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Globe and Mail Article, July 19, 2008

by Gary Michael Dault

 

tVeronika Szkudlarek

1313 Queen St. W., Toronto; 416-536-6778

 

At 23 years of age, the Montreal-based, Polish-Canadian artist Veronika Szkudlarek has already chalked up enough experience to fuel a dozen careers in painting. The works making up her impressive exhibition at Gallery 1313, A Goat for Charlotte, have all been generated by Szkudlarek’s recent sojourn in Kigali, Rwanda, where, in the course of getting to know the residents (the “Charlotte” of the exhibition’s title is one of them) and their culture and their struggles for survival, she painted a mural for the Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity Orphanage, a place of refuge which, as Szkudlarek points out in her artist’s statement, “houses over a hundred children, widows and victims of the Rwandan genocide.”

 

The paintings at Gallery 1313 – the proceeds of which will be used to aid the Rwandans generally (and, more specifically, to buy Charlotte a goat) – are remarkably mature works for a painter so young. The paintings are all landscapes, and are often very large (like the fine Order and Chaos). All of them are bathed in a strange, doggedly effulgent, greenish-grey paint (overarched by heavy creamy-gold skies) – which may well be the embodiment of a certain kind of crepuscular African light. In characteristic works, like Order and Chaos or Kigali or Zura Karuhimbi, the vista within the painting – often a distant village or sun-baked settlement – is seen from a low vantage point in which the viewer seems to be (with the painter) crouched on the rounding of a hill, gazing into the picture’s deep space through an interference of tall dry grasses and plants (often dead and drooping sunflowers). There is a clandestine feeling to Szkudlarek’s paintings, as if – despite their size – they were painted surreptitiously, on the sly, at the cusp of some sense of intrusion.