The Secret Lives of Everyday Objects in the Paintings of Dave Dziemian

Ketchup from a packet, freshly squeezed. A lone Hershey’s Kiss. A bathroom.

Behind every Dave Dziemian oil painting is a story – or is there?

The Bayonne realist painter has gotten attention in New York at the Marion Royael Gallery and locally in Jersey City, Newark and other municipalities for his distinct style that quietly hints at the possible dramatic, action-packed secret lives of everyday objects around us.

“My work is about the mundane, everyday things around me looked at from a different point of view than we normally do,” says the 38-year-old. “They’re not representative of anything other than their own little stories. Sometimes I imagine a narrative in them but I don’t want people to think I necessarily put a story. I like people to find their own ideas about the stories.”

Dziemian, who studied at Stockton College and received his Master’s in Fine Arts from Montclair State, said he is usually inspired by themes in ordinary environments – his house, other people’s homes, the outdoors, bars, restaurants and even bathrooms.

“I have a series dealing with bathrooms,” he says. “Some people look at art and think I as an artist have a strong attachment to my subject – I don’t have a bathroom fetish. It’s all about light and tile and metal but also the idea. When someone looks at it, they’d say, ‘Why would someone paint a bathroom?’ and maybe think more about it.”

These works are representative of his overall style, which he dubs “realism with a twist.”

“I have birds [in these bathroom paintings], which add a weird bit of color to it. It depends on the painting – sometimes it’s straightforward but maybe from a different point of view like high in the sky or down on the ground. Some if it comes from just wanting to add a weird bit of color you wouldn’t expect – like the birds,” he says.

Dziemian said he is also inspired by movies – he doesn’t go into theaters much, but he enjoys TV, movies and music while he paints – which explains the dramatic lighting in his not-quite-still still-lifes.

“My style is sort of pushed past realism – it’s not hyperrealism, but it has super-saturated colors and overly dramatic lighting,” he says.

“I like contrast in my own work. I like the fact that it’s not naturalism. It’s realistic imagery but stylized – not quite ‘cartoony,’ but pushed past the point of natural,” he continues. “I used to do a lot of black and white work and movies were a big influence – especially film noir. The way film noir pushed black and white to the extreme, my style pushes color to extreme.”

The titles for even his most mundane works often suggest that a larger story may be present below the surface. For example, a painting of a dramatically lit Hershey’s Kiss is called “Have You Passed Through This Night?” (a song by rock band Explosions in the Sky).

“A lot of my inspiration in setting up a composition or lighting or shadows comes from movies,” says Dziemian, adding that he likes to imply in his work that something just happened or is about to happen.

“With the candy, what kind of story could there really be?” he asks. “But the title and the lighting suggest that this is more than just a random piece of candy on the counter.”

Dziemian’s next projects include a series of panoramic paintings of the Jersey City area which he hopes to include at one of his upcoming shows at the Downtown bar-restaurant LITM. He has already started the series with paintings of Grand Street and the waterfront. He says he likes Jersey City and comes to Chilltown at least twice a week to hang out or create “urban sketches.”

“It’s sort of a popular thing right now to just go around wherever you live or are visiting and sketch things around you,” he explains. “I look at (Jersey City) from an architectural aspect, how neighborhoods are changing, the difference… Jersey City has a lot of old buildings combined with a lot of new buildings. There’s a clash there, which is nice.”

Dziemian’s works have been featured at many Jersey City venues like Pro Arts Jersey City and the Iron Monkey. Most recently, he was part of Who? What? Where? at LITM, and he will sell small works and prints at the venue’s upcoming Fools Fair, a Not-Yo-Mama’s event on April 1. Dziemian also plans to contribute work in a fairy-themed LITM art show scheduled for May.

“Jersey City is one of the first places I remember coming to; I had a lot of friends growing up in Jersey City,” he says. “And now there’s a lot of culture here that wasn’t here say, 10 years ago, and a lot of restaurants to choose from, a lot of art – more so than any other city in this immediate area. It’s an all-around interesting city.”

Dziemian is also pursuing an ambitious project involving what he calls “Mood Cubes.” Each Mood Cube is a 6-by-6-by-6 wood construct with an oil portrait of a person on each side, exhibiting a different mood. Dziemian started with six self-portraits and began working on others’ portraits – friends, family his art students from Brookdale Community College and more – and began putting two to three different people doing different faces on each cube.

Dziemian eventually hopes to complete 100 or more of the cubes and hang them in an installation where guests must pass through a walkway and see the various cubes.

The artist says he hopes his work brings people joy and gives them something to talk about.

“I like people to come to it and sort of invent a story – maybe not a detailed or elaborate story, but [I’d like them to] wonder what’s going on,” he says. “Also, one of things I encourage my students and nonartists to do is look and notice some things people don’t notice. I hope people see my work and see everyday things in life in a different way.”

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Photos courtesy of the artist

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.