Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Vacation Days (Part III)

A few days after our visit to Christopher Ries , Betsy Green of Lizza Studios arranged for us to visit an artist in Scranton, which is only about a half-hour drive from Tunkhannock.
In the Renaissance, artists tended to identify themselves by reference to their place of birth (Leonardo, for example, was born in Vinci). Which is why Vojen Cech (pronounced Voyen Check), who was born in 1924 in Kolin, a town in the Czech Republic where his father was the municipal architect, signs his paintings as Colini.
That isn't the only thing Colini's paintings have in common with Renaissance art. The medium he works in is the same demanding one used during the Renaissance: Egg Tempera. Even Colini's imagery bears a certain resemblance to what you might see in a Renaissance painting. Sometimes, that's because he's painting his home town, which still resembles a medieval city. But usually it's because some essential part of Colini's soul resides in the Renaissance. He's been called a magic surrealist, but his surrealism is grounded, not in dreams, but in memory -- and whimsy.
How did an artist born 81 years ago in what was then Czechoslovakia end up in Scranton? Well, he got there by a very circuitous route. By the time the Communists took over Czechoslovakia in 1948 Colini was already in Switzerland. From there he went to -- where else? -- Paris. But he couldn't stay in France, because he didn't have papers. So he went to Venezuela and became a Venezuelan citizen. Eventually he moved to Canada and had his first show in Toronto. He left Canada for New York and divided his time between there and visits to Europe to show his paintings. Then, for a few years he and his wife, Megan, lived in Clark Summit, just outside Scranton. But two years ago they moved into a combination studio/apartment/gallery on the fourth floor of what used to be a big laundry.
Colini is the gentlest artist I have ever met. Talking about his paintings he is like a child telling you a story. Megan, by contrast, is as delightfully down-to-earth as you can get. Born in Brooklyn, she spent a good part of her life in Michigan and Texas. Debbie and I stopped by expecting to spend maybe an hour. We didn't leave until after 6 in the evening. The paintings, the couple, the stories all made the time fly by. The day felt like it was over too soon, in fact.

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