Barbara Januszkiewicz In Full Color

By Editorial Team on December 18, 2019
Barbara Januszkiewicz, Beyond Belief 48×38. Photo by MSR Drescher

On view through February 2020 at Kimpton Carlyle Hotel.

The hotel is located at 1431 New Hampshire Avenue, Washington DC, 20009

View Barbara Januszkiewicz’s newest stain works on unprimed canvas and paper. Described as DC’s own Washington Color School ambassador, Januszkiewicz has re-invigorated the color field technique of the early WSC artists, not only by channeling the veil paintings of Morris Louis, but in the soak/staining of her canvases much like that of Helen Frankenthaler.

In this exhibit we see Januszkiewicz produce zen-like brush strokes across large formats with thinned acrylics. Instead of the WSC traditional pouring paint, she creates and designs her own unique brushes to control her fans of color to create fields of pure color.

After a critically and commercially successful career as a watercolor artist and educator, Barbara Januszkiewicz became fascinated with telling the story of the Washington Color School, (WSC) a little-known American art movement originating in the late 50s to early 60s. Essentially an outgrowth and a reaction to the New York School of abstract expressionism, the Washington Color School consisted of a loosely affiliated group of artists in Washington who were interested in exploring new ways to approach color painting.

The WSC artists, Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland, Tom Downing, Paul Reed and Howard Mehring, all wanted to explore color in a variety of ways by creating deceptively simple compositions that evoked dynamism and tension.

As early adopters of acrylic paint, this group of painters was interested in taking a new approach to painting: by soaking and staining unprimed canvas with heavily diluted paint (a technique first created by Helen Frankenthaler) they were creating color optical effects and creating an immediate, all at once, visual experience of pure color for the viewer. By rejecting the New York’s schools’ energetic gestural style and narrative subject matter, the WSC painters forced the viewer’s attention on color, and color only.

While researching the WSC, Januszkiewicz befriended the last living artist from the Washington Color School group, artist Paul Reed. In his early 90s, Reed became a huge inspiration for Ms. Januszkiewicz, as he encouraged her to experiment blending her style with the methods and philosophy of the Washington Color School artists. After mentoring the artist for a few years, Mr. Reed passed away in 2016 at the age of 94, leaving behind a young woman who would carry forward the concepts and experiential color approach of the WSC.

Inspired by Mr. Reed, Ms. Januszkiewicz abandoned the narrative approach of her watercolor years in favor of huge luminous and elegant paintings of large swaths of acrylic color. Her style evokes the stained canvases of Morris Louis and Helen Frankenthaler’s work, but in her paintings, she creates fans and fields of color by using creatively sculpted brushes, brooms, mops, and actually pouring the diluted paint (created by her own formula.)

In utilizing the unprimed canvas, her paintings project a free flowing but skilled brushstroke style applied in curving color shapes submerged in translucent washes. The luminosity of her color work provides the transcendental color experience the WSC colorists were striving for, as the color is not just on top of the canvas, but has become embedded into the canvas, by using the soak staining approach.