Thurs., Nov. 16, 1972
THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR
Books and the Arts
'Charming' is best word for describing Verostko's paintings
Reviewed by DON MORRISON
Minneapolis Star Staff Writer
After viewing his show of paintings and drawings at the West Lake Gallery, 1612 W. Lake St. (through Nov. 25), I told Roman J. Verostko that I hope he wouldn't be offended if I told him I found his work charming.
Some artists might regard such a comment as a superficiality that failed to penetrate more serious purposes. Not Roman. He beamed and thanked me. "I'm glad you felt that way," he said.
He is a serious professional artist, of course, and his background and credentials are both impressive and fascinating. But, he is not solemn. Solemnity (or ponderousness, or pomposity) is the very thing he is working against in his current painting --collected in this show under the title
"Imaging the Unseen."
His works are light and happy in spirit; they have the childlike exuberance seen in Miro and also the life-awareness that makes Miro more significant than a childish scribbler.
The paintings all bear numbered "Eikon" titles, from the Greek for "image," and are, in the artist's intention, laicized equivalents of religious
eikons that weren't meant to represent factual reality but rather a kind of springboard to the imaginative powers of the human spirit.
They are carefully painted in bright, hard-edge colors on beautifully gessoed panels. They give no hint of effort. On them, images or figures dance or playfully posture. What kind of figures? Purely imaginary things that could be creatures or machines or both - or, in fact, neither. They are real because Verostko thought them up and set them down. They reveal his pleasure in the "flow of 'making up' an image" and let us share his imagination, while freeing our own to wander as it will.
"The spirit of our times, in art and life, is object oriented. We are weighed down with things and our souls are distracted and
worn out from making and chasing after things," he says.
"We must re-humanize ourselves-get back the humor and joy and pleasure simply of living in a real world that is natural but which also doesn't get in the way of the other big world that is open to human imagination."
The 43-year-old artist grew up raggedy around Depression-era Pennsylvania coalfields. He worked his way through a professional art schoo1 and was succeeding at free-lance advertising art, which finally came to seem "too unimportant."
At 21, he entered a monastery. He studied theology and philosophy for nine years. He was a Benedictine monk from 1953 to 1968 and was ordained a priest in 1959. His life was only "semi-cloistered," he says, since he was teaching at the seminary and also was pursuing intensive art studies at Pratt Institute, New York University, Columbia and in Paris: "My abbot told me to go out and get the best art training available."
He worked on the design of the new abbey his order built at Latrobe, Pa., and for three years was staff editor for art and architecture of the highly regarded 15-volume New Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1967.
In what he calls "a painful process," Roman departed from the faith, leaving the church and the religious life in 1968. Unlike many former priests, he does not complain about the church's structure or hierarchy: "It was a good and important part of my life, but I found I just couldn't go on performing religious duties when I no longer believed."
Since then, he has been teaching at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, primarily art history of the medieval period. And writing extensively. And painting.
"I know I'm good at teaching and I'm proud of my writing, but I have to have a studio and I have to paint. The rest is satisfying; this is my joy."
He points out that in almost all of the old illuminated manuscripts, tucked in amid the pious and lofty religious imagery, you can find some tiny comic or incongruous figure added by the monkish artist.
"That was their bit of fun, their statement of humanity, their assertion of life's goodness."