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Swirl Enough and Time on Canvas

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Going for Stroke: Neila Mezynski's 'Sob,' a 1999 acrylic,
displays her love for the free movement of the paintbrush.

The unfettered play of the brush dominates the works of Neila Mezynski

By Ann Elliott Sherman

NO ONE KNOWS better than Fred Spratt, who has worked tirelessly to put San Jose State University and San Jose on the cultural map, how a degree from the right school can give an artist the kind of connections and credibility needed to "make it" in the competitive, insular--if not downright incestuous--art world. Meeting his latest discovery's lack thereof head-on, he has puckishly titled her debut solo show at his gallery Who Is Neila Mezynski?

It's apparent that the estimable doyen of San Jose gallery owners is as drawn to Mezynski's purist focus on answering her inner demands for creative expression as to the end results. For all the irony contained in the exhibition's name, the work itself is free of any, which is refreshing in a time when even TV ads are selling attitude first and foremost.

At the same time, irony does at least betray the secret hope that someone else out there might entertain similar irreverent thoughts. Whether anyone's paying attention seems to be the last thing on Mezynski's mind, and this autonomy is no small part of what got her where she is today.

The expressionist gestures that make up Mezynski's canvases are not assertions of ego or emotion as much as submissions to an inner urge to do so that one can most truly be. Just as a junkie's got to have that rush to bliss on a regular basis, Mezynski needs to work her way toward the elusive congruence of impulse, thought and deed described by athletes and artists alike as "being in the zone."

What, then, is the viewer's point of entry into this realm of mystical discipline? It helps if one is infatuated with painting, because as much as anything else, Mezynski's work reveals a fascination with the brush stroke in all its variations--short, staccato lines, quick flurries, long, deliberate sluices, loops and scribbled swirls.

For all that, the feeling is one of being in the presence of a rigorous intelligence, as opposed to a voluptuary, but that could have much to do with Mezynski's near-Amish affinity for cloaking her color explorations in gray.

Mezynski previously found creative expression as a choreographer, and it's interesting to note how in works like Sob or Bear she lays down long, dominant lines atop the more frenetic and choppy strokes, almost the way a coda brings many separate movements to a unified close.

In Diz, this outsized gesture, revved by the undercurrents of reds, blues, greens, yellow, even pink, gives the painting an explosive energy. Although all the paintings' titles were more or less arbitrarily affixed at Spratt's insistence, the slashing blast here earns its title's associative homage.

EVEN IF I weren't a sucker for wide-open spaces, the breathing room uncharacteristically provided by Mezynski in ...Tucson would still be welcome. Here the grays are still present and accounted for, but the fluid, open lines atop aren't so muddied over, allowing sensations of heat, sun, air. Add in the call and response of colors like sky blue to butter yellow, coral, peach and red to aqua, sage and teal, and the result affords an easy pleasure.

I hasten to add that the pleasure Mezynski provides is neither silly nor a sin, since so much of her work suggests an intense seriousness that might reject hedonistic temptation as frivolous pandering. With chosen ancestors like Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell, pleasing the crowd is not likely high on Mezynski's list of priorities. Or maybe she's just hell-bent on making up for time otherwise spent.

These days, Spratt is championing the careers of decidedly noncareerist abstract expressionists like Phe Ruiz and, now, Mezynski. By choosing to shepherd self-schooled artists who are slaves to their muse instead of trends, Spratt reveals as much about himself as about his protégés.

Who Is Neila Mezynski? Paintings runs through April 17 at Frederick Spratt Gallery, 920 S. First St., San Jose. (408/294-1135)

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From the April 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro.

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