By: Carly Proulx

One of 12 children, 53-year-old artist and painter Ed Bielejec grew up in Little Falls, NY among painters, printmakers, and photographers. Subsequent to receiving his BFA in illustration/Design at the College of Visual & Performing Arts in Syracuse Bielejec gave chase to his passion for the arts by reuniting with his hometown. Not long after his return Bielejec was offered the position of director at MVCA, where his efforts brought about momentous changes, ones that became fundamental in gaining some much-needed visibility for MVCA as well as establishing connections within and outside the valley. The reception for Bielejec’s upcoming show “The Unseen: Spiritual in the Everyday” is on Saturday, Oct. 21 from 2-4 p.m. and can be seen until Nov 25. Whether you consider yourself a radical thinker, an artist, or simply an aesthete you’d be ill-advised not to mark this event as mandatory on the calendar.

In the late eighties, taking heed of his mother’s advice, Bielejec refrained from limiting himself to just one career path. He got the green light for either path after applying to both engineering and art school, but at the end of the day the art world was calling. After a year at RIT he’d had enough of the technical regimen and was ready to explore a more creative spectrum. Bielejec then made the switch to Syracuse University, beginning his ascent into the art world, and setting the stage for him to become a major player in the history of making MVCA what it is today. In Oct. of 91’, prior to Bielejec’s role as MVCA director his older sister Kim Sanzo had started South Shore Arts Gallery at 407 Canal Place, now home to Julie Webster’s ‘Mustard Seed.’ Sanzo was moving back to Cali, and rather than see it fall into the wrong hands fresh out of university at age 21 Bielejec took the reigns. With the help of his sister Anne Bielejec ran the gallery as its director for the next 8 years.

While still director at South Shore back in 94’ Bielejec became director at MVCA, and for a while he’d balance the workload of running two galleries. “Back in the day Canal Place was very vibrant, but it took a lot of people to raise it up,” says Bielejec. He adds “We did a lot of press releases, and though a lot of work it was some really good times.” He was the director at MVCA for 5 years before the art world would again come calling. The call was going on to attain his Masters. Bielejec recalls his old friend and artist Forbes Whiteside playing devil’s advocate, advising “Make sure you really want to go back. This might be detrimental. It could disrupt your base, and change your art entirely.” Not to his dismay Bielejec admits it did change his art. “I knew if I waited any longer, I might not go back so I dropped everything. Leaving MVCA was bittersweet” says Bielejec, “but in the end I’m really glad I did.”

Bielejec would go on to receive his MS/MFA in Art History/Fine Arts at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. Former board member, local artist, and art enthusiast Jayne Ritz calls to mind taking over South Shore Arts when Bielejec moved on. “I couldn’t stand to see that gorgeous gallery go” said Ritz. Of being on the board of the MVCA during that time with a front row to Bielejec in his director’s chair Ritz goes on “It was an exciting place and an exciting time. Bielejec was one of the important early directors. He was young with a reputation. He was generous and caring.” During Bielejec’s time at Pratt, he spent two summers in Venice, Italy studying painting, printmaking, and art history. He went on to teach at Pratt for a summer and one semester as an adjunct, but ended up moving from Brooklyn to NH where he took a full-time job at a company called Kitchen. After the company folded Bielejec spent a year doing design work out of a company in Lynn MA. Following his time in Lynn he’d take a job at the company Bose doing design work and fixture/3D design for their retail stores, and eventually for all their stores around the world. As work took precedence Bielejec’s painting took nearly a 15-year hiatus, though sporadically he managed to do a few shows. Throughout his time at Pratt and summers abroad Bielejec worked with everything from oil paints to ceramics to litho and silk screen printmaking. Bielejec currently works with what has been his main choice of medium for a majority of his artist’s career: oil paints and drawing with graphite, charcoal and oil pastels.

The show in October will feature 32 of Bielejec’s paintings in the main gallery in addition to 4 or 5 other smaller paintings with sketches in the room off the main gallery, all of which he’s created in the course of 9 months. Bielejec makes clear that the theme “The Unseen” refers to a spiritual presence, a moment in time that’s suspended as the viewer stumbles upon something that’s just occurred or is about to occur. He enlightens “This theme has always existed, running a thread throughout my work, and acts as an ongoing conversation that has no beginning and no ending.” In these works we see Bielejec using a lot of muted colors and earth tones. The colors as well as the linear element in Bielejec’s work are an integral part of his depth of artistry, the yellow ochre and cobalt blues used strategically to lead your eye from section to section of the paintings and on to the next one. The transparency of drawing is built into the painting as a part of rendering the viewer inexplicably curious, as both the lines and color combine with the composition to resurrect a familiar wistfulness, and add a great air of mystery.

What Bielejec reveals, that sense of something bigger at work than what’s in the room and for that matter what’s in the painting is through the physical application of media. Through patina and scarring Bielejec creates a visible record of how his own conversations with his work change, from the moment of the first application of paint following his initial idea for the painting and so on and so forth. We’re seeing that physical development and depth of the painting which then bleeds into the work of which Bielejec describes as follows, “silent reality to slip into if only briefly.” In Bielejec’s artist statement he elaborates on props used to construct the foundation of spiritual ambivalence that becomes evident in the individual works as well as the entire body of work as a whole. “Blindfolds, masks and the obscuring of facial features have a dual purpose. They not only block the vision of the figure, but also hide the figure from the viewer, both an affirmation and denial of self, as the viewer seeks in vain for eye contact.” Bielejec’s use of recurrent iconography in his work further suggest a spiritual element. Jayne Ritz has been a collector of Bielejec’s work since the early 90’s when he first came on the Little Falls art scene. Of Bielejec’s work Ritz states “He’s got a marvelous sense of composition and unusual color combinations of which you don’t tire, and the biggest thing of all is the mystery, the iconography. The figures in the paintings are looking somewhere else, are involved in something, but what they’re involved in and what they’re watching as you watch them is the mystery. Forty years later I still look at his paintings and wonder about them. It is a sort of peek behind the veil.” In his artist statement Bielejec touches on this as well, expounding “The figures like actors on a stage, exist in their own space at once separate and connected to the viewer who becomes part of an unseen and unheard conversation.”

Post the painting hibernation Bielejec went on to more active periods, and participated in a number of group shows and solo shows. Solos range from Visions Gallery in Albany, NY, Artifice Gallery in Syracuse, NY, The View in Old Forge, NY, and the Cooperstown Art Association. Bielejec has participated in many a group show, the Harbor Gallery in Norfolk, VA, several at the Oxford Gallery in Rochester, NY, Kirkland Art Center in Clinton, NY and Bennett Galleries in Knoxville, TN to name just a few. Bielejec won 1st in Painting for the WCNY Invitational at the Everson Museum of Art, and among other awards an Excellence in Painting Award at the Rochester Memorial Art Gallery. Throughout his painting career Bielejec has always worked a steady job. When I asked him how he manages to balance work, painting, and participating in shows Bielejec stated “Getting my work into galleries ended up just happening.” Bielejec did a stint of outdoor juried shows in Coral Gables, FL, and from there was picked up by Bennett Galleries in TN. When he entered the show at Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, NY the director of Oxford Art Gallery in Rochester, NY saw his work and asked if Bielejec would be interested in a show at his gallery.

Artist marketing wasn’t Bielejec’s strong suit, but the work spoke for itself. His earlier work was known to have a somewhat softer color palette and stylistically bore resemblance to fresco, a style of painting that flourished in Italy in the late Middle Ages and was initially used on the walls and ceilings of Churches to teach religious doctrine to a largely illiterate public. Bielejec’s art career path kindles a time preceding Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter when the body of an artist’s work was significantly more essential than the body of the artist themselves. However, depending on which side of SoHo you’re painting selling oneself as an artist has always been in play in the art world. In today’s day and age artists are almost expected to brand themselves along with their art. This added societal pressure can hinder and muddle the artist’s initial reasoning and desire behind attempting to gain that exposure, and to this Bielejec has some advice. “Don’t paint for people, paint for yourself. If you allow the public to determine what you do the purpose of the work is lost. The work will stand on its own. You can’t worry about whether or not it will sell because it will water down the ideas,” offers Bielejec. We can see Bielejec’s style of painting as partly influenced by one of his inspirations Richard Diebenkorn, American painter and printmaker known for his abstract expressionism paintings and the Bay Area Figurative Movement of the 1950s & 60s. Bielejec’s other inspirations include the early and late work of Canadian American painter Philip Guston, and the work of the Italian painter and architect from the late Middle Ages Giotto di Bondone. Giotto’s masterwork, the decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua was completed around 1305. Of Giotto’s work Bielejec relates to this same feeling that arises when we’re standing in front of his work, a feeling that you’re catching a moment in time, interrupting a story and that there’s more to that story than what’s being depicted. “Giotto’s work lacks the realism of the high Renaissance, and makes room for that open-ended conversation to take place, to change and to keep changing,” says Bielejec.

Bielejec works on multiple canvases at once, and because they’re all active you’ll see a similar color palette show up in multiple paintings. Using mostly brushes he uses charcoal and graphite as well as paint sticks to attain those simple lines. For the show we will see a range in the size of figurative paintings. Bielejec is also the curator of his show, as he uses their size range and placement in the gallery as a way to pull you in closer to smaller works and push you back as you come upon the larger works. In doing so, you, the viewer is forced to move in and out of the space. This push and pull is what allows these different conversations to take place, to carry you through the show. Bielejec is the choreographer, and unwittingly, we’re all his dancers.

Creating art has always been a need for Bielejec. Back when he wasn’t painting much, he’d have half-finished canvases lying around so he could see what needed work, and like many a creative when he didn’t pick up the brush it would gnaw at him. He currently works out of his home in Grafton MA in a separate floor studio that has its own set of amenities. Bielejec concluded his work at Bose 3 years ago, and now does fixtures for a variety of different companies. “Being at the art center forced me to be a public person, and I had a lot of family and friends. I was exposed to other artists, performers, poetry, music, film fests and coffee houses. All of that was really important for the community, and also important for me,” says Bielejec. And Brookyn was a different Brooklyn then, and the whole of NYC was at his disposal. Bielejec was exposed to an infinite number of fresh shows and galleries that ranged from some really amazing art to some work that wasn’t quite yet developed.

Bielejec’s work has stayed strong throughout the years. Changing slightly in composition and color palettes, from cool and conservative atmospheres to warmer, cunning and more colorful fields Bielejec’s paintings have preserved an underlying, interchangeable presence that may appear as a dog or girl or the artist himself on the surface, but is perhaps that unseen, that great unknown facet that can only be felt, that elephant in all the rooms we’ll ever come to know. The work of Bielejec holds its own narrative, and its mystery isn’t so much an elephant in the room as it is a more subtle, wondrous sleight of hand. For me it is stepping into a silent, yet symphonic poem. For me it is looking through all of my favorite childhood picture books at once, or watching some animated film based on one of those books. Of course, you’ll have to step into the gallery and into Bielejec’s work the “UNSEEN” to know what it will be for you.