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Tadeusz Biernot’s Portraits
- John K. Grande

Portraits can be documents or they can be works of art.  Sometimes portraits record the sitter at a moment in time, or else portraits become records of a patron, or they can even be legal documents, all this done with painting, as was the case with Van Eyck, or Hans Holbein. Tadeusz Biernot’s Faces present us with eclectic instants of celebrity, portraits of women of our times … divas, singers, film-makers and actresses.  Unusual and challenging these portraits have a naturalistic sense, and an understanding of classical proportion, of structure, and of the simplicity of volumes, of forms and design and a narrative feel, as if these were instant and wholly contemporary archaisms.

These paintings are not ultimately realistic, but instead transcend the moment. As large-scale portrait paintings, they are anathema to the historical portrait. Things are left open to interpretation like the structure, the atmosphere and character of the subject. This makes them comparable to Medardo Rosso’s (1858-1928) post-impressionistic sculptures, for these celebrity portraits are at the point of crystallizing or disappearing. They exist on the edge of appearance and disappearance and have entropy built into them. They’re not here forever. They’re caught in a moment in time. Like a glance at a party, they are like instant archaisms of the contemporary celebrity world and they rise to the challenge. Like the virtuoso American painter John Singer Sargent’s Portrait of Madame X (1883-84), Biernot’s Feist is of its time. And there is that sense of the eternal moment. And that eternity is archaic as much as it is contemporary.  All of these portraits are painted with a strong graphic, design and art experience that goes all the way back to the Academy of Fine Arts in Crakow, where Biernot earned his MFA in 1979.  Tadeusz Biernot’s background as one of Poland’s most talented poster designers led him to Italy and then Toronto. Among the awards he has won can be included the Silver Medal at the Polish Poster Biennale in Katowice in 1979.

It was only in 2005, after a long career of award winning design and creative directing that Tadeusz Biernot began to paint for the sake of painting again. The new paintings at Engine Gallery date from 2010 to 2012 and are a gift of sorts, for they carry a wealth of understanding of what a painted image can be. A portrait is more than a representation, or a conception. Its about the moment of painting in time. The process carries with it the content and experience of the painter and the portrait subject simultaneously. Faces reveals states of reflection, of contemplation, of recognition that are close to being existential. The totality is never entirely revealed but is always there. Like Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, we are left with room to interpret. The space is never filled, and the use of space, and layering in pastel, acrylic, with occasional oil highlights, enables us to project our own imagination and interpretation into the work. We are never served up a formula, or a spatula image like an omelet of visuality controlled and cloistered by ultra-realism (that immovable judge!) Instead here we have a dialogue with life itself. These subjects exist in a moment in time. That moment is both context and content.

Tadeusz Biernot once painted faces from memory, but a series of portrait commissions led him to search for ways of building, of developing an atmosphere on canvas that carried light and a portrait’s presence.  This was the birth of an idea.  Celebrity portraits like Feist, or the opera singer Adrianne Piaczonka, or the Armenian-Canadian actress Arsinée Khanjian or Nadine Labaki, the Lebanese TIFF award winning filmmaker of Where Do We Go Now? or the opera singer Danielle de Niese are proof positive how iconic a face can be.

Tadeusz Biernot has developed a way of working with space. These  faces face us, or they look away from us, just as we face them. Like a billboard simultaneously seen from the side and the front, these faces are both conception and presentation.

The formal and creative overlay in these paintings, make them attenuated, intense, a portraiture that captures the essence of each of these individual’s public and private identities. Caught at a moment in time, these faces seem almost eternal. Without abandoning painterly traditions, Tadeusz Biernot evolves those traditions for a culture born of endless imagery and infinite information. Uncovered by time, these are portraits of emergence. They are also portraits of a process of covering and uncovering, revealing and disguising, something that makes them intense. Tactile and immediate, they capture a spirit, (each painted portrait subject’s spirit), and the communication that existed between artist and subject. There is a silence and poise here, and a sense of the stillness of time.

FACES is a show of portraits that exist outside time. They are contemporary and archaic. Permanence becomes the counter to the ephemeral. These paintings embody an element of chance, seen in the facial gestures. These paintings are about our perception of self and other, in a celebrity culture lost in a landscape of imagery and information, where issues of identity are left open like a box in a private space or in a public place. Tadeusz Biernot’s works are collected worldwide, in the United States, in Canada, in England, Italy, Germany and Poland, to name a few of these paintings’ destinations.

John K. Grande is an author of books and catalogues on art and he recently co-curated Eco-Art with Pia Hovi-Assad and Peter Selz at the Pori Art Museum (2011) in Finland. His latest and upcoming books include Homage to Jean-Paul Riopelle (Prospect/Gaspereau press, 2011), Art Space & Ecology (Shanghai, China, 2012) and Art in Nature (Seoul, Korea, 2012).