Esther Warkov, a surrealist postmodern Jewish artist living in Winnipeg, Canada, grew up on the Canadian prairies, but her stylized motifs reveal the clear influence of the Eastern European immigrant community into which she was born (in 1941).
“Warkov is adamant that her paintings do not tell a specific story and invites the viewer to meander through her work,” says Andrew Kear, the Winnipeg Art Gallery curator of Historical Canadian Art, which is showing Warkov’s paintings from the 1960s to the 1980s. WAG is actually showing two Jewish artists who dabble in the surreal, Warkov and Marc Chagall, who apparently was no stranger to Winnipeg. “It is exceptional to view Warkov and Chagall alongside each other; the stylistic parallels are stunning,” says Kear.
The WAG presented Esther Warkov’s first solo exhibition in 1964. Since then, the Gallery has acquired nearly 50 works by Warkov, spanning her career as one of Manitoba’s most distinctive artists. In recent years the Gallery has received a number of Warkov’s large multi-panelled paintings, a body of work that earned her national attention beginning in the 1970s. This exhibition showcases one of her most celebrated and defining periods of creative production.
Subtly psychedelic, Warkov’s stylized motifs reveal the influence of the Eastern European community into which she was born. Her motley scenes integrate a recurring and morphing array of images—townsfolk, historical figures, insects, and engine parts—appropriated from the old photographs, postcards, medical textbooks, and department store catalogues the artist scavenged from local junk shops and second-hand stores.
Warkov’s refreshingly idiosyncratic paintings engage with matters of race, ethnicity, social history, and cultural memory. At the same time, her work does not correspond to specific intentions, revealing no coherent stories. “When most people look at my work,” Warkov told Maclean’s in 1977, “they want to know what the symbolism is—and the truth is I don’t have any.” In the absence of an encompassing narrative, Warkov invites the viewer to meander, as one might through a found box of nameless photographs, and simply revel in the partial, provisional, and ultimately inarticulate strangeness of her painted worlds.
Esther Warkov: Paintings, 1960s-1980s
Winnipeg Art Gallery, 300 Memorial Boulevard, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3C 1V1
Through October 16, 2016
Sat., Sun, Tue. Wed. Thu. 11 AM- 5 PM, Fri. 11 AM – PM, Mon. closed.