The installation on view at the Western New York Book Arts Center has been curated by Elisabeth Samuels to highlight the underlying connection between the work of married artists who began their journey as students in Slovakia. Now a member of the faculty in the fibers/design program at Buffalo State College, Jozef Bajus is also an award-winning fiber and mixed media artist with long history of exhibitions in the United States and abroad. Olga Bajusova (1954-2012) had an equally engaging art career in illustration, printmaking, and film. She contributed work to numerous Slovakian children’s magazines and published books. Both artists have shown their work at Elisabeth Samuel’s Indigo Gallery on Allen Street in Buffalo. She points out in her exhibition statement that each artist has a gift for poetic clarity in their ability to translate and transform. While his work is “physical, tactile, conceptual…adept at rescuing and revisioning,” her “distilling narrative captures the essence of text into visual form.”
Shown here are Bajusova’s illustrations made for Slovakian children’s magazines, Vcieka, Zornicka, and Slniecko. She uses traditional materials (paint and ink on paper) to conjure a whimsical world of universal truths—art made to encourage young minds to imagine and open their understanding of the world. Pictures from early reading experiences often stay with a person through adulthood. Without comprehending a word of text, the illustrated objects of childhood tell stories—buses and bicycles, animals and fish, butterflies, houses, and numbers. Expressive scenes suggest heartfelt familiarity. A woman whispers (a secret?) into the ear of another. A family looks down with pleasure at a platter of baked fish on a table set for dinner. Children and their pets frolic in the snow. The artist’s depiction of the known world stirs a yearning for it.
Illustration by Olga Bajusova.
Further down the gallery wall, books open to reveal mysteries—experiments of folding, carving, tearing, and piercing. Bajus favors unwanted materials, such as old hardbacks in pristine condition with richly colored bindings. His altered books rest gracefully on a shelf—others are hung to cast shadows on the wall below. The intimacy of scale mirrors the quiet introspective reading experience. In this case, the words on the two-dimensional page are no longer carriers of information. Instead, they function as visual elements in the manipulated multi-dimensional paper sculpture. The interior reading process of thought is transformed into a physical presence of pattern, texture, light, and shadow. Bajus has preserved the original found-book titles as the names for his most recent works—curious titles, such as The Dirty Secrets Club, Heist Society, and The Ruins.
Bajus says about this work: “Transforming books is great fun for me and behind every piece is a lot of planning. I love exploring new ways of cutting, drilling or tearing prior to a final very precise folding. Chance is part of my artwork, very often with a surprising outcome.” I am reminded of the instruction from Jasper Johns to “take something and do something to it and do something else to it.” This is the artist’s task—devotion to inquisitiveness leads to a creative life and work. Whether working with industrial materials to create his grander installations or common paper of these more intimate works, Bajus draws upon the basic methods of a fiber artist—cut, tie, twist, weave, join—to discover evermore possibilities. Bajusova worked with the tools and techniques of a painter. The translation artistry of each is infused with a spirit of playfulness that I can only imagine has been a great joy for their children.
Translation remains on view through December 12 in the gallery at Western New York Book Arts Center at 468 Washington Street, open Wednesday through Saturday, noon-6pm.