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Marion Kryczka: Small Works
It is the fisherman or hunter who is offered the most opportunity in this day and age to meditate on the memento mori, the transience of life and the eternal truth of death that, in the end, claims all living things; few others in today's urban existence are brought so close to a regard of that subtle borderland, the quarry -- deer or fish -- one moment alive, the next not. Figurative artist Marion Kryczka's works in oil have long incorporated this most masculine of all vanitas themes. Fifteen works are on exhibition in Marion Kryczka: Small Works at Gillock Gallery's Chicago location, in which fresh-caught salmon, a hunting knife, vodka bottles, references to traditional Holbein prints, and more all find arrangement in meditating on the human condition, the passage of time, and the inevitable presence of mortality in life.
Still life itself is by tradition not a straightforward depiction of things, but carries moralizing connotations as well. In several works in this exhibition Kryczka represents a salmon in subsequent stages of gutting and filleting on a stainless steel sink. The fierce open eye and toothy jaw emanate a sense of power and striving; but nature, once in motion, has been stilled. It is a factual portrayal, neither idealized nor, despite the filleting, brutal. Mortality waits equally at the end of a sportsman's line, or the failing that follows once the salmon has fulfilled its life cycle through spawning (evoked, in part, by the spilling cascade of caviar in both Spawn No. 1 and Spawn No. 2). By following the fish through a sequence of preparation the artist offers moments of reflection on that inevitable truth, whether one imagines them as the fisherman's, or one's own as viewer. Human life is equally as vulnerable, for all its power, struggle and striving. At the same time, Kryczka presents the fish and their surroundings with strength and solidity. All may pass, but in this moment, is distinctly here.
From the rough pursuits of common life to more gentlemanly tastes in the arts, the still-life assemblages in Marion Kryczka: Small Works draw on a wide variety of sources. The former is reflected in Still Life on Drawing (oil on canvas, 24 x 36) in which a Polish and a Russian vodka bottle, each half-emptied, are shown as arranged upon a pastel sketch of a big-breasted nude. A hunting knife and its sheath, two dice showing a roll of 'craps' (a losing roll in the game of the same name), and a black-and-white photo of an American Indian complete the study. Fighting, drinking, gambling and loving (or at least sex): it is a carnival of the passions, the arrangement of knife, sheath and the tilt of each of the two vodka bottles drawing the gaze around the cycle from one to the next, centered on the succulent amplitude of the nude's nipple and punctuated by the roll of the two dice. The brands and items themselves may be twentieth-century, but the references are far older: drink, warfare, games of chance and the sensual love of women have been man's pleasure (or downfall) since ancient days in the Mesopotamian cradle of civilization. The arrangement reflects as well on human nature: Eros and Thanatos, the drives for life, love and sexuality and those for death and aggression, drawn tautly in an endless cycle.
Similar oppositions are found in The Struggle Between Lent and Carnival, in which the focus is a woodcut of the same name by German Renaissance artist Hans Holbein the Younger, shown as the open page of an illustrated book. The print, part of the macabre 'Dance of Death' tradition, shows a gaggle of skeletons staging a schoolboy war between two opposing sides, 'Lent' and 'Carnival'. They are traditional oppositions of abstinence and excess respectively, and like Eros and Thanatos represent the moral and instinctual dualities complicit in human nature. Kryczka's rendering of Holbein's fantastic scene is coupled with a small painted ikon of the Madonna: the faith and folly which serve as opposite poles of our singular existence; perhaps as well a prayer for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin to assist in the struggle of instincts and excess counterbalanced with reason and religious belief.
While the arrangement of the items speaks of deeper meanings, at the same time, the artist's rendering of each object delights in a realistic portrayal of volumes, textures, and the fall of light. Each object is solidly realized, and heightened by endless explorations of lightfall and reflection, as in the iridescent shimmer of the salmon's gray scales against the machined gray metal of the stainless steel sink. And what illumination strikes as clearly and cleanly as that reflected through Kryczka's glass jars and vessels? Whether Stolichnaya bottles, preserved red peppers or ginseng in clear glass, these curved surfaces are touched with additional brights, enhancing an impression of crystalline translucence. The light they gather and transmit seems an allegory of clarity: seldom do we see as intensely as we see the volume within the bottle, as carefully and thoroughly implied as the outer form of its exterior.
It is this close observation of light and object, coupled with the factual nature of the artist's presentation, that presents a reassurance. The passions may come to dust. They always do. And in that case, why worry? There is still much to experience while we are here: the struggle of the instincts, the resonance of faith, and even the feel of a salmon taut on the line. These are virile meditations on the nature of things. Fifteen oil paintings are on exhibition. Marion Kryczka: Small Works will be at Gillock Gallery's Chicago location through May 30, 2006.
Marion Kryczka has been a teacher at the Art Institute of Chicago for twenty-five years.
--Katherine R. Lieber