Theater in the Round
March 2, 2023 -May 1, 2023
Theater in the Round, created by Julia Medynska and Office Space, invites viewers to explore a psychological world of visually opposing but connected languages of art, much like two separate but connected sides of a coin. One side of the coin being the beautiful landscapes and objects, visualized through Medyńska’s deep saturation and flowy brush strokes. The other side opposes this with an overall dark hue that envelops the entire painting with macabre scenes to match.
Bathing the Boy and Dance by the Lake exhibit these oppositions well. Both take in beautiful landscapes that recall Rococo era painting with lush foliage, bright flowers, and puffy clouds. The scene is painted in an abstract style that resembles a more impressionistic flavor but with its own unique spin. Medyńska uses these languages of lavish and lush beauty to juxtapose the scenes of the boy who is forcefully being bathed by a large burly figure. The boy is vulnerable, his body curled up in fear and protest against the other subject. His nakedness further emphasizes his powerlessness in the situation. Much the same goes for Dance by the Lake, which exhibits a female body in horizontal orientation much like martyrdom images of saints, both female and male, who are often depicted lying down after being slain with people beside them mourning. The struggling and twisting motion of the same female body similarly has a familiar flow and motion to the work of Suzanna and the Elders by Gentileschi. For Medyńska these opposing visuals of narrative and setting, combined with elements of Baroque and Rococo art histories, translate to the psychology of her lived experience growing up.
Medyńska was born in Poland but moved when she was 5 to Germany. In Germany she was told that she needed to blend in by her grandmother and assimilate to the German culture and language. Medyńska was not allowed to speak Polish outside of the house or to act like a Pole. She had to live a double life burying her impoverishment, culture, and identity under a hardened exterior. This psychological struggle is showcased in full display within her art. In Medyńska’s paintings these traumas and pains come out in violent force like bottled up emotions, allowed to spill out and splatter on the canvas in emotive brushstrokes.
Theater in the Round displays within the show six pieces that have Dutch still life practice within them. Still lifes for the Dutch were ways of investigating the world around them by replicating objects exactly as the eye would see them. This investigative nature was used by artists to further understand their world, the painting of still lifes also operated as a scientific study, forcing the artist to work with every piece of the object. These objects could be broken down in a multitude of different ways such as color, shape, texture, or materials to name just a few. For Medyńska this linkage to still life within her artistry is likened to her observational nature that was pushed upon her during her move to Germany. The constant pressure to assimilate and fit in required astute attention to the details and behaviors of others within her public social sphere similar to the techniques required from still life painting. Still Life with Flower, while seemingly subtle, invokes a personification of Medyńska’s struggle to fit in. The work exhibits a Dutch 16th century feel but upon close inspection just doesn't seem quite the same, something is different. The black around the flowers melts downward in dribs of paint like wax. But not just the black, some of the flowers themselves look as though they are melting away, like an illusion of something seemingly real giving way to what's really underneath. The painting's qualities give way to this idea of acting or trying to be Dutch but underneath it all, it is not.
Other works by Medyńska are more explicit in their connection to the artist's past, such as The Seamstress who’s title directly references her grandmother and mother who made a living sewing clothes. The Fool and The Beard depict people in costumes with faces obstructed by covering or plastered in makeup. These directly referencing the idea of a mask or alternate identity that Medyńska needed to assume to hide her Polish origin and immigrant hardships from her peers in school.
Theater in the Round, then, invites the viewer to a stage play where beautiful scenery and bright colors clash with violent fantasies and high-stake drama. Where characters' and their masks are taken off to reveal the naked truths of their identity on full display for a hungry audience. So please, sit back and enjoy the show!
Julia Medyńska was born in Socialist Poland. In 1985, her family managed to escape into West Berlin. After high school, she moved to New York to study acting; attending the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and the Neighborhood Playhouse. She performed at the Off-Broadway Manhattan Ensemble Theatre.
Medyńska returned to school in 2009 to earn her BA, as well as her MFA in visual arts from Columbia University. Heavily influenced by her acting background, her figurative paintings are composed narratives that explore the idea of the social mask employed to hide underlying psychological truths. She is an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant recipient. Her solo exhibition at the Muzeum Ziemi in Międzyrzecz “Maskarada” has currently been moved to Spring 2021 due to COVID. She is currently preparing for her first London solo show at School Gallery next year.
My painting explores the psychology of the individual. My recent painting, has expanded from individual portraits to large scale narratives. I compose environments where characters engage in violent acts while apathetic bystanders witness the macabre scene.
Since childhood, I have faced the struggle between the private drama versus the public persona. I was five years old when my family escaped Poland. Settled in Berlin, the five of us lived in a single room. My domineering grandmother, the family matriarch, was determined to fit in with the affluent Germans and hide our impoverishment. She manipulated her two daughters to climb the social ladder through a series of advantageous and abusive marriages. In order to blend in at a very prestigious private school, I learned to "put on a mask" and hide the embarrassing reality of my home life.
In my paintings, I see myself as a film director composing narratives from unrelated source images to develop an uncanny dramatic scene. I search for my “actors” either in vintage black and white photography or film stills. Inspired by their body language, I invent a story. Its setting is either taken from a 19th century landscape painting or a film still. What attracts me to an image are lurid color temperatures and contrasting lighting scenarios. I aim for a beautiful yet ominous atmosphere, creating a world where characters inflict physical harm onto one another. I intentionally keep facial features and expressions minimal to resist describing an identity. Instead the actors become archetypes and their physical activity an allegory for a psychopathological world. Each painting is a horrid secret where I can choose to lift the curtain.
CHECKLIST OF WORKS
Bathing the Boy, 12 x 12 inches
Dance by the Lake, 20 x 16 inches
The Seamstress, 10 x 8 inches
The Fool, 12 x 10 inches
The Beard, 20 x 15.8 inches