30 years of a life in art exhibited Review: A Ukrainian-born teacher at Western Maryland College uses images from his past to create the works in his show 'Rescued by Art.'

September 22, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

A Ukrainian child whose only art supply was the mud outside his home, the orphaned youth who painted greeting cards in war-torn Germany and the young man starting life anew in a country full of strangers, all form the art of Wasyl Palijczuk.

He captures images from his homeland, his adopted country and his artistic muse in his paintings and sculpture.

Do not glance at his work; stare.

"If you take time, you will see more," Palijczuk promises. "If you live with it, you will see one thing then another."

Look for the hidden images. You could see a heart, a cat, butterflies, a woman's profile or a Ukrainian icon.

"Rescued by Art," an exhibition at Western Maryland College, where Palijczuk has taught for 30 years, shows how the creative instinct and mysticism have ruled the artist's life.

He never knew his parents, and at age 62 he still ponders the source of his talent.

"I have no idea why I am an artist, but I know I had no choice," he said. "I never had to find myself. I always knew where I was."

Visitors to the Rice Gallery see haunting images on boldly colored canvases, bronze and driftwood carvings and photographs from his journey home after a 50-year absence.

He asks that "you put yourself into my work," much of which has spiritual overtones.

The face of a dissident crowned with thorns; a piece of driftwood carved into an outstretched hand with a nail in its palm; a face blurred into a sea of reds and greens draw people into the artist's world. But do not ask for an explanation.

"I create; you must get the meaning," said the artist. "For me to explain would be monotonous. It doesn't have to be what I tell you. It's OK if you don't get the same idea."

His themes come from nature which "doesn't make lines" or manufacture complex machinery. "Performing Artist Metamorphosing" begins as uneven slats of wood, sprouts into a tree and becomes a man.

"I don't paint buildings, roads, cars; they don't exist in my art," he said. "I like fantasy, imagination."

And people.

"All They Can Carry," a bronze sculpture, details the panic of a family fleeing their home.

"Four Waiting," an alabaster sculpture, shows his own family shortly after the birth of his twin daughters, now 20. In stone, the infants are looking in opposite directions. "Maybe I was predicting the different directions their lives would take," Palijczuk said.

To depict his rage at a nuclear accident, he sculpted "Chornobyl," a mass of unrecognizable forms piled under a lifeless tree.

Palijczuk, whose work straddles realism and the abstract, cannot tolerate a void. He often paints the background of the canvas first, filling every inch with vivid color. Only then does he add figures, frequently lost to the casual observer.

"I paint every inch," he said. "I don't like empty spaces. There has to be activity."

Combining art and teaching has made the best of all possible careers for the man who arrived in Baltimore at age 15, dressed in Army fatigues and carrying all his belongings in a dilapidated valise.

He lived in foster homes, always working to support himself, served four years in the Air Force and put himself through college, earning the University of Maryland's first master's degree in sculpture. He arrived on the Westminster campus in 1967.

"A job is supposed to give you a living, not make you happy," he said. "You are very lucky if you have both."

Teaching has made him a lifelong student of human nature. He is as devoted to his students as he is to his art.

"There is more to life than art," he said. "We need variety. For me, teaching is that variety."

The man who had no time to be a child himself said his students keep him young.

"You can always tell by the way they handle their media if they are serious about art," he said.

Palijczuk is always exploring new media and taking on new challenges. He has just taken delivery of 2 tons of Carrara marble at his home in Baltimore. He climbed a mountain in Italy to select the stone and plans to begin his next sculpting project soon.

"I probably need another lifetime to finish carving it," he said.

"Rescued by Art" runs through Oct. 11 at Rice Gallery, Peterson Hall at Western Maryland College. Information: 857-2599.

Pub Date: 9/22/96

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