Oliewenhuis Art Museum is giving honour to the life and work of an incredible artist,Karin Jaroszynska (1934-2014). Oliewenhuis holds 20 artworks of Jaroszynska in its permanent collection.Most of the works, including the Helsinki-series,were part of a generous donation by the art collector and philanthropist FernandF. Haenggi to Oliewenhuis in 2006; the remainder were purchased by Oliewenhuis. Her work- surrealist, playful and somewhat mysterious- shows Jaroszynska’s extraordinary talent and artistic integrity.
Karin Jaroszynska was born and raised in Finland. She married fellow artist Tadeusz Jaroszynski in 1954 and then moved to South Africa in 1957. This female surrealist’s work was exhibited in a number of local and international exhibitions such as in Helsinki, Cape Townand Johannesburg. She was represented by Gallery 21 at the ART fair Basel and in London in 1974. Her excellent draughtsmanship is noteworthy and her compositions predominantly consist of figurative subject matter.
Jaroszynska was a print maker by trade, with a specific preference for etching and the intricate process of lithography. Her earlier work, however, did consist of ink and wash as well as tempera paintings.The surrealist undertone in her concept and subject matter persists throughout her oeuvre.
The 20th centenary surrealism movement is a genre that specifically refers to art (often executed in an extremely realistic manner) that involves themes of a dream world or the subconscious mind. International artists such as Salvador Dali, René Magritte and Max Ernst, to name a few, were seen as the pioneers in surrealist art. South African surrealist artists such as Alexis Preller, Walter Battiss and Helen Sebidi have worked in similar surrealistic styles but their subject matter also reflect the sensitive history of South Africa during the 1970’s that includes apartheid, identity and social change. Walter Battiss, for example, created the famous Fook Islandas a conceptual fantasy during the 1970’s. Roger van Wyk stated that:
“Fook Island tuned to a local environment that was accessible and playful, but also profound in challenging ideas of South African nationalism. Battiss’s imaginary island – created through the production of heraldry, titles, postage stamps, and rituals – offered an escape from the South African condition and identity”. Jaroszynska dealt with surrealism in her own distinctive way;it is perhaps due to her upbringing in Finland that her work reveals another viewpoint towards the genre.
The clown, the horse and the hound was specifically curated to highlight interesting elements in Jaroszynska’s work. The Helsinki-series, mostly a combination of coloured lithographs and dry point etchings,contains mysterious figures and animals in desolated landscapes or settings. This series was conceptualised in 1974 in collaboration with her husband, Tadeusz. These two artists’ work show striking similarity of surrealist imagery and styles. It could be said that from 1973 Karin’s distinctive style had become evident and this was to develop and progress over the next few years.
Her work triggers imagination and curiosity while being observed. Throughout the Helsinki– series a specific emphasis was given to similar looking male figures dressed or decorated in clown-like attire. These whimsical characters are all dressed in enlarged ruffled clown collars that give them a somewhat eccentric appearance.
Their playful characteristics are to some extent deceiving as it also relates to a dark and sinister experience. The latter is due to the anonymity of the figure, but also the attire that reminds one of a medieval righteous character.The over-sized ruffled collar further resemblesthemid-16th century European clothing fashion favoured by both men and women as a symbol of aristocracy. The use of the emphasised ruffled collar on the figures together with Jaroszynska’s depictions, could also relate to the artists obsession with, as Fernand Haenggi stated, ‘old art’ and has been influenced by impressions of ‘Medieval painting and memories of Scandinavian folk art’.
With further investigation the viewer is also tempted to wonder whether Jaroszynska did not purposefully play with contrasted elements and ideologies of good and evil, and that it is human nature that we all have a ‘dark’ side. Clowns, as playful as they may seem, also laugh at someone else’s pain, fear and ugliness. These mystifying images with their over emphasised collars and clothes bear elements of these contrasting philosophies.
Once noticed, the playful mystical hints in her work are ever-present. Animals, wide eyed and zombie-like, horses stout-hearted,yet it seems like it belongs on a merry-go-round, figures playing with yo-yo’s anda constant referral to the magicians’ gloves as if the hands are playing tricks.
When viewed together, a carnivalesque atmosphere transpires in the room, rounded off with an ethereal uncertainty of where this dream world is located.
Berman, E. 1994. Art and the artists of South Africa: an illustrated biographical dictionary and historical survey of artists since 1875. Pretoria: Southern book publishers.
Anon. “ Artodessy: Karen Jaroszynska” (available at http://artodyssey1.blogspot.com/2012/06/karin-jaroszynska.html?m=1 as accessed on 12 August 2019)
Anon. “ Encyclopedia Britannica: Ruff collar” (available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/ruff-collar as accessed on 8 August 2019)
Anon. “Fernand F. Haenggi: initiator of the Pelmama Permanent Art Collection and the former Pelmama Academy Soweto projects and well known SA art dealer and collector” (available at http://www.za-ch-art-kunst.ch/ARTLinks/FFH_CVbrief.htm as accessed on 13 August 2019)
Muller, J & Elgar, F. 1972. A Century of modern painting. London: Thames and Hudson.
Van wyk, R. 2011. The (non)sense of humour. In Robbroeck, L. Visual Century: South African art in context. Volume 2 1945-1976. Johannesburg: Wits University Press.