The Muse in the Shadows

     To call an artist a classical modernist may sound like a contradiction, but a look at the work of Walter Bachinski dispels any confusion. Disseminating his creative vision through not one medium but four, he has established his unique style, and thus his equally unique place in the pantheon of contemporary figurative artists.

     Bachinski’s pastels, prints, bas-reliefs and sculptures are instantly recognizable, as he has not altered his visual lexicon, continuing on a well charted path without a hint of hesitation. If anything, his recent works emanate a quiet certitude, their symbolism and classical references at ease in the world of technological explosion.

     They hark to antiquity, but also to a time when art served a vision, as did the chosen medium.

     Born in 1939 in Ottawa, Bachinski studied art at the Ontario College of Art, and later at the University of Iowa, where he obtained his Master’s Degree. His career included many years of teaching, which only ended in 1994, when he left the University of Guelph, a Full Professor at the time.

     It was also the year that marked the beginning of his complete devotion to art.

     Travels were a major influence in creating the visual iconography that would become his signature. From studying murals in Mexico, to the Great Masters of Europe, Bachinski found his fascination in the masterpieces of the late 19th and 20th century art, especially French.

     There is a steady progression in his career, with signposts in the form of thematic productions that would continue into the present. From early black and white prints and drawings, Bachinski moved on to bas-reliefs and sculpture, and finally incorporating colour into his works through the mastery of the art of pastels.

     Bachinski’s favourite themes remain the Mother and Child, and the timeless subject of Model and Artist. Still Life found its way into his creative output in the late 70s, thus closing the thematic circle.

     Prints of bouquets of flowers against geometric background punctuate his latest exhibition at Han Art Gallery with colour and form, in a seamless segue from the figurative pastels and sculpture. Undeniably Bachinski, they complement the other works on display like visual offerings.

     Anemones in Vase uses the format of a split image, with a red-hot vase of vibrant flowers in the right hand panel, and a delicate grove of trees in blossom in the other. One gets the impression of looking through a window, with the bouquet in the foreground, i.e. inside, and the trees and ochre sky outside, in the background. This visual shift is quite masterful, creating a perspective where none exists, much to the delight of the beholder.

     In Cyclamen on Model Stand Bachinski shows his true colours, literally. The cobalt blue found in many of his works, is king in this mesmerising composition, juxtaposed against shimmering gold and pure white, and all against ebony black. Bold red stripes mark the top of the image, while petals and tiny birds add a filigree touch to this bold, bright assemblage of shapes and forms.

     Pastels are what Bachinski is perhaps best known for, and they are the core of this exhibition. It is hard not to be instantly enamoured of these translucent, shimmering drawings, scenes populated with delicate ghost-like nude figures that seem to have emerged from a classical painting. The references are many and obvious, but the style is unique, the execution flawless. Birth of Venus I, II and III, offers the viewer a play on the theme known world over. But in Bachinski’s version, the nude on a half shell is accompanied by two sentries, and observed from afar by a man on a horse. The group is awash in shimmering blues and ochre, the nudes in the foreground glowing as if illuminated by the setting sun.

     Emotion takes over in a touching pastel on paper titled Mother and Child. The child’s face against his mother’s, a tiny hand on her cheek, and an indisputable awareness of a bond, a love that is at the heart of humanity, all come flooding the observer. But even in this work, regardless of its emotional component, it is Bachinski’s approach to pictorial representation that awes. The mother and child are emerging from the right of the image, set against impenetrable darkness that takes a large part of the composition. It sets off the vibrant orange and yellow of the figures, and the floral pattern on the woman’s dress. The faces are both classical and contemporary, and the work in a category of its own.

     Bachinski’s Dark Harlequin I is a familiar figure, but in his representation the colourful personage becomes part of the composition, on par with the inanimate object found in it. The black and red lozenges on the harlequin’s costume have the same density as the black background or the red ladder. The entire work resembles a cut out collage, and is as playful as it is accomplished. It is also in vast contrast to the delicate series of nudes, showing off Bachinski’s virtuosity.

     Sculpture plays a major role in the artist’s oeuvre, and relies most on the theme of antiquity. Orpheus, a 21x6.25x5.75 in. bronze, recalls Greek statuary, perhaps a Kouros. Unlike classical sculpture, Bachinski’s figures are slightly truncated; lacking the polished finish of marble, they resemble works in progress, moulded roughly into shape in preparation for the next stage. This is their forte, and this is what makes Bachinski a classical modern artist, for despite their artistic ancestors, these are indisputably contemporary pieces.

     The Seated Figure Arranging her Hair may make one think of Degas, but this is clearly the work of a contemporary artist with a particular talent for appropriation without offense. Art, after all, is a continuum…


Dorota Kozinska