Now resident in France Tadeus Jaroszynski work has always been pitched somewhere within his European roots and his years spent in South Africa. Born in Yugoslavia to Polish Finnish parents; Jaroszynski received his training as an artist in Helsinki where he also met his wife Karin. They subsequently relocated to South Africa in the late 1950’s, where they carved out a unique artist’s niche for themselves.
Flooded with a gentle melancholia and nostalgia that is associated with the artists Eastern European past, and a quality of light, colour and form that is reminiscent of the Northern European painting tradition, these figures stand before a luminous karoo landscape with a single windmill. But their gazes are averted from the landscape, suggesting that it is not the site of their meditative attention, but that they are recalling or dreaming of other places and other times.
Walking into the Oppenheimer library in the University of Cape Town two things are noticeable. Firstly, the fact that the old architecture outside masks the freshly painted, “new” finish of a place that holds such much intellectual content brought together over a considerable period of time. Secondly, the fact that this area is surrounded by a relatively vast art collection.
Browsing through the collection, I am drawn to various works but one sticks out from others. It is not even particularly accessible as obstructing the work are students and desks. As part of the collection, its appeal lies in its overwhelming serenity. There are no hard lines or dramatic statements being made. Rather it appeals because of how much it invokes one’s own experience of certain feelings. The low-key bustle of the university library is a reminder of reality and of how easy it really is to be carried away to another place by a medium. Flanking it are large windows looking out across the city but nevertheless I am still drawn to it and this is because it creates the impression of another window looking out onto a different place. It is often amazing how what is left to the imagination is often so much more interesting, filled with so much more emotion, that even this imaginary window within the painting and the scenery that it exhibits can attract the eye more easily than the sprawling detail of the city outside. Three figures are depicted within a bleak room, not looking at one another or the farmlands outside which seem rather distant or separated from where they stand. My own feeling increases my seeming familiarity or sense of “déjà vu” with the scene because these people seem to be familiar with each other, as family, friends or work colleagues might be. They seem comfortable with each other and thus their minds seem to be elsewhere. The green fields lead to the conclusion that this is not set in South Africa, but is possibly European.
An impression that these people either own the land depicted, or work on it, and now stand at the end of the working day, tired and deep in thought is soon overrun by the text shown below the painting. On reading the caption, emotions that had flown freely and taken me somewhere else vanish. It is like reading a book and then going to see the movie based on the book, where the more meaningful images that your very imagination had created of characters or places are replaced by those of the movie director. It is not that what is described is that different from what is seen in the painting, but rather that it changed my personal feelings about the painting. Now there is more understanding of where the emotions that I felt originated from. That perhaps this is not what was intended by the artist also comes to mind. While I had felt that the figures were reflecting on life perhaps after a days work, it is no longer the case. My own persistent depressive personality is forced to identify with these melancholic and nostalgic emotions rather than experience my own spontaneous images which originally drew me to this particular work. This attraction that I felt actually caused a distraction, as I read new personal meaning into the work, drawn by where I wanted to be and not where the artist was trying to take me. While I agree with the caption and its logic, the enjoyment of my own journey was what made this piece of art more enjoyable.
After reading the caption the possible reasons behind certain aspects of the painting becomes more apparent. The view outside the doorway of the lonely quiet landscape contributes to the feeling of tranquility. The single windmill, surrounded by the distant horizon adds to the feeling of isolation even though the figures are not alone. Without the view, one is not able to see that they are not looking at the view. It draws attention to how their minds are in another place. The figures also stand apart from one another, which contributes to the feeling that they are not sharing one another’s company, so much as their presence. They are not recalling by discussing, but are in their own, private contemplation yet they are all possibly thinking of shared memories and this is the reason for them being in the same room together. While the colours of the view are luminous, the rest of the painting is done in cool colours. This also draws our attention to the view and to the fact that the figures are not looking at it. They are not interested in it even though it is their current home. These cool colours add to the peaceful and reflective theme of the painting but also remind us that the reminiscence is not necessarily a warm or positive affair.
These figures are reflecting on another place, but what about this place, the library, a source of wealth to the students and staff of the university, and to the overall educational product of South African higher learning. The painting adds to this wealth, creating the necessary atmosphere of reflection and self growth that is fundamental in this environment.