Pockets of Pleasure
Landscape painter Joe Kazimierczyk wants people to know that New Jersey is not all oil refineries, superhighways and toxic waste sites - the places you see in the opening credits of The Sopranos. At least, his part of the state - the Sourlands region near Neshanic - is exquisite.
"A lot of people are surprised when they see this part of New Jersey," he says. "Once you get off the main roads, it's a beautiful spot."
Mr. Kazimierczyk will be the featured artist at the Harrison Street Gallery in Frenchtown through July 30. The gallery, open since May, is an artists' cooperative with more than 20 local artists.
Managed by Laura Wells of Art Decor Frame and Gallery, located next door to the co-op at 112 Harrison St., the gallery is part of a trend to pool the resources of various artists in a cooperative setting. This cuts down the commissions individual artists would usually have to pay gallery owners, and lets them share responsibilities like gallery sitting, promotion and sales. In turn, viewers get to see works in a variety of styles and media.
Ms. Wells has also launched "First Saturday" in Frenchtown, highlighting the river community's artistic character by scheduling open houses, special events and studio openings on the first Saturday of the month. As part of the festivities, the Harrison Street Gallery will host a Meet the Artist's reception July 1.
For Mr. Kazimierczyk, joining the co-op is part of a strategy for "growing" his career as an artist. His creative efforts and time spent in nature is also a break from his job as database administrator for Bristol-Myers Squibb in Princeton. Much of his work is done outdoors, en plein air, and he can be spotted along back roads painting the countryside he loves. He's especially enjoying his home in the Sourlands, a respite from years in the Hamilton area suburbs. He says the move has been a kind of revelation.
"I moved here about five years ago, and it's been a big change from where I grew up," Mr. Kazimierczyk says. "I had wanted to live in a more rural area, and always had in mind finding a house with character. I searched for a long time and found a beautiful old stone home in a wooded area, which might be one of the original houses in the area. I really love it here. It's quiet at night and the skies are dark, so you can see the stars."
He may have found a rare spot in New Jersey that's actually immune to development. The hardscrabble terrain of the Sourlands makes it difficult to cultivate and tricky as far as water management. Maybe the harshness of the ecosystem will be the area's saving grace and the Sourlands can remain a place for recreation and wildlife.
It's still relatively new to Mr. Kazimierczyk, who says he has been drawing and painting most of his life, but has only recently started to exhibit his work. Landscape painting also folds in well with his love for bicycling. He says in good weather, he pedals around the back roads with his portable paints, brushes and canvases, capturing the scenery.
The oil paintings at the Harrison Street Gallery show some of Mr. Kazimierczyk's favorite spots in Hunterdon, Somerset and Mercer counties - the bridge at Lumberville, places along the Delaware & Raritan Canal, and any number of farms in the area.
"I tend to paint the same things," he says. "I've found a lot of great stuff right around the corner from where I live. In the summer, I try to get outdoors as much as possible. I do a lot of cycling around the area and I usually carry a camera with me, so I have a good reference library from my bicycle rides."
Essentially self-taught, Mr. Kazimierczyk has built up his skills and confidence gradually, intent on taking his painting from a hobby to a higher level. The artist, who also records original music, hand-carves wood bowls, and works in ceramics in addition to making wine, was reluctant to show his work until last year. But just in that short amount of time, he's received quite a bit of notice.
Last year, one of his works was acquired by the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission for its permanent collection. He won second place in an exhibit at the Howard Gallery in New Hope, Pa., and most recently was awarded Best in Show for Painting at the Ellarslie Open XXIV. He has also shown his work at Montgomery Center for the Arts in Skillman, Phillips' Mill in New Hope, Pa., and Prallsville Mills in Stockton.
"When I got the purchase award from the Mercer County Cultural and Heritage Commission, it gave me a lot of encouragement, it was a nice way to get started," Mr. Kazimierczyk says. "I've always strived to paint better and better, but after last year I tried to take it farther and see what other people think of my work. It's been a gradual transition. I started entering juried competitions in the spring of 2005, and in January I joined the Artists Gallery in Lambertville. More recently, I joined the Harrison Street Gallery. Next spring, I'll have a solo show at Hopewell Frame and Gallery."
He names Camille Pisarro as one of his favorite Impressionists, and Winslow Homer as an influence.
"The contemporary British painter Trevor Chamberlain is probably my biggest influence, because of his whole philosophy, the idea of direct observation," Mr. Kazimierczyk says. "That's what inspired me to do so much en plein air. He talks about his set-up for painting, with his homemade painting box to take outdoors."
Mr. Kazimierczyk says he was struck by Mr. Chamberlain's deep love of the outdoors and countryside, but also by the artist's economy of means.
"I built my own set-up based on Trevor's suggestions and have been using it for 15 years or so," Mr. Kazimierczyk says. "I can carry everything I need in a knapsack, including water and food, which allows me to go anywhere on my bike to paint - although it limits the size of my paintings. But I see people with these big easels and they can't get to the places I can. Nowadays you can buy a lot of really small boxes to paint, but when I first started doing this, there was nothing."
He declines to be called an environmentalist or activist as far as land preservation goes, but Mr. Kazimierczyk hopes his paintings will get people thinking about appreciating the little green pockets of pleasure that still exist in the Garden State.
"For me, it's just that I enjoy painting, getting outdoors to do it and if other people enjoy seeing it, that's about all I can hope for," he says. "If I can impart this joy to other people, I think I've done well."
Joe Kazimierczyk's oil paintings will be featured at the Harrison Street Gallery, 108 Harrison St., Frenchtown, through July 30. Meet the artists reception: July 1, 5-9 p.m. Gallery hours: Thurs.-Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. or by appointment. For information, call (908) 996-3325. Joe Kazimierczyk on the Web: www.joekaz.net
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