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Date of Issue: February 06, 2008

Romeike-Wisniewski ventures into the 'maze'

Helen Romeike-Wisniewski's one-woman show, "Into and Out of the Maze," opens at Anna Maria Island Art League on Feb. 8. The show will feature this painting. Islander Photo: Joyce Karp

“I have the brush in my hand - that’s the beginning of it all,” says Helen Romeike-Wisniewski.

The front room of the artist’s Anna Maria home is cluttered with brushes and paints, books and magazines, an assortment of lamps and a few candles. But what holds the eyes are the canvasses - big, bold, striking abstract paintings created first and foremost from the sanctum of this self-proclaimed recluse’s mind. Romeike-Wisniewski’s Island residence might be an ideal location for painting leaping dolphins, waterfront piers and picturesque old-Florida cottages, but such is not her subject matter nor is idyllic her style.

Romeike-Wisniewski’s work will be featured at the Anna Maria Island Art League Feb. 8 through Feb. 28. A reception for the exhibit, titled “Into and Out of the Maze,” will take place at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 8, at the league gallery, 5312 Holmes Blvd., Holmes Beach. The exhibit will be curated by local artist Richard Thomas, a friend and an admirer of Romeike-Wisniewski’s art.

League executive director Joyce Karp also is an admirer.

“This show,” she says, “is not just a celebration of Helen’s work, it is an opportunity for a woman who has studied and lived art most of her life to share her life journey. It promises to be an exciting show.”

Karp met Romeike-Wisniewski about two years ago and credits the artist with expanding the art league gallery.

“She was responsible for the much needed transformation of our main gallery from a room full of windows with limited exhibit space to the room that now exists - all walls - probably tripling the space available to display art work,” Karp says.

Karp also praises Romeike-Wisniewski as “an articulate, analytical and proper lady who is passionate about her art. When you first meet her, you’d think she paints English cottages and landscapes, but she creates these incredible, large-format, vividly colored - and at times wild - abstract paintings.”

The title for Romeike-Wisniewski’s show can be found in the opening line of her artist’s statement: “These paintings represent the search into and out of the maze.”

“Into and out of the maze is an apt metaphor to describe the process of creating the works shown here,” the statement continues. “To engage with the work is to inhabit a world shrouded in mystery - as in an alchemical world.”

“Shrouded in mystery.” In reference to her work, Romeike-Wisniewski repeats this statement during an interview last week with The Islander in her home near the bayfront in Anna Maria.

The artist herself likely seems shrouded in mystery to other Islanders. She admittedly isolates herself to paint. She is not partial to inquiries from the press or intrusions on her private life.

And yet she shares. She opens her door to free-roaming cats. She mentors younger artists. And she paints.

“I’ve been working on these,” she says, standing before two paintings hanging in her studio/front room. She runs her hand over the surface of a painting called “Out of the Darkness,” feeling the texture of the paint, the layers of creation.

“Most of it, in the end, has to be irrational and come from the subconscious,” Romeike-Wisniewski says of the “high-risk paintings.”

Another painting for the exhibit hangs near the artist’s front door, which is left open in case a cat decides to wander by. The canvas is so layered with paint that it drops from its metal clips to the floor.

“I work on them over and over and over,” she says, describing the work process. Romeike-Wisniewski doesn’t envision a piece and quickly create a painting. Rather, she brings a painting to maturity over time.

“I’m relentless,” she says of her effort to bring each painting into fruition.

“The process and its results are loomed into the weft and the woof of a lifetime of many failures and resurgences,” Romeike-Wisniewski writes in the statement for her exhibit.

She can be her toughest critic in regards to her life and her art.

But she also recognizes her achievements with candor.

“There is no way in hell that you won’t respond to these,” she says of her paintings. “Painting is my life.… It’s salvation.”

“I am attracted to Helen’s art by the pure passion in her work,” says Victor Figueredo, who has represented the artist in sales transactions and also collects Romeike-Wisniewski’s work. “Creating art for Helen is her life - without it Helen could not exist. It’s the pureness of her work that I’m drawn to.”

Romeike-Wisniewski’s roots on Anna Maria Island go deep. Her parents built the home where she lives in the 1950s, some 25 years after they first came to America from Germany.

She grew up in a family often on the move to follow her father’s new work assignment. After she married, she still moved often, this time following her then-husband’s new assignments. She and her husband had a son; they also divorced. And, in the years after, Romeike-Wisniewski’s independent streak became as vivid as the colors in many of her paintings.

Asked about her training as an artist, Romeike-Wisniewski laughs. “Well,” she says, “I came to painting when I was 23 and this year I’m going to be 83. That’s how many years?”

She does, in addition to those six decades of hands-on work, have formal schooling as an artist, including a master of fine arts degree from the University of South Florida.

She approaches her work intellectually, but also organically. There’s no sketching out a piece and then painting.

“I’ve always just gone at it,” Romeike-Wisniewski says. “It’s like this ball of energy and you are the one trying to direct it. I don’t have a technique other than to get the paint out there.”

Viewers will notice patterns in her work, especially in the use of shapes. Spheres appear often, as in “The Conjurer,” a piece bound for the league exhibit that shows a dancing figure inhabiting a place of spirals and circles.

There’s a joy to “The Conjurer.” The painting’s creator refers to the “open-heartedness” of the figure. An observer might see whimsy - and mystery.