In Show, Artist Tries To Capture Essence Of James Joyce's Poetry Fritz Janschka Has Admired The Author Since 1949. He Credits Joyce With Jump-starting His U.s. Career.

Posted: November 08, 1992

Fritz Janschka, then 30, had just arrived from Vienna as Bryn Mawr

College's artist-in-residence, when a French teacher insisted that he read James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Though he could hardly speak English at the time, he took up reading Joyce and was won over from the start.

Soon Janschka, who held the position at Bryn Mawr from 1949 until his retirement in 1985, began trying to create the same language visually that Joyce did with words.

He now credits that introduction to Joyce with jump-starting the American phase of his career as a painter and printmaker. The entire second half of his creative life, which began with his arrival here, has been dominated by his love of the Irish author's works. Of course, the work of many other authors interests him too. Coleridge, Kafka and Homer, for instance. For Janschka is an artist with strong literary leanings. This is not the same thing as being an illustrator. Instead, it means deriving inspiration from literature without specifically illustrating it.

There are fresh connections with Joyce and insights in Janschka's show at Bryn Mawr College to convince us that such material from literary artists urgently matters. Featured are 36 recent Janschka watercolor paintings accompanying 36 poems from Joyce's Chamber Music (1907). This series, done over two years, exists because a Vienna journalist interviewed Janschka as one of the five original members of the "Vienna School of Fantastic Realism" (a movement launched in the 1940s that includes several internationally known

artists). And he happened to give him a copy of the Joyce book.

Starting out fairly abstractly in these watercolors, Janschka becomes less so. He always reacts to the poetry's language directly and without trying to force that response into a style, which is why all the pictures look different. As he sees it, everything is right there in the poem. When he starts each watercolor, it is a new thing, and then he finishes it. Never regarding this 36-item sequence as a unified entity, he tries to catch the rhythm and spirit of each poem as it asks for its own interpretation. Gradually the visitor too can appreciate the lengths to which Janschka goes to avoid technical perfection in any one of these pictures. For he dreads that his approach should become just a dreary settled method.

Instead, he lets the fluctuating intensity and mood count for something. What matters here is not the story line alone, but what it has become in the hands of the poet. So, color is approached on a real emotional level, often as a harmony or contrast. Or by a stronger-than-usual use of color rather than by just differences in design. All this work was done at his longtime home in Springfield, Delaware County. Then, no sooner did Janschka receive his gold medal from the City of Vienna on his 70th birthday "for his contributions to art" than he moved to Greensboro, N.C., making good on an old assertion of his that he was ready to move wherever his wife's career took them. His wife, Porter, now heads the University of North Carolina/Greensboro art department (and for this semester only, he, too, is teaching there).

In town for this show's opening a week ago, the Janschkas stayed with an old friend, Newtown Square's George Rochberg, a composer whose Violin Variations was performed at Maestro Riccardo Muti's farewell concert.

To those who wonder if the old Squire of Bryn Mawr will begin portraying his new Carolina environment anytime soon, Janschka, the only "Fantastic Realist" whose art has a faintly Irish accent, replies: "I paint always from within. Whenever I start my work, it's there. The faces are the ones I've seen and internalized. I do like changing, though. It keeps me young." And special authors? "Kafka, Coleridge. But Joyce is my artist."

Bryn Mawr College's Mariam Coffin Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr. To Dec. 6. Mondays to Fridays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (526-5000). Newman Galleries' Drew Newman organized the show.

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