Imagine a forest. From above, faces are cast downward in contemplative silence. Their expressions are echoing through the woods like pale visions in the night. They are foreign and welcoming, as if they were greeting passengers from a ship of unknown origin.
Again and again, they beckon viewers to pause and reflect a loss of some sort — as if in a half-remembered dream.
For Tatyana Schremko, an Old Town artist who has cast these faces in wood and paper, they are echoes in a forest. She will show them at the Art League Gallery in October as a series of oversized, narrow wooden sculptures and white paper-relief masks. The juried exhibit will allow viewers to stroll through the installation, appreciating the voice of the echoes and sharing their space in time.
“They are looking into themselves,” Schremko said, examining one in her living room on South Royal Street. “This comes from feeling more than seeing.”
The sculptures are made from laminated Linden wood, giving them a luxurious sense of smoothness. They are about seven feet tall, towering over most viewers with a foreboding quietness. Schremko has recast their faces in paper, adding a delicate and ghostly sense of repetition to the exhibit. They will hang on a wall near the sculptures, creating an atmospheric sense of tension and release.
“The lines flow into one another,” she said, moving her finger around the contours of one of the sculptures. “And they have a sense of balance.”
SCHREMKO’S CHILDHOOD in Ukraine was scarred by the violent purges of Joseph Stalin. She came to America with a displaced-person status. Plucked from the Soviet Union, Schremko created a new life for herself in small-town Ohio.
She married a physicist and studied sculpture at George Washington University. In the mid-1970s, they moved into a rambling old house in the 200 block of South Royal Street, where Schremko has been honing her art in a backyard shack overlooking the back wall of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Her house, parts of which date back to the 1750s, presents an enchanting interplay between antique furniture and modern art.
“I think it’s called eclectic,” she said with a giggle.
As the afternoon bells at St. Mary’s Catholic Church ring in the distance, the artist walks to her studio. There, waiting for her, is one of the tree-like humanoid figures staring into the distance. She has not been completed yet, and Schremko is still debating with herself over what is needed.
“This part will be different,” she said, pointing to her body. “And, of course, this one has not been laminated yet.”
THE EXHIBIT has been two years in the making. Back in 2004, three art professionals sat on a jury that examined submissions and selected nine proposals from Art League members to exhibit in 2006. The juried exhibit’s extensive lead time gives solo artists a window to fully conceive of each exhibit and finish all its components, presenting a fully realized package where the artist and viewer can share the same headspace.
“The 3-D sculptures will be placed appropriately in the space of the gallery in a manner such that people can circulate as if walking in a forest,” Schremko wrote in the 2004 proposal to the Art League jury. “The common origin of the wood and paper is amplified differently in the two media, with the paper being an organic and fragile echo of the wood.”
As Schremko puts the finishing touches on the exhibit at her home studio, solo show coordinator Erica Fortwengler has been organizing the logistical details at the gallery. Fortwengler, assistant director of the Art League Gallery, said that she admires Schremko’s work and finds her persona inspiring.
“Her technique is flawless, and her figures are incredibly elegant,” Fortwengler said. “It’s really unlike any of the other work that we see here in the gallery.”
For Marian Van Landingham, a fellow Art League member, Schremko’s work reminds her of ancient objects found in Malta. She said that the prehistoric artifacts she saw there have the same column-like bodies with abstract heads.
“Her style is modern and ancient at the same time,” Van Landingham said. “And there’s almost an African sensibility to the faces.”