Columbus, Ohio USA
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It's in my blood, says Harry Wozniak
by Jeff Bell
April 2000 Issue
Columbus artist Harry Wozniak poses in his Olde Towne East studio. Photo | Jeff Bell
Like most of us, Harry Wozniak had big dreams as a child. Smitten with painting at age 12, he fantasized about being "discovered" by the art world, making millions from his work and living in a swanky penthouse.
Now 42, Wozniak takes a more realistic view of life. He's still a painter, but the penthouse dreams have been set aside. He makes his living as a registered diet technician, developing nutritious meals for nursing home residents in Columbus. Wozniak is okay with that. The one-time factory worker from Buffalo, N.Y., is proud of his blue-collar roots. He feels there is honor in earning an honest day's pay for an honest day's work.
But the need to make a living hasn't diminished Wozniak's love of art nor has it lessened art's place in his life. He paints whenever his schedule permits, usually a few evenings a week or on weekends, in an airy third-floor studio that tops the grandly restored Olde Towne East home that he shares with his wife, Karen. "For me, it's almost sacred," Wozniak says of the oil, pastel and acrylic paintings he creates. "It's totally removed from the rest of my life – another realm, really. I can't imagine not painting. It's almost as if it's in my blood. If I don't get into the studio for a long time, it shows in my temperament. I get moody when I can't work."
In recent weeks, Wozniak has been spending plenty of time in his studio.He has been preparing 15 of his paintings for an exhibition that will run from April 1-30, 2000, at The Wallich Gallery, 745 N. High Street, in the Short North. Gwen Surratt, gallery manager, thinks art enthusiasts will be impressed by the traditional yet powerful bent to Wozniak's work. The exhibition will feature 10 oil paintings, four pastels, and one acrylic.
"The cubist look is what really drew me to his paintings," she says of the style that has dominated Wozniak's art for the past 10 years. "You don't see contemporary artists doing much of that any more. I really like the chances he takes and what ends up on the canvas. His work has quite an impact." A bit of serendipity led to the Wozniak exhibition at The Wallich Gallery. Earlier this year, he brought in one of his paintings, Spring on Franklin Avenue, for framing. Surratt and colleague Bob Corkwell were so taken by the painting that they suggested Wozniak become the gallery's featured artist for April.
Wozniak's paintings have been displayed locally at the No Attitude Bar & Grille, Tapatio restaurant, and the former Gallery Q art co-op on the East Side. However, he had never had his own gallery exhibition until now, and he didn't accept The Wallich invitation until the managers there had seen the rest of his portfolio. He didn't feel right about them taking a chance on him after seeing just one of his paintings.
"I consider myself sort of an Old World person and see myself as a traditionalist," explains Wozniak. "I admire the craft of painting as much as the art of painting. I feel your work falls short if you don't master the craft of what you're doing. Your work doesn't stand the test of time unless you master the medium."
Wozniak started taking art seriously while in high school in Buffalo. He read art books and visited exhibitions at galleries and museums. Like many self-taught artists, Wozniak began by imitating the style of leading painters. By the 1980s, he had developed his own eye and style as he experimented with expressionism, surrealism and the abstract.
He says he became bored with each of those styles after 10 or 15 paintings. In 1990, Wozniak shifted to more of a cubist approach, and he hasn't tired of it since. He relates to cubism's turn-of-the-20th-century roots and enjoys the mix of structure and freedom it affords him.
"It's more wide open and less confining than the other styles," he explains. "There seems to be a lot of room for growth. I've not outgrown the style yet, but that's not to say I won't."
Wozniak rarely relies on just his imagination when starting a painting. Instead, he works from old photographs, including those of his family, or direct observations. That could be the view from his back porch in Olde Towne East ("Four Trees") or a grouping of houses near Italian Village ("Short North Alleyway").
Once an idea takes hold, Wozniak goes directly to work on canvas, skipping the sketching process. "The painting often takes on a life of its own and evolves into what it becomes," he says. "A lot of time it's different from what I had originally envisioned. I let myself go and let things happen."
Wozniak pulls together fragmented bits and pieces, many with sharp points and edges, to establish spacial relationships and contrasts in his paintings. "I treat each space as a whole painting," he says. "Then I add cohesiveness to it."
Two of his more striking oils of late, Front Porch and Anna, Vicky, Jane and Lil, were drawn from family photos. The former is a portrait of Wozniak's late father, Harry, while the latter shows the smiling faces of his mother, Lillian, his grandmother, Vicky, and two aunts, Anna and Jane.
Wozniak traces his artistic bent to his family. Grandma Vicky was a talented ceramicist. Lil, who worked in retail, used to sketch fashion designs when she was a young woman. And Wozniak's father, a factory worker, liked to do sketches, paint pastels and was a fine cabinetmaker. Wozniak still uses the sturdy wooden easel his father made for him.
"I carry him with me on each and every piece I do," he says.
Until 1994, Wozniak seemed to have built a life similar to that of his father – factory work during the day and art as time permitted. But a corporate downsizing in '94 cost Wozniak his job with American Optical Co. after 18 years with the company.
The good news was the federal government was willing to pay for job training for Wozniak. He went on to earn a degree in nutrition from Erie Community College in Buffalo and landed a job at a county hospital there.
By that time, however, he and Karen, a registered nurse, had decided to seek greener pastures. They were tired of western New York's long, cold winters, high taxes and depressed job market. So they began to look for a new hometown, one with milder winters, a robust economy, rich cultural life, fine old neighborhoods and lower taxes.
Their search led them to Columbus in 1997. They pulled up stakes in Buffalo, quickly found jobs here and, in November 1998, bought a home in Olde Towne East. The 3,000-square-foot, circa-1891 Queen Anne home had been painstakingly restored by its previous owner.
Harry and Karen are active in the Olde Towne East Neighborhood Association and are encouraged by the number of homes being returned to their turn-of-the-century splendor. "It's an up-and-coming neighborhood, but we hope it doesn't go the way of German Village and become gentrified," says Harry. "We want it to maintain its cultural, ethnic and racial diversity. We want to clean up the neighborhood and make everybody house proud."
He enjoys being part of such a worthy community cause. He also likes to make time for two other interests, gardening and cooking. "It all goes into the make-up of who I am," says Wozniak, "but my painting defines me more compared to other parts of my life."
So he spends many evenings in his third-floor studio, splashing paint on canvas and fine-tuning his vision of the world. It's not exactly as Wozniak dreamed it as a kid, but it's close. Real close.
Harry Wozniak's paintings will be on display at the Wallich Gallery, opening Gallery Hop Night, Saturday, April 1, 2000, and will remain on display thru April 30, 2000. The Wallich Gallery is located at 745 N. High Street. For information and hours call 291-ARTS.
EDITORS NOTE: The Wallich Gallery closed. More about Harry at http://innerartblog0.blogspot.com/2006/04/harry-wozniak-gail-larned-exchange-art.html
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