Synesthesia and the City in Ron Poznicek’s SF Paintings

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by Ron Poznicek paintings from San Francisco, which will be exhibited this weekend at Art Explosion Studiosshow the mood of the city on an overcast day, the flicker of a lamp post on a rainy pavement, the feel of a car parked sideways on a hill, and the dark mass of a building in a downtown landscape.

Spectators not only see the soft glow of the sun on the painted trams of Poznicek, they feel the warmth of the glow on their faces. The sensation of walking through the fog and mist of San Francisco is palpable when looking at some of the atmospheric paintings of the city of Poznicek on a foggy day. And it is by seeing, not hearing, that viewers in Poznicek hear the creak of a San Francisco streetcar on its tracks. The artist’s paintings are synesthetic, drawing on a mixture or crossing of the perceptions we experience when we are in the city.

In his work on Francis Bacon (1909-1992), the Irish-born British painter known for his figurative work, the French thinker Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) described Bacon’s ability to represent sensation: “Sensation is what is painted. The body, painted on canvas, does not exist so much as the embodiment of the object it represents, but rather demonstrates the sensation of the body as it is experienced. * In Poznicek we see something similar, but different. Poznicek does not represent human sensations or emotions. Instead, the touch, sound, sight and smell of the city emerge from its painted forms.

The Market Cart F, oil on panel, 22 x 22 in. Copyright 2019, Ron Poznicek

Born in 1952 and raised in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Poznicek brings a sense of light, color, and atmosphere of the Dakotas to his paintings, and these sensibilities create an immersive experience viewing the images of the San Francisco artist. Although Poznicek has lived in San Francisco for nearly 40 years, he regularly reconnects with his childhood roots while painting and still hopes to one day return to Sioux Falls. He misses the dry snow and cold of the Midwest, which differs from the foggy cold of San Francisco.

Poznicek’s father, of Czech descent, worked in a meat factory in Sioux Falls, and his mother owned a drapery and dressmaking business. There were commercial machinery in the house, as well as a large garden and a chicken coop. Poznicek and his three brothers, including a twin, played a lot but also worked from an early age to help their parents, both in their mother’s business and in the garden. In his early childhood, Poznicek sat on the floor and drew in pen and ink while his parents played cards with neighbors in the background. He remembers working from home regularly, going to school and having less time to socialize when he was young. His parents were hardworking and industrious, providing for the family, but also strict.

Ron Poznicek in his studio, Art Explosion Studios, San Francisco.

Poznicek enlisted in the US Marines in 1970 after high school and spent four years at Battalion Headquarters Okinawa, working as a teleprinter operator with communication skills. After the army, he held various jobs in Sioux Falls, including waiting tables and a meatpacking plant. Interested in art, however, he went to hairdressing school with the idea that he could pay for his art education by cutting his hair. However, he disliked cutting his hair and instead moved to Denver, Colorado in the late 1970s. There he worked at Burger King and studied commercial art and design, following course at the Art Institute of Colorado. At that time, he concentrated 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 took in Denver, he is entirely self-taught. When the artist moved to San Francisco, he did not have an easel, but produced his work on the floor and on a table. Many of his paintings start with a base of blue paint, which he says completes the whole painting process. Poznicek’s favorite mediums 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 in shades of blue. Some of these paintings have an ethereal, heavenly and timeless quality, while being urban and austere.

XVIth and Valencia, oil on canvas. Copyright 2015, Ron Poznicek
On the edge, oil on canvas, 24 x 30 in. Copyright 2015, Ron Poznicek.

Poznicek lives in the Lower Haight of San Francisco and paints primarily from his space of Art Explosion Studios at 17th and Alabama streets in the Mission, although he has done some plein-air painting and would like to do more. Poznicek’s works have their own painterly style, but they are also reminiscent of American Impressionism and the art of the Ashcan school of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. On occasion he uses sharper lines and contrasts such as those found in the work of Edward Hopper (1882-1967), although the visible fading brushstrokes are more characteristic of the Poznicek style.

Symphony in Blue, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in. Copyright 2015, Ron Poznicek.

Poznicek cites a constant return to the beginning, a kind of eternal cycle or simple repetition as the key to the evolution of his style, “I think style evolves from repetition, and the more you do it, the further you go. come by a style, the more it will be your job, the more intuitive it will be, simply because you do it over and over again.

He references contemporary artists as influences and inspirations both in subject matter and artistic process, as well as in style, drawing inspiration from the work of other Californian 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 paint outdoors, Jensen sets up large canvases outdoors, soaking up the California air and sea as he works. Unlike Jensen’s work, however, much of Poznicek’s painting is devoted to the cityscape.

Twilight – Market Street, oil on canvas, 22 x 28 in. Copyright 2018, Ron Poznicek

Poznicek enjoyed his most prolific spell in the past 12 years, following a major accident in which he broke his arm and hip, among other injuries. During this time, painting in his 50s and 60s, Poznicek’s style evolved.

Ron Poznicek’s Paintings to Be Featured at Upcoming Art Explosion Studios Open Studios Event From September 23 to 25. Located at 2425 17th Street, Art Explosion Studios will hold an opening reception on Friday, September 23 from 7-10 p.m. Studio hours will be noon to 5 p.m. on September 24 and 25. For more information, contact Art Explosion Studios at 415-323-3020.

To see more artwork by Ron Poznicek or to contact the artist, see Poznicek’s online gallery.

Anna Hennessey is a San Francisco-based writer, author, and scholar. She can be reached at [email protected] 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: “Feeling is what is painted. What is painted in the painting is the body, not as it is represented as an object, but as it is experienced as experiencing such a sensation. Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: Logic of SensationEditions de la Difference: La Colle-sur-Loup, 1984, 27.

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