Ron Poznicek’s paintings of San Francisco, which will be shown this weekend at Art Explosion Studios, show the city’s mood on an overcast day, the glistening of a streetlight on rainy pavement, the feel of a car parked sideways on a hill and the loom of a building’s shadowy bulk in a downtown landscape.
Viewers do not just see the soft glow of sunlight on Poznicek’s painted streetcars, they feel the warmth of the glow on their faces. The sensation of walking through San Francisco’s fog and mist is palpable when looking at some of Poznicek’s atmospheric paintings of the city on a foggy day. And it is through vision, not listening, that Poznicek’s viewers hear the grate of a San Francisco streetcar on its tracks. The artist’s paintings are synesthetic, tapping into a blend or crossover of the perceptions we experience when in the city.
In his work on Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the Irish-born British painter known for his figurative work, French thinker Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) described Bacon’s ability to represent sensation: “Sensation is that which is painted. The body, painted on the canvas, exists not so much as an embodiment of the object that it represents, but rather demonstrates the sensation of the body as it is lived.” * In Poznicek, we see something similar, but different. Poznicek is not representing human sensations or emotions. Instead, the touch, sound, sight and smell of the city emerge from his painted forms.
Born in 1952 and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Poznicek brings a sense of light, color and atmosphere from the Dakotas to his paintings, and these sensibilities make for an immersive experience when looking at the artist’s images of San Francisco. Although Poznicek has lived in San Francisco for almost 40 years, he regularly connects with the roots of his childhood when painting, and still hopes to return to Sioux Falls someday. He misses the dry snow and cold of the Midwest, which differ from San Francisco’s foggy chill.
Poznicek’s father, who was of Czech descent, worked in a Sioux Falls meat factory, and his mother owned a drapery and seamstress business. There was commercial machinery in the home, as well as a large garden and chicken coop. Poznicek and his three brothers, one of whom is a twin, played a lot but also worked from a young age to help their parents, both with their mother’s business and in the garden. Early in childhood, Poznicek sat on the floor and drew with pen and ink while his parents played cards with neighbors in the background. He remembers working on a regular basis in the home and also going to school, and having less time to socialize when he was young. His parents were hardworking and industrious, providing for the family, though also strict.
Poznicek enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1970 after high school and spent four years at the Headquarters Battalion Okinawa, serving as a teletype operator with aptitude in communications. After the military, he held various jobs back in Sioux Falls, including waiting tables and working in a meat packing plant. Interested in art, however, he went to hairstyling school with the idea that he could pay his way through art school by cutting hair. He did not like cutting hair, however, and instead moved to Denver, Colorado, in the late 1970s. There, he worked in Burger King and studied commercial art and design, attending classes at the Art Institute of Colorado. At that time, he focused on illustration and portraits. He also met Lynn Shauinger, a decorator and writer from San Francisco, and moved to the city with her when she returned in 1986.
Aside from the art classes Poznicek attended in Denver, he is entirely self-taught. When the artist moved to San Francisco, he did not have an easel, instead producing his work on the floor and a table. Many of his paintings start with a blue paint base, which he believes complements the whole painting process. Poznicek’s favorite media for painting are oil and pastel, which allow him to layer and manipulate color. Several of Poznicek’s paintings are also almost entirely blue or shades of blue. Some of these paintings have a quality that is ethereal, heavenly and timeless, while also urban and stark.
Poznicek lives San Francisco’s Lower Haight and mainly paints from his space in Art Explosion Studios at 17th and Alabama streets in the Mission, though he has done plein-air painting and would like to do more. Poznicek’s works hold their own painterly style, but they’re also reminiscent of some American Impressionism and art out of the Ashcan School of the late 19th and early 20th century. On occasion, he uses sharper lines and contrasts like those found in the work of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), though visible brushstrokes that blur are more characteristic of Poznicek’s style.
Poznicek cites a constant return to beginnings, an eternal cycle of sorts or a simple repetition as the key to the evolution of his style, “I think that style evolves from repetition, and the more you do it, the more you’re going to come by a style, the more it’s going to be your work, the more intuitive it’s going to be, simply because you’re doing it over and over again.”
He references contemporary artists as influences and inspirations in both subject matter and artistic process, as well as in style, drawing on the work of fellow California artists such as Ryan Jensen, who was born and raised in the Bay Area, a U.S. Marine, and now lives and works in Humboldt County. Like others who do plein-air painting, Jensen sets up large canvases outdoors, soaking up California’s air and sea while he works. Unlike Jensen’s work, however, much of Poznicek’s painting is devoted to the urban landscape.
Poznicek has had his most prolific period over the past 12 years, following a major accident in which he broke his arm and his hip, among other injuries. During this time, painting in his 50s and 60s, Poznicek’s style has evolved.
Ron Poznicek’s paintings will be shown at Art Explosion Studios’ upcoming Open Studios event September 23 to 25. Located at 2425 17th St., Art Explosion Studios will hold an opening reception Friday, September 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. Open Studio hours will be noon to 5 p.m. September 24 and 25. For more information, contact Art Explosion Studios at 415-323-3020.
To view more of Ron Poznicek’s work or to contact the artist, check out Poznicek’s online gallery.
Anna Hennessey is a San Francisco-based writer, book author and scholar. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through her website: annahennessey.com. This article is based on an interview Hennessey recorded with Ron Poznicek in the Lower Haight in December, 2021.
*Translation by Anna Hennessey: “La sensation, c’est ce qui est peint. Ce qui est peint dans le tableau, c’est le corps, non pas en tant qu’il est représenté comme objet, mais en tant qu’il est vécu comme éprouvant telle sensation.” Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: Logique de la Sensation, Editions de la Différence: La Colle-sur-Loup, 1984, 27.