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Arthur Polonsky

(an essay by Barbara Swan)

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A visionary is defined as one who sees vision; one whose ideas or projects are impractical; one who is a dreamer. I have known Arthur Polonsky and his work for forty-five years and it is appropriate to say that by all three definitions he is a true visionary. Arthur Polonsky may base an idea on an objective reality but he brings to that idea a mystical, mysterious inner life that is unique. Grass moves or is agitated by a strange force – a head emerging or a figure appearing seem symbolic of more than what his titles indicate. One may or may not know that there is a biblical source, but in his images there is a sensibility that can be haunting in its poetry.

Mask, Life-mask II

Apart from a most imaginative mind nothing is truly resolved without a gift for handling paint. The brush loaded with paint achieves an expressive lyricism when it makes contact with the canvas. Every artist handles paint in a personal way. For some it means clear smooth surfaces; for others it can be a highly agitated surface. Arthur Polonsky has a beautiful sense of brush stroke. You will never find a boring area in one of his paintings. The dialogue between color, texture and subject is always alive.

Child & Symbols

Of special importance is Arthur Polonsky’s remarkable gift as a draughtsman. Drawing remains a true revelation of an artist’s command of his skill. An artist who cannot draw is easily exposed. Many artists now rely on photographs to copy rather than risk the adventure of direct eye to hand to paper. Arthur Polonsky’s drawings have the excitement of a direct response to a subject, a daring use of line or tone, a sense of charged intensity. His portrait drawings not only have likeness but express a mood that is part artist, part model. To achieve a likeness is a gift in itself. When the gift for likeness is matched by a commanding talent for drawing, the result is a masterful work.

Monster Head

In the definition of a visionary there is the second category: one whose ideas or projects are impractical. I would be remiss not to mention Arthur’s various electrical gadgets that for a period consumed much of his time. Some may have had a purpose, but others were delightful little twittering machines mounted on pedestals that moved or had lights that went on or off. Once when I was in the hospital in the heat of the summer he brought me a fan for my nose made from a flashlight to which he attached a small whirling blade. My nose felt quite refreshed.

In 1969, Arthur Polonsky made a portfolio of lithographs based on fragments of thoughts expressed by Leo Bronstein, the art historian. There is such empathy between artist and writer that these thoughts by Leo Bronstein could describe Arthur Polonsky as an artist: “Artisan, I grasped everything with my hand or my extreme body; with the hand of my fingers, the hand of my eyes, of my lips, of my ears and of what else could be added.

From mind to heart,
From heart to hand –
From hand to heart,
From heart to mind.”

- BARBARA SWAN

First printed in the exhibition pamphlet issued by the Fitchburg Art Museum in March 1990 for the exhibition Arthur Polonsky: Selected Works 1944-1990, March 11 – May 27  (Curated by Linda Poras, Curator of Contemporary Art, Fitchburg Art Museum, 1990).

Reprinted, with permission, in April 1990 by the Boston Public Library during the Wiggin Gallery exhibition The Teaching Drawings of Arthur Polonsky, March 22-April 30

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