Saturday, August 10, 2013

portrait of the artist, Jack Ceglic

J a c k   C e g l i c
recent drawings
at Ille Arts

Portraiture is an ancient art form, going back as far as history takes us. The human gaze, the disposition of the body, its form and the very apprehension of its presence can, through the eyes of an artist, reveal truths. For Jack Ceglic, whose work is on view at Ille Arts, pathos is perhaps the first line of defense in a body of work that is striking in its veracity and its keen, incisive immediacy. 

Ceglic is one part matador and one part dove, with a hand that moves briskly between fury and tenderness. As skirmishes of line advance into form the drawings become dazzlingly present, as if the sitter is coalescing in body and mind before your eyes. In the studio, the presence of souls is almost palpable. They rest against easels, line the walls or lay, in progress, on one or another horizontal surfaces. A prodigious worker, of the ten or twelve portraits in the studio most had been completed in the last two weeks. 

At Ille Arts, some eight full size portraits fill both galleries. The drawings are done on huge swathes of paper and at a towering 6 feet in height each one resonates with an electric energy that steps off the page into the shared space between the visceral and that ineffable thing, the human psyche. 

L: Bonnie, R: Beau; R/Foreground: Amanda Mai; all works oil stick and pastel, 72 1/4 x 49 1/4 in
Below are a few thoughts we exchanged at the artist's studio last week:

Janet Goleas: This portrait of the artist Robert Harms takes my breath away. 

Jack Ceglic: Most people who see this portrait who know Robert feel this this is him. It seems to capture something that all of us see about him.

JG: It reveals something about the way he paints, too. It's atomized 
in a way -- like his paintings.

Robert, 2012, oil stick and pastel; photo by Gary Mamay

JC: Drawing people -- it isn't really what people think. The average person thinks an artist wants to draw them the way they look, but maybe not. It's a collaboration between the artist and the sitter, and sometimes I don't know who's what. What I'm seeing is being translated between the eye and the hand. 

JG: Yes, yes -- when you capture the truth that exists between you and your sitter, it's exhilarating. Like a keystone.

JC: Exactly. What makes it happen is what makes you happen. It's not just a nose and a mouth.

Ceglic's subjects range from close friends to found people whom others coax into sitting for the artist in his secluded East Hampton studio. The walls and easels are filled with mostly life-size drawings that writhe with kinetic energy, as if a heart pumps inside the thickets of color and line.

JG: How does it happen -- your sitters -- how do they sit?

JC: With Robert it was a moment -- the first time he sat for me. I go to his shows; I like his work. But I didn't know him. He came to pose and we got right at it. It's not always easy -- sometimes they need to find themselves.

JG: So you don't always know the back story of your subject. 

JC: No, not at all. When I draw a portrait I talk to the person. And I want them to talk to me.  

JG: Interesting -- you don't have that classic right brain/left brain thing where you can't talk and draw at the same time? 

JC: Well, I always tell the sitter -- I might not always be speaking but I'll always be listening. I'll come and go. You'll be a part of what I do and you'll be a part of what I think you are.

Renowned for his work in interior and architectural design, Ceglic's studio is also a work of art, with gigantic overhead doors on either side.  "When both doors are open," he said, "sometimes the birds fly right through."
Soft spoken and concise in his language, Ceglic is an unlikely warrior, wrangling his oil sticks and pastels like a prizefighter.

JG: What is it that you like about working on paper. 

JC: I like the surface -- the hardness -- the attack. I like to make a mark and not change it. 

JG: A more academic approach would be to map out the figure. 

JC: I don't map out the figure, I approach it. I look, I feel, I attack. I find the part of the body that interests me and from there everything moves into focus. They have those lines and those shapes, those forms, those smiles. It's no different from abstract art. 


His influences run the gamut from Franz Hals to Andy Warhol, and his painterly approach recalls the edginess of Egon Schiele, the spacial clarity of Alice Neel and the sort of muscular candor that has become his artistic identity. Ceglic's visual lexicon is one of acute empathy, with results that have the feel of meditations on the exhilaration of being human.

He starts a drawing where his eyes first go -- a wrinkle in fabric, the turn of a wrist or a forearm, a fold at the knee. In this way Ceglic navigates the form, intuiting it as he moves through the drawing. Dark shadows leap forward into luminous oranges, lavenders and greens. Flesh glows. Sometimes anguished, other times beatific, here self-identity is fluid, electric. Ceglic seizes his subject's identity -- almost as if he's holding it in his palm -- as he channels the sitter through eye, mind and hand.

JC: Putting down the marks in a straightforward way, I feel like I've captured something -- like I've taken something from my sitter. It's a sort of possession.

 JG: I know just what you mean. It's a form of communion between you, 
the sitter, and that column of vision that exists in between.

JC: It's about what you're really seeing and not what you've been taught. It's managing nature, in a way. You know -- gardeners do it, too.

The exhibition, on view through August 19th, coincides with the publication of Jack, Drawings and Paintings by Jack Ceglic, 2009 - 2012, published by Pointed Leaf Press. 

The book, with texts by the poet and 2008 Pultizer Prize recipient, Philip Schultz, and the actor/director, Joe Mantello, is a melange of figures and faces that emanate from the artist's hand. Deeply intimate, the figures are radiant. But even more so, the book offers a portrait of this compelling artist.

Jack Ceglic in his studio

Don't miss this wonderful show, on view through August 19th.

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