John Krzywokulski


Crossing the Line. Ashley Crawford 2008

There is an old cliché about life being a journey. For most people it is more like a commute - a dull jostling from one point to another. A world of repetition where all colours are grey.

This is not something John Krzywokulski has suffered from. His has been a journey on every level, physical and metaphysical. To be sure there have been moments of the typical drudgery of life. There have been the moments of painful encounters with reality. There have been moments of self-doubt and even despair. You can see all of this in his paintings. But what you also see is the ability to override both the despair and the dullness, to take a journey that never really ends, the world of Krzywokulskiism where reality can be bent to suit ones own purpose.

A startling imagination often arises from a traumatic background. Krzywokulski comes from a family who were amongst those once described as DPs - Displaced Persons - refugees from war-torn Europe. He was three years old when, alongside his Russian mother Alexandra, Polish father Peter and brother Tadek, they arrived in Australia. Krzywokulski's new life began at the Bonegilla migrant camp in Northern Victoria.

There is something about having one's formative years in a rural outpost. Certainly, in Australia, it is colour and space and the truly surreal elements of life in the bush. The sunsets blaze with unashamed fury, the storm clouds roll with unabashed audible threat. For a sensitive youth it is a baptism in strangeness. Decades later one can still see in Krzywokulski's paintings the saturation of colour that seared his retina as a child.

But as years pass other elements add to the mix. There is both the intellectual and emotional baggage that one must sift through to distill a settled result. In Krzywokulski's case this includes his growing cultural awareness - most especially that moment of the discovery of Surrealism (Magritte haunts these works like an overbearing but affectionate school master). But there are also life's experiences, some dark and despairing, and the strong tincture of melancholia hovers over his canvases.

More than most folk an artist aspires to escape reality. This is not escapist per se, it is more practical than that. It is all too easy to follow the rules of those that come before you or those that are imposed from 'above.' But an artist must escape in order to create something new. Clearly, Krzywokulski "escapes" from "reality" in a number of ways in these paintings, only to come full circle in confronting his own reality.

Escape here comes both literally and spiritually. In one of the strongest images here, Sunrise of the Previous Night, Krzywokulski manages a bravura palimpsest of escapism. A painting of a car traveling through the night is superimposed over a lavish depiction of a startling sunset over the ocean. With its deep blues and powerful contrasts there is a melancholia imbued in this painting. But there is simultaneously a strong element of optimism here. Perhaps the driver is returning home to somewhere warm and cosy after witnessing this moment of nature's glory. The artist heading to the studio to capture this moment of infinite beauty.

Even when a title rings with ominous overtones there is relief. Dark Day's Journey depicts a chilly lagoon. Again, however, a piece of wood dominates the picture like a talisman or a tribute to a fallen comrade - friend, son or brother (we know that Krzywokulski would be more specific, but that is not the point for the outside viewer) - a feather symbolic of the floating soul that remains in the ether around us.

Apples as offerings. Sticks as totemic icons. Boats as vessels for the soul. Krzywokulski has faced demons and returned with gifts. As an artisan he is highly skilled. Here is a technician at the height of his craft. But it is as a visionary that he crosses that dark line between despair and hope and finally resides in a world of riches.

the folio is in chronological order...
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