Art in Focus: Transgress by Ian Wieczorek

Ian Wieczorek’s paintings address a world of mass surveillance and forced migration

Night Crossing (oil on canvas) by Ian Wieczorek. Image courtesy of the artist

Night Crossing (oil on canvas) by Ian Wieczorek. Image courtesy of the artist

 

What is It?

How was it done? It is painted with oil on canvas. So far, so traditional. But the image has a distinctly photographic quality – the kind of blurred photographic quality that resembles a screen grab from a surveillance camera, say, which is pretty much what it is. Wieczorek sources his imagery online.

Where can I see it? The painting in included in Wieczorek’s exhibition Transgress at Ballina Arts Centre (Barrett Street, Ballina, Co Mayo, until May 3rd,  ballinaartscentre.com).

Is it a typical work by the artist? It is typical in that Wieczorek has been steadily progressing towards this way of working, refining the match between subject matter and means over the

past 10 years or so.

He is from Chelmsford in England. Having initially spent some time working as a lab technician, he felt he needed to change direction, and decided he might pursue the urge to write that he had nursed for some time. A move to the country was part of the plan. That it turned out to be another country was down to the fact that his wife, Regina Rogan, is from Castlebar, Co Mayo. They moved there in the early 1990s. To his surprise, he felt immediately comfortable in Mayo, though his attempts at writing fiction did not satisfy him. However, he ran an arts magazine, Arts West, for a number of years, and did some freelance arts writing as his interest in the visual arts increased.

When GMIT set up a fine art degree course at its Castlebar campus, it seemed natural to apply. As well as working part of each week in the Linenhall Arts Centre in Castlebar, he has developed his work with exceptional energy and industry (encompassing installation as well as painting, and several curatorial projects) and exhibiting widely in Ireland and elsewhere. Fairly quickly, he knew he was drawn to the role of digital technologies in contemporary life. He began to look at the vast amounts of online imagery that form an integral and troubling part of the fabric of our lives. While usually of very poor visual quality – sourced from CCTV or mobile phones, for example – such imagery exercises considerable fascination.

His 2013 exhibition Out of the Electric Mist at the Custom House Studios Gallery consisted of paintings based on many online images. Rather than tidying them up, his treatment emphasised their haziness, their ambiguity. Violence and trouble were evident – burning cars, masked figures – but at a remove. Ambiguity persists in the work that forms Transgress. We are not sure how these blurred figures are transgressing or who decides they are, but the images – of figures scaling fences, falling, or negotiating murky terrain – have the quality of surveillance footage and are infused with unease, even menace. The paintings are all too at home in a world of heightened tensions over borders and identity. These shadowy figures, one feels, are desperate refugees struggling to survive in adversity. In what seems like a natural step, Wieczorek has also been working with video.

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