Friday, May 26, 2006

Waiting Train, Christine Sajecki, Waiting Train

In nearly the geographic dead center of her studio is Christine Sajecki's bed. Around it is work, the paintings of friends and influences, photographs she has arranged into a gridded collage, and her own works in progress, canvasses half formed of paint and wax, others seemingly finished but which Christine is still working over—adjusting and layering. On the one hand, her bed, soft and expectant and waiting, as beds always are, and on the other, the concrete walls and spattered floors, the work space, the place of industry.

As Christine has told me, she does not believe in talent, a painter is not born, and neither a writer, nor musician, nor acrobat. Work she says, is what makes a painting, an idea held in the mind and the time and effort it takes to realize that idea into material form. As she says of one of her major artistic and working influences, assistant painting instructor Caomin Xie at The Savannah College of Arts and Design, "He's so methodical and scientific in the way he works," as if a canvas were a experiment in paint, a study performed to uncover the image that exists within it. Christine too becomes enthusiastic about paint, though for her it may be less like a chemical regent in a test tube and more like the ingredients for a cake: "I love the way it comes out of the tube, and it's just beautiful, raw color, buttery and edible looking."

Industry, then, is Christine's watchword, as reflected in the raw, urban space she lives and paints in, the Copy Cat building in Baltimore's gritty Station North Arts District, and in her work habits, dedicating a major chunk of each day to her canvases. And yet, there is that bed, languid at the heart of work.


One recent series of Christine's paintings are studies of circus acrobats at work: trapeze artists in mid-swing, tightrope walkers, gymnasts. These paintings are done in the encaustic style, a method of adding pigment to beeswax and then applying it to the canvas in fast-drying layers, a medium Christine describes as very difficult to work with. As might be expected, this difficulty appeals to her and reflects an underlying theme of the paintings– the effort it takes to become an acrobat. "These people," says Christine, who came to know the performers while working as a circus usher, "have the same risk of falling you or I have. But it's the courage, discipline, and hard work that gets them where they are." That effort is seen in the faces and bodies of her subjects, the poised, muscular limbs, the steady eyes.

But there is another quality to these paintings–a reserved and expectant mystery, an unresolved depth, a sense of pregnant stasis–and this too is a reflection of the medium used, the subject captured. Take a look at her painting, You Do Not Have to be Good, for example. The painting illustrates a tightrope walker in mid-balance, arms thrown up and out, one leg held horizontal, head eased back over the shoulders. And yet, though the acrobat is presumably in the midst of her routine, the painting does not convey a feeling of movement, of tension, of sweat and strain, but rather of quiet and stillness, as if Christine has captured the performer in one moment of perfect equilibrium. There is a feeling of hush, like an audience straining upward, toward the peak of a circus tent, holding its collective breath. This sense of stillness is given off by the quietly luminous paint and mildly unfocused forms that make up the acrobat's limbs and trunk. The legs seem to shed light in quivering halos, the body to be a kind of cool, speckled sun. The left arm is blurred and appears to be duplicated in a ghost image of itself, as if the camera shutter of Christine's imagination were not fast enough to freeze it completely in time. Strangely enough, this reminder of movement only adds to the feeling of stasis, as do the lazy, shadowed geese that hang above in the circus sky.

And as much as the circus people themselves radiate this pregnant waiting, the backgrounds of the paintings do too, the strata of wax and pigment worked and layered, layered and worked, until fairly oozing with luminous expectancy. And this same quietude is felt in Christine's Telescape series, too, as the women, phone in hand, stand before their own gloaming backgrounds. There remains that tension between action and calm, industry and idleness. The nakedness of most of the women, as in Say Hello to Everyone, and the looseness of their bodies, suggests calm, while the presence of the telephones creates an almost narrative tension, a story hidden at the heart of the scene that promises to unfold if we just wait for it to begin. The telephones act almost as talismans of tension and power, potent and unruly.

As Christine told me, "Painting is craft but also a little bit of magic," adding, "And I don't want to talk about it," as if that magic might be lost by bringing it too much into the light of day. This undeclared quantity suffuses so much of her work, whether in the circus series or in the deep historicity of Wondering Man, one of her paintings based on pre-Colombian art, or in her Cocktail Series, paintings inspired by photographs from her parent's wedding album. In these, the magic takes its potency from the mystery of time. "I was fascinated with that day because of the wildness they had before marriage, domesticity," she says, "imagining them without each other and their vulnerability, all the possibilities before them, but this day being right on the edge of that, of the comfortable suburban life that is my past." Here too, the work is underlain with tension, the beauty and pain of nostalgia, the power of memory to shape the present but our helplessness to rework the past.


Through the windows of Christine's studio, we hear the trains of Penn Station roll in. They hiss and groan, bells clanking, huge engines whirring. The trains fill the studio with the noise of work and power, the smell of oil and diesel in the breeze. But when later we go to the window and look down, we see the sooted cars and the greasy bulk of the locomotive idling on the tracks, the doors slid open to admit the passengers to the soft, sleepy murk of the cabins. The effect is both soothing and pensive, a feeling of rich expectancy. This tension, work and waiting, potency and restraint, is the very atmosphere of Christine's studio. The paintings sit on the easel, the wax melts in the warming pan, the brushes wait for the animation of her hand.


Blogger Myfanwy Collins said...

This is wonderful. Thank you.

4:30 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks, Myf.

6:50 PM  
Blogger katrina said...

Excellent piece and her work is gorgeous.

7:22 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks a lot, Katrina.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

What a discovery. Thank you.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

What a discovery. Thank you.

10:38 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks much, Patricia.

7:00 AM  
Blogger earthtogod said...

Excellent detailed writing and nice photos. Loved the one of her brush in the paint. Nicely done. Look forward to the next interview. So much to cover in Baltimore, so little time. Great idea to get this going.

7:17 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks a lot, E to G.

12:44 PM  
Blogger Robert Antreasian said...

Christine's recent paintings can be seen at Antreasian Gallery at 1111 W 36th Street in Baltimore thru July 22th. Come Join us for a Opening Reception June 15th 6-9pm.

Baltimore Interview is a great idea , there is not enough artist profiling in Baltimore. Thank you and Good Luck.

1:47 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Thanks for coming by, Robert. And yes! We'll be there for Christine's opening.

6:21 AM  
Blogger annie said...

I beg to differ with christine's comment that you are not born with artistic talent. I grew up with her and she has been an amazing artist since the day she was born!!

10:06 AM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

I suspected as much, Annie. Thanks for coming by.

10:12 AM  
Blogger barktok said...

Great interview, and loved the tension of the soft bed, always there, always beckoning the tired, the out of sorts, the person who needs dreamtime to recreate her (and his) brain. I'm reading Joyce's ULYSSES -- had just read "...the dark eavesdropping ceiling" an hour ago-- I thought of that too. Christine? inspiration exists everywhere,some kind of "talent" is in everyone, but I agree that perspiration is 99% of the struggle, as Henry Ford (?) Thomas Alva Edison (?) said.

1:16 PM  
Blogger Baltimore Interview said...

Hey, Linda! Thanks for coming by. The girl's got talent by bucketsfull, we all know. But, sure, sweat too.

7:36 PM  
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Blogger movingsidewalks said...

Joe, this is a fantastic portrait of an artist's process and environment.

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Anonymous GeoArticleDude said...

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