Editor’s Note: this article originally appeared in the East City Art Spring 2016 Quarterly (print)
Andrew Wodzianski certainly creates an odd portrait. In paintings of tightly framed torsos, we see not expressive eyes and lips, but mask-covered chins above iconic fantasy emblems. They would be representations of prepubescent dreams if not for the sinews of the neck that define an adult body. Equally confounding are his performance works—durational events where the artist brings the quirky pursuits of literary heroes to life. Simultaneously working in (and excelling at) such disparate media is rather an anomaly in this region; Wodzianski’s work could quickly become scattershot if not for the thread of superhero fantasy that binds his ideas together. I recently sat down with the EMULSION 2015 third place finalist to discuss his widely divergent creations and why boyhood dreams so easily creep into adult minds.
While known primarily for both painting and performance, Wodzianski’s oeuvre also includes printmaking and sculpture. “I don’t want to feel limited to one material,” he tells me, noting, “they scratch different itches.” This notion of itching is a curious yet apt metaphor, for there are certainly potent ideas trying to break free. On the surface, these ideas find their genesis in the artist’s love of literature, movies and toys. Dig deeper and you will find it is not only about the physical objects or written word, but the sense of childhood exploration and identity-building they embody.
As Wodzianski proves, this transformational exploration has no age limit—no pop-art BAM! bubbles announcing self-actualized adulthood. One aspect of this journey is rooted in the physical, capturing the transition of our bodies from youth to adulthood. For example, many works in his ongoing Androids series, investigate the collision of gender identity within a science fiction universe. While his younger self many not have been able to verbalize it, Wodzianski notes that being, “confined to the boy aisle [of toy stores] was limiting.” As an adult, Barbie-style imagery holds a certain interest; gender-bending work questioning how we define our sexual identity is the result. Images such as Head of Research (2007) and Suddenly Superman notices his suit needs cleaning (2010), with their female heads combined with male musculature, playfully satirize rigid gender roles while creating space for us to define our bodies under our own terms. Self Portrait as Queen Amidala (2015) from his current Fanboys series demonstrates how this continues to be a germane topic for the artist.
The Fanboy series delves past stark physical characteristics, examining the emotional development that accompanies (and lingers after) our bodily changes. Notably the artist now seems more comfortable bringing his private experience into public view by placing himself directly in the model’s seat. Self Portrait as Ironmen (2014) casts the artist as a robotically-enhanced superhero straight from the Marvel Comics universe. His fictitious characters need no introduction; even in such tightly cropped foci we know exactly whom he emulates. The unusual cropping bears investigation; while these characters’ stories are seemingly unending, Wodzianski presents a world choreographed to capture the fleeting moment from boyhood innocence to man about town. Masks hide the artist’s beard and add youthful associations to the works, but the light source falling upon those aforementioned neck muscles insinuate the advanced development of an adult, male body; as such, the artist’s self-identification as a “man-child” seems certainly apt. At the same time he indicates this man/boy dynamic is not a simple duality. His not-so-subtle penchant for tightly constraining our view “freezes” a moment in time, inferring that the movement from youth to adulthood is both always ongoing and a complex journey of waypoints, side trips and scenic overlooks.
Wodzianski’s performance pieces could be viewed as a parallel track—one of those side trips if you will—where the artist tackles identity formation from another point of view. In this context, the artist reflects not solely back to his own youth, but on characters whose pronounced foibles speak to the fluidity of the human condition. His first few performances, such as 2010’s Pop-Up Living, saw him cast as more as a fictitious “everyman” for viewers to interpret based on their own experiences. Recent performances link back more directly to the artist, as he loosely embodies the lives of literary characters such as Ishmael from Moby Dick, Cervantes’ famous character Don Quixote or Jack Torrance from The Shining. Though they span centuries, these characters are linked by complex emotional lives that call their sanity into question. For Wodzianski, maturity isn’t the end of identity formation; indeed, our understanding of ourselves may only become more tenuous the longer we wander.
Given the fleeting nature of performance, I’m curious as to what value it brings the artist and how it relates to his two-dimensional work; why create something that vanishes before our eyes? For Wodzianski the duration of the events and the physical demands they entail stretch his mind in ways paint cannot stimulate. And while performance works place him squarely in the public gaze, he sees his own persona buried just as deep in performance as it is carefully cropped on canvas; the wall between performer and audience is as rigid as a picture plane. The nuances created within a performance, though not easily commodifiable, lend important contexts to his two-dimensional work. Portraying “flawed” characters—or for that matter painting himself in the guise of a villain in works like Self Portrait as the Joker (2013)—allows the artist to experience moments of identity-building and transformation through an entirely different lens. Experiencing “the joy of nefarious deeds,” as the artist puts it, seems contrary to societal dictates, but is also a tacit acknowledgement that formulating our identities is no simple walk through the park.
That journey grows more complex in 2016. Wodzianski used his third place EMULSION 2015 winnings to purchase more research material, including Masters of the Universe collectables which will send his painting in new trajectories. Two performance works are also in the early stages of development and he has his eyes on curating a fantasy-themed group show in the not-so-distant future. Time to get comfortable; this is one artist who plans on taking us on a long ride!
To see more of Andrew Wodzianki’s work, go to www.wodzianski.com