East City Art Reviews: Jowita Wyszomirska’s The Distance of Blue

By Jan Aucker on February 26, 2019
Melt 3 (60°10’42.18″N 149°38’57.98″W), 2018, Mixed media, 37 1/2 x 51 inches. Photo courtesy of Gallery Neptune & Brown.

What draws us to nature?  Sometimes just being in nature forces us to live in the moment and take notice of the variety of contrasts around us: sometimes quiet or loud, rushed or slow, organized or unruly. This variation in the environment and its unseen power captivates artist Jowita Wyszomirska. In her latest show on view at Gallery Neptune & Brown in Washington, DC she continues her explorations of climate change, particularly the fragility of glaciers.  Her abstract mixed media drawings represent elements of the Arctic landscape that are continuously moving and slowly transforming.

Wyszomirska was born in Poland and immigrated with her family to Chicago in the early 1990s.  Her holistic approach to drawing and sculpture, has inspired her to explore beyond the two-dimensional surface.  She creates art from images that are visible as well as undetectable with the naked eye. This discipline has allowed her to capture the motion and stillness of nature whether based on satellite imagery or her experience of the Root Glacier located in the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska.  In 2017, during an artist residency at Wrangell Mountains Center she spent several days walking on the ice surface, witnessing the fragmented landscape continually diminishing due to global warming.

Installation View. Photo by Jan Aucker for East City Art.

The artist’s time in Alaska inspired her to generate a large volume of work.  This show includes fifteen drawings on paper and one large sculptural installation representing her experiences and concerns with ecological changes. This is evident in Water Memory, part of a larger installation that debuted at the Windgate Center for Art + Design at University of Arkansas Little Rock in 2018. The intention of Wyszomirska is to place the viewer in a virtual experience of snow, ice and rocks using nine-foot strips of Mylar descending from the ceiling. The painted panels are staggered so that the viewer can move among them, as if they were walking through the landscape. The work occupies the front window of the gallery so during the day the details of snow-covered jagged peaks with ominous clouds, rocky valleys, and dark crevasses are illuminated with natural light.

Water Memory, 2018, Mixed media installation, 115 x 150 x 70 inches. Photo courtesy of Gallery Neptune & Brown.

As the artist spent her days roaming the terrain, she saw how significant portions of ice are separating from the larger shelf.  She captured this fracturing in Cleaving 4 (61°33’30.30″N 142°54’16.64″W) as the movement of ice creates deep crevasses before breaking away. This drawing is brighter, highlighting snow and ice.  On closer examination, you can see an array of colors such as maroon, brown, gold and her signature periwinkle blue. The artist uses various mediums including ink, acrylic, pencils and cyanotype to recreate the chaos of splashing water on the rocks through the fractured ice. Due to the unconventional application of mediums, this abstract representation of the effects of climate change can aid the viewer in visualizing the reality of the situation.

Cleaving 4 ( 61°33’30.30″N 142°54’16.64″W), 2019, Mixed media, 52 x 36 1/2 inches. Photo courtesy of Gallery Neptune & Brown.

One of the darker works in the show is Changing Matter. You can visualize the artist looking down into a valley seeing shadowy pockets between the ice and snow. The drawing is bleak and chaotic, using broad brushstrokes and layers of deep blues and grays.  This interplay between the light and dark implies blinding snow and lashing winds. The splotched paint sponged over with white runs off the paper symbolic of a glacier disappearing drip by drip.  This work captures the motion and turmoil of nature as it shifts between abstraction and representation.   Wyszomirska has indicated that she is seeking to represent both physical and metaphysical intersections, parallels and connections to understand our environment and our place within it.

Changing Matter 1 (61°31’13.08″N 142°55’14.59″W), 2018, Mixed media, 26 x 34 1/4 inches. Photo courtesy of Gallery Neptune & Brown.

The artist continues to create works with nature in mind, particularly documenting the shifting landscape and the visible signs of global warming.  Generally, we perceive climate change as something intangible and detached, something we know about but that does not affect our daily lives. Wyszomirska is part of larger collective of artists that provide the public with visualizations of the problem and give them a personal experience with the subject matter.  With this exhibit, she has provided us with an indirect experience of something we cannot experience directly. As she spent her days walking on the ice surface and observing, she has conveyed the beauty of this vulnerable environment with the hope of inspiring viewers to help protect and preserve what, once lost, cannot be recovered.

The Distance of Blue is on view through March 9, 2019 at the Gallery Neptune & Brown, 1530 14th Street NW.  For more information, visit the gallery’s website www.galleryneptunebrown.com.