The critical essay

THE ACTIVE WORKS OF MARTA WAPIENNIK

by John Austin

It will be important not to be confused, not to lose sight of the main subject matter when gazing at the spectral imagery of Marta Wapiennik’s mixed media paintings on canvas. Such a remonstration is necessary when viewing art that is so guile- lessly (and not in small part evocatively and dexterously) moving.

Given today’s return to painting, it makes sense that an artist like Wapiennik’s would emphasize atmosphere and ambi- ence in groups of mysterious shapes against a single foglike ground. Contemporary art has seen fit to establish a new wave of painting, one that tends to emphasize the abstract as an agent of groundness. Yet Marta Wapiennik’s work not only recognizes the primary as part of a contemporary painterly attitude, it also shows an affection for the enigmatic, the unsaid unknown.

Like so much of today’s art, Wapiennik’s paintings fall in between categories of style. This sense of not belonging to any particular movement or school derives from the increasingly open situation painting finds itself in today. The artist success- fully negotiates her place in the midst of a fallout resulting from extraordinary freedoms; her sense of form enables her to proceed down the path of self-exploration, which her paintings record.

In a way, it makes sense that a contemporary artist such as Marta Wapiennik would emphasize the primordial, which works as both formal structure and spiritual metaphor in the face of an ever-more fragmented world. The technical ele- ments of her images—wavy layered applications of paint that may or may not describe something living—shows off her technical prowess, but at the same time we can see a drive toward material whose content is new. The symmetrical, branched lines that mirror each other down a central spine might be whimsical presentations of bones or veins or arteries; they also function as formal devices that stand alone in their lyric expressiveness. Clearly, Marta Wapiennik has imagined an idiom that works two way, as abstract structure and figurative device in her paintings and digial collages.

From the resist-method of paint application the artist allows the material to suggest to her what shapes are to emerge and dominate the picture plane while she folds and enfolds her surfaces. The mysterious, phantom-like forms in Soil series that result appear to be made of constantly shifting textured veils of paint. This veiling is the embodiment for Marta Wapien- nik’s abstract and figurative impulses that coalesce to form and un-form imagery imbued with luminous semi-opacity. The works, with their overexposed, drained look seem alien and other-worldly.

The artist’s sprays and phantasmic effects are applied towards abstract and figure studies seemingly recollected from dreams and mirages. Her imagery has developed as if they were silent afterimages in the mind that have cohered to startle us with their iconic boldness. Tehy give the viewer’s mind the time and space to reflect: a mental action that cannot help but be stoked by the artist’s evident play of metamorphosis that informs all of her work. The interweaving and shifting be- tween figure and form, figural and non-figuration, opaqueness and transparency is a painterly exploration of the crumbling of the body’s boundaries by the invasion of space. The artist’s efforts chart two simultaneous and seemingly contradictory acts.

The artist’s final, significant act is clear: she will give us the road map but she will not take the journey for us. The result is a visual experience filled with latent tension and power. It is for us to experience the psychic analogy to her visual conun- drums: matter and life-forms tottering on the edge between opaqueness and translucency, composition and decomposi- tion, dissipation and coherence, illegibility and intelligibility, fracture and wholeness. The contradiction between a coherent moving body, its disintegration and the simultaneity of broken and integral form is thus visually re-enacted in each of Marta Wapiennik’s haunting paintings.

John Austin is an art critic and writer based in Manhattan.


  • Instagram
  • Facebook