“What happens to a place that used to be holy?” asks Joanna M. Wezyk. The Polish artist has made a career of examining atmospheres and interiors. Her early work explored the remains of ancient European churches that were either repurposed as museums, commercial spaces, or left to ruin. Her latest body of work, In Wonderland, explores the interior of an American national park and the preoccupations of her own body and mind.
Inspired by two wonderlands–Lewis Carroll’s classic, Alice in Wonderland, and Yellowstone National Park–Wezyk reimagines scenes from this fantastic tale in a realistic setting. She first toured Yellowstone in 1988, a few months after wildfires ravaged more than 75% of the land. “It felt like hell,” Wezyk said. “It was not what I imagined. This would haunt me, days and nights.” The resulting images have themes of endurance and growth.
Caterpillar at Mammoth depicts a blue caterpillar smoking from a red hooka on top of a mushroom. The mushroom is rooted at the bank of the Mammoth area’s hot springs. In the background, built up into the shadows, is a giant rodent. Like the variables in Carroll’s wonderland, the hot springs at Mammoth shift and reshape all the time–the image here is one of chance. The viewer is at a cross roads. Neither the vision of the caterpillar–whose form is topical, painted as if an afterthought or illusion, in contrast to the blended background–nor the limestone steps behind it, offer permanence to the viewer.
“It’s about survival,” Wezyk says. “Yellowstone is about life.” Shortly after her first visit to the park, Wezyk was diagnosed with breast cancer. “[I painted these images] at a time when life was difficult, crazy and beautiful at the same time,” she says.
Rising from a mist of hot springs, a red-capped fungus stretches infinitely upward in Chemo Mushroom. Though the background smolders as if after a fire, the hot springs ooze with life. Somehow, the mushroom thrives in this environment. Whether or not Carroll’s wonderland concerns drug use is up for interpretation, but the attachment of “chemo,” to the title’s symbolic imagery, the “mushroom,” reinstates the battle within Wezyk’s physical interior. Survival is the true subject matter of the piece, and a reappearing theme throughout In Wonderland. “In a way,” Wezyk says, “I became Alice.”
About Joanna M. Wezyk:
Born in communist Karkow, Poland, Wezyk trained first as a commercial artist. She now lives and works in New Jersey and New York, and is represented by the Tina Kim Gallery in New York. joannawezykart.com
[In Wonderland by Joanna M. Wezyk is on display at Pinnacle Gallery through February 12. 320 E. Liberty Street, Savannah, GA. scad.edu/exhibitions]
This post originally appeared on the Savannah Art Map on February 8, 2012