Stong’s ‘Universal Imagination’ exhibit blends steel and fibre

English Professor Emerita Virginia Rock, who is a Fellow and former master of Stong College, sent the following report about Stong’s Universal Imagination series of art exhibitions, of which the final exhibit opens tonight and runs until March 24.

Featuring the Gobelin tapestries and sculptures of three distinguished Canadian artists – Tamara Jaworska, and Ania and Wojtek Biczysko – the sixth exhibition of "Universal Imagination" opens with a reception from 7 to 10pm this evening at the Samuel J. Zacks Gallery, 109 Stong College on York’s Keele campus. 

In what is the final show of a series that has been on display at the gallery for 2008-2009 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Stong College, these Polish-born artists, individually and as a trio, will exhibit their unique nature-inspired, large-scale creations in fibre art and steel until Tuesday, March 24.

Tamara Jaworska is a world-renowned artist, a long-standing elected member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and a recipient of the Order of Canada and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal, among many other honours. Jaworska marries the medieval craft of weaving, known as Gobelin, with contemporary design. Her vision for her tapestries, which are first painted on canvas and translated to tapestry, retain their painterly quality. Jaworska has mastered the Gobelin technique of hand-sewn needle art and as such, she is free to control shaded nuances and bursts of brilliant colour. Her work creates surfaces of tactile textures that express wit, imagination and sensitivity to the world of nature and the spirit. While her skill as an artist-weaver belongs to the discipline of Gobelin as practised more than 500 years ago, her tapestries’ pictorial essence is pure 20th century – dynamic and original in design.

Right: Fuga Chromatica, 1977 by Tamara Jaworska, is a Gobelin tapestry constructed from linen, wool, artificial fibres and hand-spun wool. It measures 3 by 6 metres. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Nature and the Canadian landscape play a significant role in the character of her vision. Her works, widely exhibited in Europe, Mexico, the United States and Canada, are also in private and public collections of art galleries and other public spaces, including Calgary’s Gulf Canada Square and Toronto’s First Canadian Place. Of her art, Jaworska has said, "I try to care rather more about expression than construction because for me the nature of art is always the art of nature."

Both Ania and Wojtek Biczysko express their visions of nature, its power and energy in steel, with very different effects. Works from Ania Biczysko’s Cloud Series feature large steel sculptures of swirling steel ribbons, suspended on poles. In her artist’s statement, she writes that her sculptures express a "reaching out for hopes and dreams. Their luminescent form reflects an ever-changing environment. Planted in the ground on three legs made of stainless steel tubes, they suggest the rays of the sun touching the earth."

A curator for several Toronto venues including the Canadian Polish Art Initiatives and Gallery 7, Ania Biczysko’s sculpture has been exhibited in solo and group shows in Poland, Norway and Toronto from 1986 to the present.  

Left: A sculpture from Ania Biczysko’s cloud series. The sculpture is made of stainless steel ribbons and is suspended above the ground. The form is visible from all sides. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Wojtek Biczysko creates large tactile steel sculptures, touched by the original myth of creation. He explores simultaneously two paths: one narrative, partly figurative, almost story-telling; the other abstract, conceptual, interacting with the elements. His own technique of direct modelling in steel –"a welder’s nightmare" – requires his involvement in the process from beginning to end, by which he achieves his unique forms. He sees the world "as empty space, full of possibilities, in which forms and stories are the manifestations in energy, in constant movement and change." Commissions include a large-scale mobile installation for Toronto Hydro and a metal sculpture navy boat, for Purdy’s Wharf in Halifax. Weather permitting, a large sculpture will be displayed for the opening in the Stong College courtyard outside the reception hall.

This final exhibition in the "Universal Imagination" series completes one of Stong’s contributions to the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the college and the 50th of York University. "It [the exhibit] indicates our historic connection between education and culture, offering to students, the York community and Toronto a unique opportunity to experience the varieties of forms, media and subjects of the work of renowned artists," said Modupe Olaogun, master of Stong College.

Right: A sculpture by Wojtek Biczysko titled Boat is fabricated from carbon steel and stainless steel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

"Universal Imagination" featured 13 distinguished Canadian artists showing their work in tandem as an expression of a common theme. The artists, recipients of major awards, including an Oscar, the Order of Canada, the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Gold Medallion of the 4th Biennale Internazionale dell"Arte Contemporanea (Florence, Italy), have exhibited their drawing, sculpture, painting, photography and fibre art from September 2008 to March 2009 at the Samuel J. Zacks Gallery. The artists participating in the exhibit were Adam and Irena Kolodziej, Gordon Becker, Ernestine Tahedl, Maya Foltyn, Fry Freeman, Peng Ma, Ryszard Litwiniuk, Christopher Chapman, Edward Falkenberg, Wojtek and Ania Biczysko and Tamara Jaworska. Each provided their own unique interpretation of "Universal Imagination" in a variety of mediums, including pencil, wood, steel, oil, acrylic, Chinese brush paintings, photographs and Gobelin tapestries.

The exhibition is open to the public; admission is free. The Samuel J. Zacks Gallery, 109 Stong College, is open Monday to Friday, from 11:30am to 4pm. A 32-page catalogue for the entire series, with photographs and biographies, is available from the gallery at the exhibition or by mail ($2 plus postage). Catalogue requests should be sent to:

Samuel J. Zacks Gallery of Stong College
c/o York University
4700 Keele St.
Toronto, ON M3J 1P3

For more information, visit the Stong College Web site or contact Tad Jaworski, curator of the series and a Fellow of Stong College at 416-222-8491.