But up until that time, I painted in a strict realistic way doing landscapes and still life,” Harry says. “Once I got hooked on Cubism I couldn’t turn back. It continues to challenge me, to push my understanding of the world.”

His still life studies, mostly in oil, take common objects — playing cards strewn on a table, cigarettes and cocktails arranged on a bar, teapots and cups — and in true Cubist style take apart and rearrange their individual elements, like a child taking apart a toy to see how it works. The paintings visually portray the tension between form and color as shadows and lines interrupt the deep blues, reds and browns that characterize Harry’s work. He calls it “fracturing, a way to travel around, through and within the subject all at once. When it’s really working,” he says, “I get to the character of a thing rather than concerning myself with depicting a literal reality.”

His family background laid the foundation for the work to come. His father, whom Harry considers a kind of Renaissance man with wide-ranging interests in the arts and humanist studies, worked in oils, pastels and pen-and-ink. A grandmother kept a kiln in the family basement and was a well-known ceramicist. But the spark that ignited Harry’s career as a self-taught painter was an elementary school field trip to an art museum. “I couldn’t believe that anyone could do such wonderful things with a brush and paint,” Harry remembers. “The experience convinced me that I had to be a painter, I just had to figure it out and start doing it myself.”

Countless visits to museums and private collections in and around Buffalo and, later, in Ohio during the coming years served as Harry’s formal schooling, an intuitive course of study that Harry said continues to be an active part of his growth as an artist. “I don’t paint in a ‘how-to’ kind of way,” Harry says. “If what I’m doing starts to feel formulaic, then I immediately shut down. Whatever I’m doing has to be challenging, or it gets boring.”

The most recent challenge has been a series of landscapes informed by his Cubist leanings, deconstructing the well-ordered harmony of the natural world. “It’s one thing to tear apart a jar, a bottle, or even a person,” Harry says. “But when dealing with landscape, how does one do that and have it all make sense?”

One way is Harry’s choice to rely on the depth of color and more tactile possibilities of pastels as opposed to oils. Harry’s dissembled landscapes seem to draw a viewer closer to the hidden processes under our feet, a glimpse at the complexity that leads to a sturdy tree trunk or the delicate tracery of a leaf. The abundance of summer seems amplified in Harry’s geometric incisions and forms, the peacefulness of winter deeper and more calming. There is no sense of disruption or degradation of the natural order. “I never try to make statements with my art,” Harry says. “That sort of thing doesn’t work for me. I get too wrapped up in the message, and then the art suffers. I prefer to focus on the creative process of painting for its own sake rather than anything propagandist.”

Future work for Harry, beside his continuing enthusiasm for landscape, includes plans for more large-scale work like his 24-foot-long entryway mural at a rehabilitation center in Columbus, Ohio, where he and his wife lived before moving to Hendersonville in 2011. There are upcoming shows in Ohio and Florida during the remainder of this year. “I’d love to do another mural sometime,” Harry says, “an exterior one on the outside of a building. But my style is still evolving and that’s what I love — the sense that there’s so much more to do.”

Harry Wozniak

Art Mob Studios and Marketplace

124 4th Avenue East




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