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The Formalists: Suzanne Galazka and Jay Bastian

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


In a world of easy, cheap, digital photographic reproduction, one may wonder why the arts have continued to grow in popularity and retain their markets. With thanks to all of the technicians more advanced in age, unlike the manufacturing sector of the economy, skill and experience only gain value in the creative economy. Sadly, in a world rich in digital information and reproductions, what we lack and crave more than anything as an audience and a culture is the real, the genuine, and the sentimental images that spark change in us. Fort Wayne’s arts community is rich in artists that can provide easement to these cravings, and in “The Formalists”, on view at Wunderkammer Company, Suzanne Galazka and Jay Bastian are prime examples.

Formalism is an idea within art history wherein it is thought that the viewer is given every bit of evidence for the construction of the image and an understanding of its content as well as an understanding of its maker can be found within the piece itself. Formalists break images down into their basic units of color, line, texture, shape, and all of the perceptual mechanisms used in art practices to represent images. In this way, it could be argued that these artists are formalists in their construction of their images and in the processes by which they make their work.

Suzanne Galazka has been a staple of Fort Wayne for the last few decades, and has been a familiar face at Artlink for the past twenty years, nurturing emerging artists and encouraging them to take risks and to experiment. Galazka’s training was in both Detroit and Philadelphia, but she has produced art work seemingly everywhere, spending significant periods of time throughout Europe as well. Jay Bastian has been more quiet within Fort Wayne’s art scene, but present for more than a decade. Bastian’s education and training has been primarily through the Indiana University system, taking him from Bloomington to Indianapolis as well as locally with IPFW.

In “The Formalists”, a two person exhibition highlighting the process of image production, Suzanne Galazka and Jay Bastian have compiled, edited, and composed masses of hand drawn images splayed across the walls of the gallery like evidence arranged for some sort of investigation. Each artists has included over one hundred images, of various size, color, style, and time put into its creation. This variety gives the exhibition both speed and structure, allowing the viewer to see how these two artists build up an image from sketch through detailed drawing and painting. The overall exhibition is “too much all at once” at first, giving the viewer a gestalt compilation of bodies, light, and mood.

Suzanne Galazka’s work, primarily being small scale watercolor and pen and ink drawings, but also including larger scale charcoal portraits, is always a treat. Galazka’s years of experience with figure drawing gives her an intuitive understanding of the body that very very few gain. With only a handful of individual lines Galazka is able to sculpt out a face with likeness, visually explain the torsion of the muscles in the body, and describe textures as complex as hair, flesh, and cloth. Likeness is probably one of Galazka’s greatest feats. In her format of quick, five to thirty minute, drawing sessions, Galazka is able to produce images which the audience would be able to pick out of a line up. Beyond the actual line work of her images, Galazka’s use of watercolor to build up and expand upon her drawing skills is equally as masterful. The dabs and brushstrokes of vibrant color belie the subtlety of her work. By controlling the placement and flow of pigment through the brushstrokes of water, Galazka makes her figures dance and breath on the paper, and it gives them jewel like vibrancy as the viewer shifts perspective while examining them.

Jay Bastian’s work, while being similar in skill and style to Galazka in some ways, has a very different outcome. Bastian, also an adept therapist outside of his art practice, imbues his images with a psychological depth and mood that is incredibly rare, matching other local masters like Art Cislo. The quirky linework Bastian sometimes uses broadcasts the self consciousness and perseverance of both the artist and the subject. Bastian is also a master of using color as an entirely other dimension to his linework, filling his images to the brim with richness and form. Bastian’s work tends to also come from his life rather than Galazka’s more structured sessions with models. The intimacy present in Bastian’s drawings of friends and household objects gives his work an autobiographical tone and makes the viewer ask more questions and implicate themselves with the images. Bastian’s work in “The Formalists” is primarily made of studies made throughout the building of his finished images. This exposition of his process and visual reminder of work which precedes and goes into any great piece of work is perfect to the novice audience members who may not understand that a finished piece of work is the culmination of the artists experiences and education over much longer period of time than it takes to actually produce the image they are viewing.

Both Galazka and Bastian have the unique ability to drawing the viewer in and control their eye and perception through their images. The power in their process comes from an incessant and longstanding need to produce and reproduce images through line and color. “The Formalists” is a quiet reminder of the power that art can wield when made by artists with the patience and responsibility to follow it.

“The Formalists: Suzanne Galazka and Jay Bastian”
Feb 7-March 8, 2015
Opening reception: Sat. Feb 7, 6-10pm

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