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Still Life with
Mannequin and Goose
, 2000
Oil on canvas
© Marion Kryczka 2000

Grace Cole, Andrew Conklin,
Kathleen King, Marion Kryczka,
Roland Kulla, Helen Oh, Mark Pelnar

February 1 - 24, 2001
Wed-Sat: Noon-6 PM

Fine Arts Building Gallery
410 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois
Telephone: 312/ 922-8050

Part I

Centuries before the Middle ages, the Chinese invented gunpowder, and then for centuries after made only fireworks. In the West, the quest for illusionism in art -- making the real, as seen, appear real in art as well -- began with the ancient Greeks; was abandoned; and then, with the Renaissance, was again renewed. And having reached a high state of technical excellence, realism left art with a subtle, rich language... and little more to say. Or so it seemed. Artists, and even more, their theoreticians, went on to formal, conceptual, novelties in art. Realism, having arrived at either depiction or narrative, was left to languish, or else grew mute.

Realism has come alive again: not merely to depict a world of things, nor as a teller of tales, for as writer Tom Wolfe once said: 'One can never go home again.' Some of the best of contemporary work no longer narrates even images: its content hovers somewhere between the viewer and the art; an art of the human condition: feelings, renewed insights and perceptions. Whether a realism of worldly transcendence, or a spiritual metaphysics inherent in materiality, it treats more than the fashions and conventions of craft. There are some excellent examples among the seven artists in "Art Scene Chicago 2000," an exhibition which will be at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, Chicago, until February 24, 2001.

Marion Kryczka is represented by four oils on canvas. This artist is well-known for his paintings of the human figure: paintings characterized by a subtle and often sensuous feel for light and color nuance (Kryczka has cited George de la Tour as an influence); but his still life work equally displays a use of formal, compositional dynamics to evoke what he notes as "iconographic and symbolic relationships." In his statement for the book, Art Scene, Chicago 2000, he recalled that: "The narrative dynamics of dolls transformed into mythological beings or archetypal symbols dominated my work for the first two years of still life paintings." Still Life with Mannequin and Goose (2000) is an excellent example of Kryczka's recent work. Here, the tailored simulacrum of human form slumps suggestively behind a bottle of spirits -- an inert object among objects which collectively summarize a specific and individual life: an absent personality. In many of Kryczka's paintings, objects of recreation and pleasure -- fishing gear, dice and vodka bottles, jewelry and family photographs -- mingle with mounted birds and skulls, both human and of hunted game, in a manner to reveal a life, full and deeply enjoyed, but not without end. Indeed, the theme of Vanitas --"All roads lead but to the grave" -- recurs in many of his paintings. But there is never any programmatic or overt 'commentary.' And Kryczka's objects, much like his figure paintings, harken to a celebration of fleeting life in a sensibility which recalls Saxon grave goods or Egyptian tombs: 'These are the things enjoyed in life. The body may be shed, but something lingers on.' This is an art of mood, and sensuousness, but it does not interpret itself. And that offers a still deeper pleasure for the viewer. Marion Kryczka received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute, Chicago. and an MFA the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. He now teaches at SAIC.

Fan Piece For Her Imperial Lord
O fan of white silk,
clear as frost on the grass-blade.
You also are laid aside.

Ezra Pound

A succinct, momentary observation, without elaboration or gloss. Myriad, open-ended associations have flooded each individual reader of this short poem ever since 1909. Never has the single word -- "also" -- expressed so much, so poignantly. In poetry, the aesthetic is named 'Imagism.' In art, the particular term is used differently, but Poetic Imagism -- sounding a simple note to orchestrate deep resonance and overtones -- has parallels in the visual. The art of Grace Cole reveals just such a sensibility....

Museum of...Passions, 2000
Oil on linen
Collection of John and Ladd Mengel
© Grace V. Cole

Grace Cole's most recent paintings reveal affinities with a Scuola Metafisica. The three oils on canvas in this showing were executed immediately prior to the exhibition and, while no slides were available for the opening, the displayed art furthers her approach as presented in Art Scene, Chicago 2000. These paintings -- Museum of...Lamentation; Museum of...Creation; and Museum of...Faith (all 22"x28") -- reveal Cole's ability to imbue a sparse vocabulary of image element with strong contemplative, and yet emotive strength. Her spartan sense of composition and palette is further heightened in effect by the artist's recourse to a uniform visual format in her Museum series: a viewer's attention is compelled to study subtle variations of composition, of visual gestures. Neither anecdotal nor narrative, nor even 'declarative,' but rather evocative, her art solicits from the viewer -- much like Pound's short poem -- a response; one anchored to a material actuality, but which engages associations well beyond the direct image. Much of the visual richness in these paintings comes from the artist's glazing technique: colors reflecting from beneath overlying, thinner hues, and Cole has noted her admiration of past masters: "Rembrandt for humanness, Titian for color and the contemporary artist, Odd Nerdrum, for atmosphere." Her art does shares a kinship in spirit with the Italian metaphysical painters such as de Chirico, and perhaps with Morandi; and it does demonstrate that a contemplation of worldly object needn't be morose. It may indeed be profound and serene. Grace Cole also studied at the School of the Art Institute, Chicago; the University of Chicago; and with Ted Seth Jacobs at the Ecole Albert du Fois Vihiers, France. She has a website: http://www.gracecole.com

Still Life with Architectural Study #1, 1999
Acrylic and colored pencil
28"x30 1/4"
© Mark Pelnar 2000

In viewing Mark Pelnar's art, both Morandi and Da Vinci came to mind: modest, everyday objects; a sense of architecture's structural precision and satisfying harmonies; a draughtsmanship in reddish browns, ochres, sepia tones. Pelnar has underscored his desire to achieve a sculptural sense with tone and texture, but above all he asserts: "...looking is done with the use of the eyes, seeing is done with the use of the mind, and is the reason two people with excellent vision looking at the same thing may see something quite different." The objects of his series, Still Life with Architectural Study, often defy gravity in obedience to formal review. It is this which gives these paintings a sense of a reviewing stand, where objects suggest surrogates... for royal court, town notables, or military echelons. Three of Pelnar's acrylic and gouache works at the Fine Arts Building Gallery are from his Wind River Range series, and these present a stark, minimal approach which nonetheless verges toward what is now called 'Southwestern' genre. In much of the art now at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, light becomes a language of metaphysics, an means to contemplate materiality, objects and spaces, intimately and serenely. Pelnar received his BFA from Drake University, Des Moines, Iowa, and an MFA from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.

Light, too, encrusts us making visible
The motions of the mind and giving form
To moodiest nothings, as, desire for day
Accomplished in the immensely flashing East,
Desire for rest, in that descending sea
Of dark, which in its very darkening
Is rest and silence spreading into sleep.

Wallace Stevens, "Evening Without Angels"

El Stop, 1998
Acrylic on canvas
© Roland Kulla 2000

If poet, Wallace Stevens, is right, a 'presence' formed by light may reveal much about the viewer's inarticulate and formless mental movings, a topography of mood and response. Roland Kulla is an artist of urban lights, and his painting is often characterized by dramatic perspectives -- a prominent sense of geometric mass and line, a play of horizontals against vertical contours -- and a singular absence of human presence. There is much of "rest and silence" in this art. One senses a metropolitan world of Edward Hopper, emptied of its human inhabitants. It does accord with the artist's preference to "choose subjects that reveal the effect of time on the things people have made." Roland Kulla is represented in "Art Scene Chicago 2000" by three acrylics on canvas. This artist's Evening Lights (Acrylic:36"x48") captures a specific real moment, familiar to those who have had reason to walk city streets at dark, and who stop a moment for no particular reason other than an immediate sense of the moment. Kulla, a resident of Chicago's Hyde Park, began painting in oil during a 1989 eight-session course offered to University of Chicago alumni.

In recent years, a number of artists have begun to re-explore realist approaches to enter enduring human experience -- a meditation and an experiencing of the sensation of things. Such work has found new subtlety in suggesting its consequence upon the human condition, both timeless and placeless. We have been seeing artists who have entered an art of phenomenology: our transcendent attachments to actualities. Its great value and power are not so obvious as it might at first seem. But it comes in art, as subject and object, condensed and heightened, as a response against the daily dulling of the senses, what physician-writer, Sir William Osler, noted: "Half of us are blind, few of us feel, and we are all deaf."

Seven artists are in "Art Scene Chicago 2000" at the Fine Arts Building Gallery, Chicago, until February 24, 2001. This show is a pleasure.

Finis Part I

--G. Jurek Polanski

Jurek Polanski has previously written and art edited for Strong Coffee in Chicago. He's also well known and respected among the Chicago museums and galleries. Jurek is currently a Visual Arts Correspondent for ArtScope.net.

Editorial Note: All seven artists are featured in Art Scene, Chicago 2000 (Crow Woods Publishing: 2000), which gives biographies, statements and illustrations of their work. W.H. Auden is quoted from Collected Poems (Vintage: 1991). Ezra Pound is quoted from Personae (New Directions: 1990). Wallace Stevens is quoted from The Voice That is Great Within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Century (Bantam: 1979).

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