Artist Maria Kreyn's visionary light show opens in New York City this Friday, November 9. Maria spoke with Reality Sandwich about her artwork and the place of the visionary in the contemporary art world.
About Maria's work:
Maria's work is a fusion of the baroque old master technical experience and contemporary psychology. It offers a critique of together-ness in a world where humanity finds itself so separate from deep sentiment, and from nature. Maria's training in mathematics reveals itself subtly in her paintings' graphic design: often referencing permutations and inversions, duplicates and triples. Similarly, a background in philosophy forces spiritual or archetypal elements to pierce through the canvas: "What brings me to painting is sensuality and movement, and the focused energy of a timeless story spatially wrapped into a single moment. It is about looking at the vastness of our life slowly and deeply, and connecting our heart back into that ecstatic and tragic shared experience."
RS: What was your inspiration behind this show?
Maria Kreyn: Normally I paint in oil, but this is a special set of work for me: A small exhibition with a big idea, using a technique I recently invented for myself, that hopefully creates a bridge between the various epochs I like to time-travel through.
I recently had a powerful and haunting dream that I'm meant to make work literally made of light, not just illuminated by it. I woke up afterward with this incredible vision, and began immediately to experiment with materials. I've always thought that great images, especially great portraits, powerfully channel a timeless spirit. Making them out of light itself maybe brings us one step closer to that. These pieces are the first physical manifestation of that vision–of a combination of materials and techniques I invented for myself, which spill over the canvas edge into completely new media. This work is a set of highly finished prototypes that will serve as a beginning platform for a large part of my life's work. Ultimately I hope to make ones that are considerably larger and more complex, that flood entire spaces with a narrative, human light. They're a waking dream, eyes open, lights on, like ghosts illuminating a space.
The title, "however vast the darkness, we must supply our own light," is pulled from a Stanley Kubrick quote. This exhibition is, for me, about hope. However vast the darkness you may feel around you, the entire light of the universe is contained inside of you. To grow as a human being–to push our mind and soul beyond what we have thought and felt and believed, into that unimaginable evolving void–is what we live for. And we have the power to illuminate that space with our own greatness: our own light.
How is your work inspired by the old masters, and in what ways does it go beyond them?
I have always looked at the old masters, and very often found myself drawn to the baroque period of art history. It's a certain type of person and temperament that feels at home with a self-portrait of Rembrandt, and I am one of them. I am inspired by great and rare qualities in individual works–by masterpieces in whatever form they come, whether from the Greeks, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Rodin, or Sargent or Claudio Bravo. I studied with the Norwegian painter Odd Nerdrum, whose work I think is timeless and spectacular. I've been inspired by these people and many others not only because of their technical virtuosity, but because they have created their own visual language. And the best of them have also created their own mythology and spirit behind the work.
So it's not that they are "old," but that they are "masters" that is appealing to me. Great figurative imagery is what I am drawn to heart and soul. It's the most difficult and most interesting type of work to me: energetically the most intense and full of capacity for meaning and storytelling. All the senses, all mental faculties, and even physical endurance come to play in the process of creating it. I'm interested in representing a moment in its timelessness, and to do so beautifully, which is what I see in great old-master work (albeit there are many mediocre old master works yet even mediocre works of that epoch are examples of a fairly honed skill set). So that's why I speak about them in particular. They set the standard of technical achievement, and at their best are powerful timeless channels of human spirit and dignity. I hope my audience resonates with my images, and resonates with my own desire to create something beautiful and timeless–to show life in its complexity, tragedy, and ecstasy.
Can I really go beyond the masters? Im not sure. In some ways greatness isn't really something you surpass, but rather learn from, strive toward, and perhaps one day equal. There's a level of universality that I find in great work–whether it be old or new masters. And that's what I want to tap into.
Using layered plastics and electricity, elements unavailable to the old masters, I'm rethinking the figurative image, aiming to bridge the epochs through playing with materials, form, and function. I want to show people that it's possible to touch on those qualities now, in our time. And that its not a question of time, but just of content. Perhaps using completely modern materials and still retaining the integrity and standard that the masters set really can bridge my work to theirs and honor their human achievement.
How do you see this project relating to the Reality Sandwich/Evolver communities?
To make images of human beings is as relevant as ever: we are still human beings, albeit bionic ones with our cell phones and computers. And perhaps it's exactly this bionic everyday element that puts us in a place of real desire for something more organic, more profoundly human. My goal in my work is to help fill that gap in our culture–to capture that space of a naked need to be, to connect. At its best the work is a sanctuary, temple, a space of silence and intensity, a space of prayer and evolution. At its best it is a vehicle of awakening.
My personal stance is for responsible creativity: You have to be careful, because what you make changes the world. Be deliberate and mindful. Fill your work with love. Make work that radiates love out to the viewer and allows them to do the same.
With so many disposable objects produced on the planet, our creative and artistic efforts should be the diametric opposite of that unsustainable paradigm. Only when an object is full to the brim with meaning can it contribute to sustaining life on this planet. A disposable object is one with little to no meaning. It's a squandering of our precious and beautiful energy. So the making of art has a poignant ethical question inscribed within it. To strive to make a masterpiece is, I believe, to honor yourself and the planet. To make something inspired by nature, to tell a story about it, and to make it truly beautiful and generous in craftsmanship such that it resonate with other souls is the only ethical way to create.
Normally my medium of choice is oil on canvas–which is really just oil with some pigment, some oily dirt, spread on woven linen. It's all very organic, very close to the earth. Choosing to work with plastic and electricity posed an interesting question for me regarding sustainability. At first I was using plastic I found on the sidewalks of New York City, in some ways preventing it from ending up in another landfill. My larger pieces all came off the street, hence the irregular sizes. Wanting a standard size and clean finished set for this show, I purchased a set of plastic plates. They are meant to last forever. They may be plastic, but the content superposed over the material is gesturing at something timeless and infinite I hope. Also, the element of electricity came up as incredibly relevant lately, given the power outage and devastation caused by the recent storm in NYC. But to be sure, in a world without electricity, one can take out the light fixture and hang the plate over a window. The piece then becomes like a stained glass art work?-a radiant window into your home-temple.
How is the spiritual in art accepted by the art world?
Great question, and a complicated one as well.
By nature, spirituality is mostly everywhere. And it exists in perfect bliss unless you actually ask for its absence. Surprisingly, I've found that in the art world many have pushed for its absence. Certainly, you don't need to illustrate of chakras, or reference religion, to make spiritual work. Work that is de-humanized, that is vulgar or ironic just for the sake of being so, or that is simply boring is in my opinion patently not spiritual. A tremendous amount of vulgar and vapid work is unfortunately exalted in the unregulated commodity market of the art world. Most of our money-exchanges are not particularly spiritual engagements. That's one of the strange paradoxes for me about the art world, and about producing art that is sold within it.
I'm an uncompromising supporter of integrity and dignity in the face of that market. I don't make a tremendous amount of work, but strive to make each piece as perfect as it can possibly be. Soul is everything. In this sense I would say I'm engaged in spiritual artwork. It is the visual manifestation of my own personal evolution–of my own desire to improve as a human being, and to tell a timeless living story. I try to make work that creates a space of sanctuary and meditation–an image that exists in a paradoxical state of silence and intensity, and that create a human (i.e., non denominational) space at which one can come to pray, to find peace, to find a mirror for one's own beauty and humanity. So whether this is accepted or not in the art world, I don't really care. My interest is in the journey of my soul, and in the journeys of those I come in contact with. Success is really just an opportunity to spread joy.
Could you explain a bit more about the medium?
There's an atomized resin layer placed over the plexi, and then this layer is etched into, with some effects actually made on the plexi as well. This technique is an inversion of predictable image making: instead of drawing in the positive and being illuminated by light, the image is removed in reverse, and itself becomes the light. Rather than adding in darks (like when drawing with graphite), the light areas are removed slowly, in layers, with a sharp tool (in this case nothing thicker than the point of a safety pin). In a way the logic of the process is even kind of sculptural. Each piece becomes an autonomous light source, and an etching emerges in which every line lights up. The process of arriving at the technique was one of trial an error at first, especially with regret to the carving tools. I found that even things like sandpaper could produce gorgeous atmospheric effects on these plastic panels. What was truly beautiful and inspiring about this process, is that the entirety of the project and technique originated in my own mind. I have observed many painters prepare canvas and make paintings. This technique was something taken from my own dream and manifested in this reality.
Who are your artistic inspirations?
The inspirations are a combination of Albrecht Durer (his etchings) and in some ways a revisiting of my own imagery. For example, "Young Queen" is a reinterpretation of a portrait of my mother I made in graphite, and "Time" is a reworking of a graphite self-portrait. "Shipwrecked in the Desert (light my fire)," is a beautiful scene from this year's Burning Man festival, which I wanted to harken back to in some way due to its now ongoing ceremony-style presence in my life.
About the show:
"However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light" — S. Kubrick.
I recently dreamt that I'm meant to make work literally made of light, not just illuminated by it. These pieces are the first physical manifestation of that vision, of a combination of materials and techniques I invented for myself, which spill over the canvas edge into new media. They're a waking dream, eyes open, lights on, like ghosts illuminating a space.
Using layered plastics and electricity, elements unavailable to the old masters, I'm rethinking the figurative image–aiming to bridge epochs through playing with materials, form, and function. Each piece becomes an autonomous light source, and an etching emerges in which every line (carved with nothing thicker than a safety pin) lights up. This work is an inversion of predictable image making: instead of drawing in the positive and being illuminated by light, the image is removed in reverse, and itself becomes the light.
Time: Friday, November 9th, 7pm – 9pm
Location: End of Century Gallery, 237 Eldridge St., NY, NY 10002