COMBERMERE – Iconographer Janusz Charczuk left Gdansk, Poland in 1980 for what was to have been a three month trip to Chicago, but he jokes that he is still waiting for the trip to end. Happy to now call Canada his home, Charczuk splits his time between Toronto and his studio on Ohio road in Combermere.
In 1980, while Charczuk was in Chicago, back home in Gdansk, the Soladarity Movement lead by Lech Wałęsa started to grow, and Charczuk’s parents advised him to stay in North America until things settled down in Poland. It would be a long time before the situation back home stabilized, and Charczuk eventually immigrated to Canada. He practiced as an architect in Poland, Chicago and Toronto.
Now retired from architecture, Charczuk devotes much of his time to creating icons. Icons are said to be ‘written’ rather than painted, and 100 of them have been written by Charczuk since he began writing icons. Prior to becoming an iconographer, Charczuk painted watercolours in his spare time and had his artwork exhibited.
For Charczuk though, the icons take on a different importance than the watercolours. They are not simply works or art, they are an expression of his deeply held religious beliefs.
The word icon comes from the Greek meaning ‘image’ or ‘resemblance’. While some later Protestant traditions would revert to Jewish practices which discourage or prohibit the use of images of God and sacred objects, the tradition of using some form of icons has been strong in Eastern Orthodox and Catholic churches since the early days.
Newadent.org notes “Almost from the beginning the Church has employed the arts as potent means of instruction and edification. In the first centuries the walls of the catacombs were decorated with paintings and mosaics…and in all later times churches have lent their walls, ceilings, and windows as well as their altars, furniture, and liturgical vessels and books, to be adorned with scenes from the Old and the New Testament, from the lives and legends of the saints, and even from old mythologies, modified, of course, and harmonized with Christian teaching.”
While the tradition of writing icons is ancient, and there are well established techniques and practices for their creation, Charczuk’s icons infuse his own style and many elements of his own life experience. Through his interpretation of the artform of icon writing, Charczuk creates images that give artistic expression to issues of modern day concern. He also has several that were inspired by personal events in his own life, or in the life of family members. While all of Charczuk’s works are available for purchase, there are several that he hopes to hold onto because they are so personal to him.
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