Compared with the gender politics presented by recent MFA graduates, the paintings of Marion Kryczka may seem like caricatures of the bad old days of toxic masculinity. Long scary knives, Lucky Strike cigarettes, toy models of military hardware—the stuff that might be found in an adolescent boy’s bedroom, circa 1960.
The titles of several pieces take us in a different direction. “The Emperor of Ice Cream” (2005) connects a well-known poem by Wallace Stevens to an interior view of what appears to be an artist’s loft. Within the loft are some of the objects mentioned in the poem: a cigar, a spotlight, flowers wrapped in old newspaper, a bowl of ice cream and two young women whom Elizabethans might have called “wenches.” An earlier painting, “Wallace Stevens” (1999), also depicts the flowers, newspaper and cigars, while it adds a human skull, echoing the frigid corpse mentioned in the same poem. Like the poet, the painter apparently has an endless fascination with reality—not with photographic imitation, but with a focused meditation on existence. “Let be be finale of seem. /The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”
Other paintings quote artists with similar concerns. “Self Portrait with Bill Traylor” (1998) references the harsh reality and resilience expressed by the African-American outsider artist who was born into slavery. “Tribute to Euan Uglow” (2001) refers to the British painter who explored the nude human figure as an object of reality apart from social or sexual context. “Clean” (1994) quotes an Utamaro print adjacent to a pair of strong hands as they gut a wild-caught fish. It’s my favorite painting in the show. The toxic juxtaposition of the vulnerable young Japanese courtesan and the sharp bloody knife may be disturbing, but the painting is charged with energy and precision. As the artist once related, fresh fish must be painted, as well as served, without delay—and apparently it was that quickness that made this painting feel so much fresher than most of the artist’s other still lifes.
Another favorite is a self-portrait executed earlier this year. The story it tells is depressing. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, the artist’s mind and body is under relentless attack. Unable to walk, he gets around in a wheelchair. Unable to hold a steady hand, he can no longer draw a smooth, straight line. But his unbroken spirit comes through as electricity sparking through the black-and-white lines of the charcoal drawing.
This retrospective, mounted by a former student in her own gallery, is modest. There are just a few pieces taken from the range of genres in which this artist and philosopher worked. None of his nudes have been included and only a few minor examples of his lucid cityscapes and interior views. But until the art world becomes less devoted to political correctness, it may be awhile before Chicago art institutions recognize one of the best painters of local life. His work is saturated with the rugged Eastern European spirit that built so much of the city of big shoulders. (Chris Miller)
“Marion Kryczka: Paintings & Drawings” is on view at Eat Paint Studio, 5036 North Lincoln, through July 20.