Entranced by the color of the seasons and the versatility of the newly-developed acrylic paints, Bernard J. Zawisa spent half a century crafting vivid abstract forms with acrylic, ink, and mixed media. He began his art practice after serving in the US Air Corps during WWII, receiving his BA from Wesleyan University and his MFA from the University of Iowa. Following his studies of Art History and English, he joined Southern Connecticut State University as an art professor in 1958 and taught until his retirement in 1994. During his winter and summer breaks, Zawisa created art while traveling internationally, however, the majority of his pieces were created during extensive stays in Los Angeles and weekend trips along Highway 1 along the California coastline. He placed great importance on the intuitive transition between color and form unique to acrylic paint, and avoided figurative content. His work is now represented in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. The Salon is proud to host several of his raw and angular early work from the 60’s (Works of Texture, Bridge Series), his highly geometric and organized paintings from the Early-Mid 70’s (Quatrefoil Series, Circle Series, Grid Pattern), and a selection of his late works from the late 70’s to 90’s (Star Series, Galaxy Series). Thank you to Zawisa’s partner, Mr. Wiggen, for taking such good care of this extraordinary collection, and for entrusting us with Bernard’s legacy.
As for my own painting I give primacy to color, that is, color in a context or in a pattern. These are structured in a grid system of repeated shapes. Initially, I predetermine the choice of colors but as the painting progresses, as the shapes are overlapped, as the colors are blended and the work begins to take a life of its own, the initial colors have generally changed. When to my perception the painting has achieved an organic color unity, it is finished.
Of direct influence on my work are the colors of the seasons. Summers are spent in California where the light is a strong factor in perceiving color vibrance. The coastal mountains abound with flora or the deepest yellows and reds with rusty siennas and violet purple. The interior landscape presents another combination of golden ochres as found in the seductively soft and flowing hills. In Connecticut the transitory periods of early spring with its fragile color and autumn with its rich spectrum of hues as well as the singular beauty of the grey tones of a winter landscape command interest and attention.
My understanding of art involves a duality of activities – perception and conception. The former deals with visual grasping of formal elements in an organic whole; the latter is concerned with the identifying and distilling of concepts and feelings within the form. In reality both activities are inseparable and occur simultaneously; however, to give uniqueness to art, to distinguish it from other forms, I believe, an emphasis or focus should be given to the former activity, to the perception of formal elements.
(1925) - Bernard James Zawisa born May 12, Middletown Connecticut
(1944-1946) - 2nd Lieutenant, United States Air Force, Navigator
(1946-1950) - Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, Bachelor of Art. Etchings, including series based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses” for Honors Program. Abstract, figurative and still life paintings.
(1952-1954) - University of Iowa, studio, art history and theory. Master of Fine Arts in painting. Series of etchings, including one based on Jackson Pollock’s Mural; abstract figurative paintings. Work included in exhibition of American Federation of Arts, National Traveling Exhibition.
(1956) - Travels to Puerto Rico; meets Ralph E. Wiggen in San Juan. Series of Fortress and El Moro, San Juan, Puerto Rico drawings and paintings. Works included in exhibition of Essex Art Association, Essex, Connecticut; Boston Arts Festival, Boston, Massachusetts; and American Federation of Arts, National Tour Traveling Exhibition
(1957-1958) - Teaches Art History, Studio Painting, Drawing and Aesthetics at Wilkes College (now University), Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
(1958-1994) - Professor of Art, Southern Connecticut State University. Teaches Design, Drawing and Painting; organizes and teaches courses in color, water-based media in painting and philosophy of Art. 1994 retires as Professor of Art Emeritus
(1960-1966) - Paints Series of texture paintings, Zawias’s notes: “imprinted, veils of brush texture, stained, layers of other colors applied with flowing strokes of a wide brush, sponge or cloth”.
(1962-2000) - Paints in California during January and June through mid-September. Week-end motor trips to San Diego, La Jolla, Palm Springs, Santa Barbara and Las Vegas. Frequent motor trips on Coastal Highway 1 from Morro Bay to Carmel, Monterey and San Francisco.
(1964) - Continues to work on discs over land/water series, bridge series, squarish forms and veils of texture series. Zawisa’s note: “squeegee, brush, hard edge shaped by newspaper”. Work included in the New England Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, Silverman Guild of Artists, New Canaan.
(1966) - Paints hard edge curved linear and striped landscape series; striped lines series; and tension series. Zawisa’s note: “hard edge shaped by tape.” Exhibition of work at Spectrum gallery, New York, New York. Work included in exhibitions of Connecticut Artist Educator Invitational, Widener Gallery, Austin Arts Center, Trinity College, Hartford, and Group Show, New York University, New York, New york.
(1970) - Zawisa’s notes: “Series of 50”x50” acrylic on canvas paintings of four interesecting circles in red, violet and blue; circles within squares. Work included in the exhibition of Silvermine Guild of Artists, New Canaan.
(1974) - Paints discs/arcs grid pattern series. Draws landscapes.
(1976) - Continues to paint discs and arcs in grid pattern series. Paints first of star theme/field paintings, five pointed stars, stars and rectangle series. Work included in the exhibition of The Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich, Connecticut.
(1977) - Paints and draws five and six pointed star theme/field, fragmented stars, galaxy and nebulosity series. Work included in exhibition of Connecticut Academy of Fine Arts, Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art, Hartford; “ Mainstreams 1977”, Grover Hermann Fine Arts Center, Marietta College, Marietta, Oho, Arts League Southern Connecticut State College, New Haven; and the The Slater Memorial Museum, Norwich.
(1983) - Paints newsprint collages; six pointed star field paintings; corrugated cardboard stars; and six pointed astronomical stars. Early November, diagnosis of tumor in cranium in area below right ventricle.
(2000) Accompanies Wiggen daily to his law offices. Draws informal sketches. In late September becomes ill and retires. Expires October 3, 2000, complications from brain tumor.
(2001) - September 3-28, 2001, post mortem exhibit, “Selected Paintings”, John Lyman Center for the Performing Arts, Southern Connecticut State University, New Haven.