The Legacy of Bay Area Figuration in the Work of Waldemar Mitrowski

The mid-20th century Bay Area Figurative movement, which boldly resuscitated figuration in a moment dominated by Abstract Expressionism, is finally getting its due in exhibitions across the country. Simultaneously, light is being shed on contemporary artists—like Waldemar Mitrowski—following the lead of West Coast greats like Richard Diebenkorn, Raimonds Staprans, and Wayne Thiebaud.

Similar to his post-modern predecessors, Mitrowski blurs abstraction and representation in paintings that manifest atmosphere through nuances of color and form and occasional, albeit arresting, injections of figuration. While Mitrowski has lived in lush, free-spirited Northern California since 1988, his work is also infused with a particularly somber Eastern European sensibility inspired by his Polish upbringing.

The result of this cross-cultural, stylistic amalgamation: rich, eerie compositions that bring Bay Area meditation on the visual impact of light and landscape to a new, metaphysical level. In The Future (2014), Mitrowski places a characteristically ashen, faceless figure against a geometric backdrop rendered in vibrant, elemental red, yellow, and blue. In some areas, the ghostly subject melts into his colorful surroundings, alluding to the profound effects of the exterior world on interior emotions and impressions. Secret (2014) depicts an ethereal floating bust in the company of a deep black form moonlighting as a vortex or point of no return. The juxtaposition of the two forms—one identifiable and bright, the other amorphous and shadowy—references the complex polarities of human existence.

—Alexxa Gotthardt

Mitrowski’s work is currently on view in “Figures in Abstract” at Seager Gray Gallery.

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