Ewa Juszkiewicz adopts the visual conventions of portraiture but drags them into the present, altering and denaturing the codes and prompting us to consider the cultural afterlife of such images. Be it through a portrait re-interpreted or a lost artwork re-crafted, from the eighteenth century portrait painter Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) to the modernist Paul Klee (1879-1940), her uncanny paintings upset the hierarchies of cultural memory, inserting the hybrid and the strange into the historical order.
Since 2012, Juszkiewicz has created a series of paintings based around portraits of women: mothers, wives and daughters. These images are, in a sense, portraits of significant others, however it is the maligned status of these women relative to their associated male counterpoints (who are not represented) that becomes significant. Portraiture of course has seldom been solely about its subject but interlaced with social conventions, status and covert (or not so covert) symbolic messages. This begs the question: how does an artist begin to negotiate the history of the objectification of women in portraiture? If history has rendered these individuals unremarkable, Juszkiewicz's act of re-painting them both extends this act of negation whilst also transforming these characters into extraordinary, surreal apparitions of their former selves.
Make-up and hairstyles are fundamentally costumes of the face: under the aegis of style they embellish, conceal and frame, just as in the original portraits the painted face stood in accord with principles of decorum. Yet in wholly stripping it away, replacing appearance with masses of foliage, cloaking features within folds of fabric or masking expression beneath crustaceans, Juszkiewicz does not hide the figure nor undermine its status, but rather creates alternative, freely-imagined and fantastical portrayals of women. Juszkiewicz's act of feminist appropriation importantly offers no possibility of atonement; the injustices of history can now not be undone. What is born instead is a new story; a future history for the paintings' anonymous- and more often than not nameless- protagonists.
More recently Juszkiewicz's interest in the historically destitute image has expanded too reworking images of artworks that have been lost, destroyed or irrevocably damaged. Rejecting the possibility that these artworks are irretrievably gone, relying on the mimetic possibility of poor-quality reproductions in books or the fragments of anecdotal recollections, Juszkiewicz uses the act of painting to engender a point of return for these languishing memories. In her re-interpretative paintings it may be but an aura of the past that is rejuvenated, but a memory is rekindled, an image endures.
In his 1940 essay 'Theses on the Philosophy of History', German philosopher and cultural critic Walter Benjamin proposed that we recognize the past, not as it once was, but that we 'seize hold of a memory as it flashes up' in the present. Having traipsed through hoards of images in the proverbial archives of art history, those that Juszkiewicz has chosen to paint are those that trigger associative memories and find unknowable resonance. In working from imprecise black and white reproductions, Juszkiewicz is spared the burden of authenticity; she is free to shape these artworks, and colour these memories, as she sees fit.