I Am From Here - the Paintings of Maciej Frankiewicz

Published: June 30th 2010
in Culture » Art

Maciej Frankiewicz (middle) with Wierzbnikers and Holocaust survivors Howard Chandler (left), and Martin Baranek (right) at the 2008 Ashkenaz Festival
Pic: David Kaufman
I am from here, tempera and oil pastel on paper, 100 x 67 cm
The Suitcase,tempera and oil pastel on paper, 70x100 cm

I am from here. The Train. The Suitcase. Singer Sewing Machine. There is No Hope. Wierzbnik Synagogue. Neighbors. Death of the Hassid.




These are some of the titles of the artwork of polish painter Maciej Frankiewicz, which were presented this month in Toronto. The Al Green Gallery and the Ashkenaz Festival jointly sponsored and arranged Frankiewicz’s second showing at the GTA in the past two years. A prelude to the upcoming 8th Ashkenaz Festival which will take place August 31st to September 6th at the Harbourfront Centre, Frankiewicz participated in the last festival in 2008, when he also visited and participated in meet-the-artist discussion session with festival’s visitors.




What makes Frankiewicz’s story unique is that as a post-world-war-II child, born in 1968 to a Catholic family at the town of Starachowice which was known to its Jewish community before the war as Wierzbnik, his body of work mainly depicts Jewish life, the plight of the Jews and complete elimination from the town, both physically and for most from memory as well. In “I am from here”, the show’s namesake, a house in the shteitel (Yiddish for small village in East Europe) along with its inhabitants are raised above the rest of the houses by larger-than-life bearded figure, whose identity (whether Jewish or gentile) is unclear. One person is running away from the scene while another lady is waving from a balcony. In “The Suitcase”, the entire shteitel is neatly tacked into a suitcase, ready for a trip. And in “The Train”, a transport train is moving away from the town, leaving behind Jewish symbols, while many anonymous hands are reaching to the skies from all directions.




Although these images might look like they only deal with the terrible ending of the Jewish life at Wierzbnik, Eric Stein, Artistic Director of the Ashkenaz Festival, said that Frankiewicz deals with the life of the Jews as well. Stein met Frankiewicz in 1999 while on a trip to rediscover his roots in Poland, a trip he took with his brother. Before the trip he consulted with the Wierzbniker Society, a group initially started by Canadian immigrants who supported and helped other immigrants in their immigration and accommodation process. The Society’s members recommended to Stein that he search for Maciej Frankiewicz, who was custodian of the Jewish cemetery. After showing them the cemetery and the restoration work he did there, Frankiewicz invited the Steins to his home, and that is where they first saw his artwork. Both the quality and subject matter of the art touched Stein immediately. The rest of the story is unfolding a piece at a time, with this beautiful show.




Stein said: “His art ranges from idealized and nostalgic to abstract with strong imagery. He sometimes wakes up in the morning with a vision of a dream he just had, which he then puts on the canvas. In other cases, he meets and interviews people who survived the war and were originally from Wierzbnik, and then they appear in his paintings. His body of work is an historical recording, like a documentary.”




The show opened last Wednesday with a special event by the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation of Canada and the Wierzbniker Society. The special program featured Howard Chandler, a Wierzbniker survivor who told the guests about Jewish life in Wierzbnik before the war. Also participating was a representative from the Polish Consulate in Toronto.




Frankiewicz, father of 12, could not come to Toronto to attend the show, but his presence was felt by the strength of his artwork and his technique. Most of the work is tempera and oil pastel on paper, where he uses recycled and reconstructed layers of paper for the support of the work.




Related articles: (Maciej Frankiewicz, art exhibition, Ashkenaz Festival)
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