November 21st, 2010
Some artists agonize over a single piece for weeks or even months, fine tuning everything right down to the smallest detail, only to go back and toil over minute changes that are almost imperceptible in the final product, but in the mind of the artist are the difference between perfection and failure. Then there are artists like Waldek Dynerman, who seem to turn out two finished works before lunch and three before dinner. He is not an outwardly frenetic person. Rather, he was very leisurely in sifting through mounds of paper to show me work in his studio on the south side of Milwaukee in Bay View.
It seems Dynerman is so prolific in his work because it is a constant process for him. “I work quick, but I work long. This was done in three days, and in three days if I decide it’s done, I leave it alone,” he said, referring to a sculpture of a carousel horse with a mechanized doll’s head. Some of his projects take as long as six months to complete, meaning on any given day he could have several projects to work between, with some becoming finished products and others left to be completed. An admitted pack-rat, he has plenty of materials on hand. All about his studio are toys, boxes of junk, piles of paper, and traditional art materials, all waiting to be turned into something.
Many of his works include parts of dolls and mannequins, which was something he started doing in the early 80’s in his home country of Poland. “The system was not nearly as oppressive as people may think,” he said of growing up under communist rule. He said that for the most part people were able to live their daily lives without fear of being harassed by the government, but there were also plenty of problems to deal with. Basic living supplies could be hard to come by, with some years being worse than others, and occasionally worker protests would lead to massive riots, once resulting in a state of martial law in 1980. “An interesting thing is that the government wanted to provide some sort of a safety valve, to not allow too much pressure to build up, so they tolerated artists. Artists were what was sort of put in the window display of the state,” he said.
He was able to take advantage of some of the offers the government provided for artists, getting a cheap studio space and attending the Warsaw Academy of Fine Art, where he received an MFA in painting in 1974. In 1983 he came to the United States with the intention of only staying for a few years. He found a job teaching at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design to support himself during the stay, and his projected few years in Milwaukee has continued on to today.
Dynerman first became seriously interested in printmaking during a sabbatical from MIAD in which he returned to the Warsaw Academy to learn intaglio and lithography. He began teaching lithography at MIAD in 2002, and since then has incorporated different printmaking processes into his repertoire for creating his works. One process that fits well with his style of working is collograph, which is a form of printmaking his studio partner Rina Yoon, also a printmaking teacher at MIAD, often works in.
Collograph is a very immediate and versatile method because it involves creating different textures on a surface to create different tones, and it is typically done on Sintra board, a PVC-based board that can be easily cut and manipulated. “So with the idea of recycling and just not being very structured, I started actually cutting my collograph plates and building new plates that were locked together like a jigsaw,” he said. “It’s the process that I like because cutting it is like drawing it, and I also like this idea of recycling imagery.”
Dynerman works print elements into his pieces the way he does all of his works, being very experimental in grabbing different components and bringing them together to create imagery with a lot of visual conflict. His pieces are activated with energy by bringing disparate components together and forcing them to intermingle with each other, and his tendency to squirrel away everything he comes across is part of his process in finding inspiration.
I was interested to know what his concept was in his work, because there is a definite sense of separate forces working against each other in each piece he does, but with the wide range of approaches he tackles the same aesthetic through it is hard to draw a singular conclusion from his body of work. Looking at his work reminds me of a famous William S. Burroughs quote which reads: “This is a war universe. War all the time. That is its nature. There may be other universes based on all sorts of other principles, but ours seems to be based on war and games.”
However, the message that he tries to purvey seems secondary to the actual making of the work. To hear him explain his concepts it seems like the more important concept is the act of creating the work than coming up with a meaning for each image, and his website underlines this by not providing an artist statement, but an invitation to create a meaning out of the work presented. “You see it when you look at the work,” he said of his ideas. “It’s always about some sort of trauma to the body, which has a lot to do with my memory of the war as related to me by my parents. My father was a holocaust survivor. I’m half Jewish and I have a strong Jewish identity, and I didn’t realize how much that weighed on me for years,” he said.
Dynerman works his pieces in a way that nears a universal understanding of the strife and conflict in our world. In addition to his swift, spontaneous marks there are typically pieces of human forms worked into the composition, either directly or abstractly. The act of Dynerman making these works is part of a process that helps him make sense of a world where these things can happen, and each piece becomes a glimpse into this process. The fact that he draws on so many outside sources of imagery enhances the sense of conflict in his work by removing part of his control over the work.
A current work I saw on his wall actually contained artwork that was not even his. “Before I left for Poland I pulled out several drawings from garbage cans at MIAD because there were nice pieces of paper. I actually drew on those, so you see that those ink layers are actually somebody’s drawings that I don’t even know who made them,” he said. In Dynerman’s world, any material or object has the potential to become art, all it takes is his vision to make it so.
Rina Yoon, a printmaker who shares the studio space with Dynerman, was out of the country during my visit, but she had several print editions out on the table that I was able to see. Dynerman said she does not normally edition work, and didn’t know why he had decided to make multiple copies of these images. Like Dynerman, her work often involves the figure, and lately she has been using photo intaglio processes to make her images. “These started as photographs and then they were turned into transparencies, and then she would draw on those transparencies, trying to create an image that relies on some sort of photographic material but does not feel like a photograph,” he said of her prints on the table. He said her imagery tends to revolve around ideas of the body, both personally and symbolically. With she herself being transplanted to Milwaukee from Korea, some of her images deal with the idea of cultural identity, and others move into the realm of dealing with the body metaphorically. Since she wasn’t there to talk about it herself I can’t say much about her work, but hopefully I’ll be able to talk to her in person about it soon.
The two of them combined produce an amazing amount of work. In the back of their studio are two rooms the size of my one-bedroom apartment so packed full of work that it’s hard to walk in, and that excludes the work that was seen in the main studio area. Milwaukee has made some forward strides in becoming a cultural center within the last ten years, and it is hoped that prolific artists like Dynerman and Yoon can help enhance the scene. “It’s better compared to when I came,” he said of the Milwaukee art scene. “There are a few galleries in town that seem to be more interested in discourse in the arts rather than selling decorations for living rooms,” he said. Dynerman’s work is the type that really forces viewers to think, and hopefully he can help push the Milwaukee art scene in a positive direction.
Dynerman’s website can be viewed here.