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From the Golden Haggadah of the Talmud, Barcelona, 1320, Encaustic, 36x41 
Solo Exhibition
April 11 - April 22, 2012
Opening Reception
Thursday, April 12, 6:00 - 10:00pm
Meet the Artist @ Opening Reception
Artist Talk and Intro at 7:30pm

Dacia Gallery is proud to present John David Ratajkowski’s solo exhibition By Hand. Our electronic age has made handwritten text all but obsolete. Yet long before Gutenberg, texts were produced “by hand”. Drawing from a rich body of sources including, among others, Archimedes’ codex, Darwin’s notebooks, The Book of Kells and medieval music scores, artist John David Ratajkowski transforms these notations into visual artifacts of beauty and power in his solo exhibition By Hand


John David Ratajkowski: Growing up in the 1950's in San Diego, California, painter John David Ratajkowski remembers "being able to draw anything I could see." Fascinated as a boy by all variety of materials, Ratajkowski was early on adept at painting, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, lithography. He recalls that the key attraction for him in every case was the compelling desire "to make"-whatever the media.Painting, however, is Ratajkowski's "true love". His concentration on abstract painting has allowed Ratajkowski to explore a number of unique possibilities in form and color. In one series, for example, the abstract paintings progress from flat to "deep", dark to light, form to the deliberate abandonment of form. A pivotal piece in this series features the addition of collage to what are exclusively painted surfaces. Cotton duck fabric and the fine tarleton used to rub down etching plates are applied to create a translucent effect. One critic looking at a single piece from this exhibition was convinced that it was hung over a window or some artificial light source because it appeared to radiate light. Other abstract work replicates the effect of natural forces on the environment-the bas relief, for example, of eroded sandstone cliffs. Experimenting also with encaustics, a combination of beeswax, microcrystalline and damar resin, Ratajkowski expanded his abstract repertoire creating substrates and surfaces that range from a glazed veneer to deepening backgrounds, each layer rich in color and texture.These experiments in abstract work have powerfully impacted Ratajkowski's portraiture. From subjects as diverse as Alzheimer's patients, the Roma (Gypsies) of Eastern Europe, Jewish literary figures in film, the portraits achieve their uniqueness from methods refined in his abstract work. For example, a series of monoprint portraits uses dry pigment, oil paint, linseed oil and encaustic. The result is a lushly textured painting that retains the likeness of the portrait's subject. Ratajkowski's fascination with material and technique manifests itself in all aspects of his life: for the last three decades he has restored two old houses, one a finca in the pueblo of Sant Joan, Mallorca, and the other a farmhouse in Bantry, County Cork, Ireland. The rebuilding of the houses is his "play", three-dimensional practice for his fundamental and ideal medium-painting. Ratajkowski's work is exhibited in the US and internationally.


Topic and Technique

On the broadest level, this series of paintings is interested in the relation between written text and visual “text”—particularly today when  technology has made handwritten texts obsolete. Researching hand-produced manuscripts, artist John David Ratajkowski was struck by the purely visual beauty of these verbal symbols and decided to make them the focus of this series of paintings, “By Hand”. Isolating a small portion of the written text selected for its visual form rather than its verbal meaning, Ratajkowski reinterprets the written word (or musical notation) creating a visual artifact uniquely his own, but also a reminder to the viewer of the historical context out of which the text comes, and its consequences for law, politics and religion. 

Each of the texts Ratajkowski selected has its unique “backstory”.  One painting, “From Archimedes’ Codex”, for example, references an astonishing story of a text written by the third century BC Greek mathematician, Archimedes, known for his playful brilliance and his lost writings. Because the vellum used to make books was so arduous to produce, writers through the centuries scraped off a text from the parchment in order to make a fresh slate for a new book to be inscribed.   It seems that a 10th century copy of  Archimedes’ original text was found to have been recycled into a 13th century prayerbook. The book was in use for centuries at the Monastery of St. Sabbas in the Judaean Desert when in 1844 a biblical scholar happened upon the book and saw the curious mathematics underneath and recognized the “ghost text” of Archimedes. The story grows more complex from here, but the outcome was a 1998 sale of the Codex/Prayerbook for $2 million to an anonymous purchaser who ultimately deposited the book with the Walters Museum in Baltimore, and also provided funds for scientists and restoration experts to study the book.  An international team using advanced imaging techniques worked for twelve years to reveal the original words. In Ratajkowski’s  stunning rendering, the red-colored text is this x-rayed “ghost text” lying underneath the blue-colored biblical text; thus Ratajkowski’s “re-vision” of Archimedes’ words seeping through the prayerbook’s page is for the first time captured for its beauty’s sake as visual art. 

Ratajkowski’s technique is itself as rich as this story.  The artist first draws an acrylic underpainting on paper.  The paper is then mounted on a wooden panel with hot encaustic so that paper essentially disappears and the image is now left on the wooden panel. This image is then painted with wax, oil paint, and dry pigment on what is now a wax-coated wooden panel.  The wooden panel is then covered with a thin linen fabric, again waxed and heated with a heat gun and an iron. This process leaves a “residue” of the image—not unlike a “ghost text”--which  Ratajkowski then reworks with color and structure.  The image is thus essentially burned into the wood panel with the wax image now soaking through the linen.  To the nearly finished piece, a coat of pigmented encaustic glaze is added, creating the burnished look of an old artifact.

From the Golden Haggadah of the Talmud, Barcelona, 1320 From a Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 60x46.5 From the Shan Yuannan Bible, Mark, 33x32 From the Magna Carta, 1215, 47x47 From the Book of Kells, 12x12 From an Iraqui Torah, first half 11th century, 20x17.5 From a Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrolls, 34x32 From an Early Beowulf, 37x32