John Krzywokulski


The Visual trickery of John Krzywokulski by Christopher Heathcote

While it is hardly mentioned in most writing about art today, there is a distinct cut to be made across the cultural scene between artists who make theory-based works, and those who produce ideas-based painting and sculpture.The theory-based group encompasses those who work from prevailing critical theories and philosophical concerns of the moment, fashioning pieces which dwell upon or illustrate these matters. The rival, ideas-based artists tend to follow up the implications of their own particular mental obsessions. They produce works that often have little bearing on prevailing academic concerns, yet when examined in detail can be appreciated as representing a rigorous and sustained investigation into a specific set of ideas. Their works are unmistakably the expression of quite personal artistic concerns.

John Krzywokulski is an ideas-based painter. For nearly three decades he has patiently and unceasingly questioned and probed the conventions of pictorial representation. This has been achieved by scrambling motifs and techniques from assorted genres, combining elements of still life, geometric abstraction, landscape, expressionism and more in a series of bizarre works that do not appear to sit within any recognizable style. The origins of this quirky work are to be traced back to an interface between Colour Field abstraction, Pop Art, and the gestalt-inclined experiments behind much mid-1960's contemporary art. The artist successfully straddled all three concerns by combining imagery derived from popular culture with reductive abstraction and perceptual tricks, his experiments resulting in, as the historian and critic Patrick McCaughey observed at the time, a sequence of 'adroitly turned and shaped games of illusionism.'

Since then Krzywokulski has tread a path that few others have explored. Perhaps, the American neo-dada artist Robert Rauschenberg has strolled nearby, especially when he first ventured into lithography and made montage-like complications of conflicting imagery. But Krzywokulski's chief precursor is the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte, the painter-cum philosopher who produced puzzling visual conundrums intended to make us dwell upon the nature of representation and how we make sense of the world. (Several of the artist's paintings have been homages to the master surrealist, using his characteristic apples, bowler hats and flaming objects.)

Krzywokulski's pictures are just as precise technically as Magritte's, and humor also takes a central role in these perceptual rebuses. Once cannot fail to miss the visual puns, gags and witticisms that recur throughout his carefully crafted pictures; yet there are obvious differences. The artist does not meticulously paint a plausible scene, then disrupt it with a single incongruity. Each work seems like a collage of several different things; indeed some paintings resemble 'trompe l'oeil' collages, with simulated pieces of torn photographs being apparently fixed to the surface with simulated adhesive tape.

Clearly, certain motifs keep recurring in Krzywokulski's visual assemblages: a cloud-streaked sky at dusk; a rugged ceramic vessel; a gestural abstract field intersected by a swerving horizon-line; a thick European forest; an area of flat, unmodulated colour; a torn Polaroid photograph; three brush strokes hovering in space before a canvas and casting a soft shadow on its surface - perceptual bric-a-brac which are placed in an orderly, balanced and sometimes overtly symmetrical manner. And what do they mean?

When brought together one can't help wondering whether they are not all visual stereotypes. The moody landscapes, the agitated marks, the torn paper and the rest are all fundamentally cliches that we find used and repeated at nearly every level of visual culture, from the realm of the television advertisement to the glossy paperback cover to the art gallery. They may bear a host of meaningful associations in the external world, although Krzywokulski shows us that in themselves they lack meaning. If anything they seem to mean nothing. They are what they are - dislocated shards of human sight and memory, mere traces of perceptual experience, the illogical visual fragments from which our apparently logical world is constructed.

- Christopher Heathcote, May 1996

the folio is in chronological order...
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