Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
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From the East Anglian Daily Times
It's a bright and balmy mid-November morning in what my colleague, Peggy Cole would call “St. Martin's Little Summer, a last few days of clement weather before the winter wheelclamps us. I'm attending a private view for an art exhibition at the Chappel Gallery, just up the road from railway viaduct. This is not the main private view, you understand. This is a private preview for the hardcore fans, the actual buyers.
The artist Wladislaw Mirecki or Waj, when he's at home, was born to Polish parents in Chelmsford in 1956. He paints Essex landscapes. In fact, he paints things that the type of people who like sawn-up livestock in formaldehyde and Tracy Emin's laundry basket probably wouldn't consider to be cutting edge. The same type of people would probably tell you that they didn't like J.S.Bach either, because he was “too mathematical”. People who know the beauty of the local countryside, though, recognise the quality of Mirecki's defiantly coherent work. It sells, of course.
Early Autumn, Chappel Viaduct (Watercolour 2007)
As I may have said before in these pages, in common with much of the puzzled public, I like only certain art forms. As well as landscapes, these include portraits of stags in glens, buxom middle-aged French women in bathtubs, three kittens in an old gardening boot and almost anything by the Victorian artist, John Atkinson Grimshaw, who specialised in painting haunted autumnal lanes. If I dare utter these preferences to people at arty gatherings in my native Wivenhoe, I am met by an awkward laugh or a look of disappointment. I am, of course, serious. And yet, still, the invitations to incomprehensible exhibitions, snow in through my letterbox. Some people just can't take a hint. Marty Feldman, the late comedian once performed a sketch as an art gallery guide, where, pointing to a classic Reubens oil painting of a large nude woman reclining, he announces to his tour party: “There you are. Fat tart havin' a kip.” The resonance of that sketch remains with me.
Oak Tree (Watercolour, 2005)
Waj, a completely self-taught artist, has never not-painted. When he says: “I never went to art school,” the statement has a sense of mystery to it, almost as if he were talking about a strange club
in a far off city which he'd once heard about but had never felt the urge to visit. At school he'd always been regarded as being 'good at art'. Instead, however, he gained a science degree and later moved onto industrial design in London. He was terribly unhappy there, falling, he said, into a chasm of depression and an eventual breakdown. He now maintains that it saved him. He left London in his late twenties in order to “take up the brush.” Returning to Essex in the mid 1980s, he became a labourer, laying tracks for the Railway Museum at Chappel and settling down here to paint the landscape.
Railways are Waj Mirecki's other great love. He's in the right place to indulge his passions. For here in Chappel, as well as the East Anglian Railway Museum are the rolling contours of the West Colne Valley. The place has everything a traditional English landscaper might desire: a winding river and acres of fecund farmland with tree-lined country lanes, all straddled by a stunning Victorian railway viaduct. Waj, then, doesn't need to work very far from home. Here, for nearly a quarter of a century he's followed the changing seasons with the persistence of a particularly obsessive stalker. From the buttercupped spring meadows, through the deep green hollow ways of summer woodland and out again into the glacier-mint light of winter fields, his landscapes are nearly all un-peopled. Waj will tell you that this is because the countryside nowadays is mostly, empty. The workers have gone from the land and much of it he says, now serves merely as a dog latrine.
Waj wanted to paint his immediate locale and reckons that it took him about ten years before his work began to do the landscape justice. His paintings are realistic, though un-blighted by any sterile photographic quality. One picture of a roadside winter hedgerow is entitled, “Cold and Damp.” He's captured it so well that after a while viewing it, you begin to feel the cold and damp. Waj doesn't over-idealise his subjects. Where a road, for instance, encroaches upon one of his landscapes, in too, go its markings and all the yellow lines. In years to come, such things will tell the viewer as much about the countryside in the early 21st century as a Constable painting does about the early 19th. The influences of John Constable and John Atkinson Grimshaw, however, remain present in Waj Mirecki's work like two wardens in a country park.
He doesn't subscribe to the tortured artist myth. He gets up in the morning, goes down to the shed at the bottom of his garden and then, sober and untrammelled by doubt, he paints. He says he'd prefer to go the Mozart route – rich and famous in his own time – rather than the rockier Van Gogh one. Inspired by this, I say that I intend to write to English Heritage as soon as I get home and demand that they send me my blue plaque now. For the first time in a fairly serious conversation, Waj roars with laughter.