the soul exceeds its circumstances
Elizabeth Harris Gallery is pleased to present its third solo exhibition of new paintings by Ron Milewicz.
Acclaimed as a painter of the urban landscape, in his new works Milewicz turns to painting objects in order to regard the life of his father, Eli Milewicz. The elder Milewicz, who died in 2012 at age 98, was a tailor who survived Auschwitz, three other Nazi concentration and forced-labor camps, and two death marches. The artist has chosen, from the facts of extraordinary experience, to depict ordinary objects – a shovel, bricks, spools of thread, an overcoat, a leaf. The paintings surprisingly and uncannily address, without bombast, fundamental issues raised by atrocity of inconceivable cruelty and scale.As poet Tom Sleigh writes in the catalog essay: "Milewicz's images are suffused with a kind of metaphorical double vision…whatever the literal object in the painting, that object is both itself and something more. And that something more is always disturbing, not in some vague way, but in a way that feels deeply personal to the painter, meditated over, wrestled with, approached head on, then edged away from -- as if the images were as much a psychic invitation as a psychic threat to both painter and viewer...These paintings make serious demands on the viewer. They are at once symbolic, historical, and personal. They refuse to stand aloof from biographical circumstance, but demand that viewers come to them prepared to intuit some deeper private resonance."
Consistent with the gravity of his subject matter, Milewicz's imposing compositions are elemental – a single object or a group of objects, always presented actual size, is centrally located on the canvas, sometimes raised or lowered. Color, likewise held in check, relies on precise calibration and subtle shifts in hue and tone to achieve its haunting impact. Milewicz's restraint yields images of tremendous force that belie the seemingly simple subjects they depict. Deftly painted but without emphasis on Milewicz's formidable artistic skill, the paintings are quietly iconic, illicit multiple associations and acquire monumental significance.
As Sleigh writes of the painting Shovel: " a shovel laid out on a plank of wood, the blade's rust and abrasions, nicks and scars, even the blade's helmet-like shape atop the vertical shaft, suggests a starved corpse laid out in a coffin; or a mock memorial to the slave labor of concentration camp victims; or a deteriorating, sick, and aged body hovering above the plank's map-like grain, as if an individual life had risen momentarily above the vast ebb and flow of historical circumstance."
It is difficult to refer to these painting as still lifes, because the term is so often condescendingly misunderstood. Improbably, essential questions about man's resilience and the possibilities of redemption underlie this powerful and moving exhibition of luminous paintings of simple things.
Ron Milewicz was born in 1963 in Brooklyn, New York. He studied art history at Cornell University (1979-83), received a masters degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture (1983-86), and attended the New York Studio School (1990-1994), where he currently teaches. He lives and works in Queens, New York.