Remembering Theo Wujcik: "He was the whole damn package."
"He was the whole damn package." - David Frye
Three years are gone since the passing of Theo Wujcik, an accomplished Tampa based artist, USF professor, husband, father and dancer extraordinaire. His widow and daughter, Susan Johnson and Frankie Wujcik, continue to receive tributes and remembrances of Theo from friends, acquaintances and students. One lovely tribute was delivered last year from David Frye, a former student, now contemporary frame designer in New York City. We shared a conversation about Theo.
"My years following the road of Theo's life and career lasted only from 1979, when I saw him at the punk clubs to 1991, when I moved away from Tampa.
I was in a band that played at the Courtroom Lounge; they had a punk night, a new wave night. (At the time) I didn’t know anything about USF or art. I only knew music. We had opened for the Fanatics one night, and sometime afterwards, in walked Theo. He was the most vivid vision of a new wave guy; he was much older than everyone, but he was so decked out and so looked that part, he had a certain magnetism about him. That was my first experience of him.
Theo was single when I knew him. I have a very vivid memory of him with silver painted cowboy boots and a t-shirt that said 'Wake up little Susie'. There are some people that love to move, love to dance. He was one of the first people on the dance floor, he loved it.
My first experience was through the music, and then, secondly, through being a fine art student at USF. But Theo was always very distinguished in the landscape there because of his portraits of the pop artists. Everybody was very aware of that. They were a very pedagogical way to see these artists that were spectacularly successful and on the cover of all the art magazines. He was presenting them to us as human faces, but he had an incredible technique for drawing. There was so much to soak up through Theo’s work; he was radiating a lot. But if you ever talked to Theo - he didn’t say much.
He radiated all that savvy, and experience, and ability without talking much of a game. But he had a lot of game.
He was serious, but he was quiet."
In a note to Johnson, Frye shared his thoughts on Wujcik's work, "Theo's artist portrait series of prints were a form of social and pedagogic currency among students at USF. They were pedagogic for me in that it was through that series of Theo's work that I began to hear the names--James Rosenquist, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, and so on, for the first time, deeply. The currency spends this way--a fellow student I was speaking with knew someone who knows Theo, and Theo knows those established artists, and also knows they are significant enough to render as the subjects of his artworks as master draftsmanship and printmaking. That was the social and pedagogic currency. Theo was tuned into the significance of these artists' works. Theo had a sense of the straightforward significance, as well as the ironic significance of their recognition/reflection in portraiture. My first experience with Theo's artist portrait series was they were the equivalent of baseball trading cards, where one engages an image of a player and through that visual recognition became familiar with the player's name, and then the deeper knowledge of career details and statistics. ...Theo composed these portraits as if they were historic figures printed on a form of currency--horizontal format, the subject's head is centered, with lots of area remaining for denominations, or national symbols and mottos that one normally finds on currency. But, Theo's assertion was that the subject of the portrait embodied all the above--the historic figure, the denomination, and the national symbol conveyed in the portrait. "
Frye wrote: "Theo did not do alot of talking. He was not much of a theorist, or a self-promoter. But there is no great loss... Theo, on the other hand, communicated by action and result, following his own vision and the creativity he found there. ...I never heard Theo lecture about art, only saw him a couple of times briefly demonstrate his drawing technique in class. ...With Theo, all you had to do was watch him. He exuded energy, creative energy. All you had to do was pay attention to his evolution as an artist and the heights of image making he was achieving, see the energy he was pouring into it, and the fine, cutting-edge results he was consistently producing, and that was it.
Somewhere in the twelve years hanging around Theo, without realizing it fully, I saw the personal commitment and connection Theo had with his creativity. It became a point of reference when I was trying to figure out my life as a younger artist recently out of art school. And now, many years later it is obvious to me what I learned by observing his career and creative energy could never come from a book, or a class, or a grade. His creative life was a demonstration of the sacrament, the ritual and rite of passage to authenticity as an artist."
During our conversation Frye stated, “This is Theo: We were at the Empty Keg one night; I was a graduate student and had grabbed something to eat and was heading back to paint. It was New Wave night at the Empty Keg and Theo is dancing and having the time of his life. He calls me over to join him, I said I am going to go back to the studio and paint. Theo literally says 'oh, don’t be an asshole'. This is my professor!”
I repeated this story to Kurt Holyoke, a beloved friend of Theo’s saying, "I am not sure if I should add this." Kurt said, “It’s real. That was Theo.”
Davie Frye owns a successful contemporary frame design business in New York City, FryeWorks - New York City Picture Framing - Contemporary Frame Design . His shop is based on his own design philosophy and craftsmanship. Frye has worked with the top historical framed dealers and some of the top contemporary frame designers in New York City. His clients include the Rauschenberg Foundation. Frye states, "My art background really comes into play here, I think that is why people respond to the frame designs, because I am so sympathetic to the artwork. "
Frye reports he is "in his studio all the time, seven days a week." We know what Theo would of said to him about that.