“When you work on something for a long time, magic happens, beauty happens.”
~ Maria Kreyn
INTERVIEW WITH MARIA KREYN, FIGURATIVE PAINTER
New York City:
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you think we are afraid to find ourselves beautiful? To find life beautiful? Is it your sense that we tend to put more trust in ugliness?
Maria Kreyn: I’m not afraid of beauty. I live for it. but it’s because I don’t see it as a surface quality in the way the fashion and celebrity industry does.
[quote]Most people and most systems are afraid of beauty, certainly. I think beauty is thought of as passé. But that’s just because we have a linguistic problem in that beauty has been inextricably bound to shallowness. What people don’t understand is that a lot of ugliness is shallow as well. To think that ugliness is more trustworthy than beauty is to take a cowardly stance: you refuse to search for real beauty, you stop on the surface, and that’s a sign of apathy. Fear and laziness.[/quote]
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What is it about the classical and Baroque periods of art that resonates so deeply with you? How do you as a contemporary artist expand and enrich the conversation they started?
Maria Kreyn: There’s a certain spirit in classical/baroque/renaissance, etc, that links up with the contemporary person and contemporary art. But it’s not a spirit that I see highlighted in the current art world. In fact, that spirit is marginalized.
I love it when work is profoundly beautifully made and when it’s difficult to make. When you work on something for a long time, magic happens, beauty happens. That’s what I seen in great works from the tradition, and that’s what deserves to bridge with our art world. It’s profoundly relevant. Human behavior has not changed over time. Everything you have in your mental, genetic, ancestral code reveals itself all the time.
Maria Kreyn: It’s interesting because with every generation we don’t evolve emotionally, right? It’s like we have the same scope of emotional experience through each generation no matter how much technology we cocoon ourselves in. But at the same time we all have this history that we can look back upon and learn from. And universal ideas to resonate with. It’s a human conversation that continues through us, and it’s our job to continue to make it beautiful, interesting, and dignified.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: But now then your work, In the Wake is for me a truly horrific image, epitomizing the way women can experience being emotionally raped in society. Can you tell me what this piece represents to you?
Maria Kreyn: Wow, interesting interpretation. The image is inspired by a funeral procession scene from the Middle East. It’s highly embellished from the original source material. But yes, it’s violent; it’s meant to be that way. In a way, it makes me recall the Divine Comedy, namely, the Inferno. Dante trembles at the suffering in hell, but Virgil, knowing purgatory, is almost unresponsive. His state is often bordering on a sort of infinite neutrality. That’s how nature is in many ways: hovering between good and evil, or beyond it. As Anatole France put it: “Nature has no principles. She makes no distinction between good and evil.”
It is the same way with the human mind that produces these concepts. Marcus Aurelius said, “Life is neither good nor evil, but only a place for good and evil.”
And so I think horror is something baffling, often incomprehensible. And in images like this, I’m interested in this point where our understanding of the world and of nature meets nature’s indifference or neutrality to our language. I’m interested in all of the ways in which we as humans attempt to cope with it spiritually. In many ways it’s out of that coping that so much meaning is made ~ both beautiful meaning in the form of, say, art, and also oppressive meaning in the form of violence or psychological damage.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: What drives you in your artistic journey?
Maria Kreyn: I’m constructing my own being through my work. I’m my own science experiment. The studio is where I fight my battles and live into my self.
Maria Kreyn: Creativity is a funny thing. You just jump out into the abyss and hope that you can grab onto something and then pull it back into our shared world. And hopefully when you reach out into that void you grab onto a piece of something universally meaningful, archetypal. So in many ways it’s not really about me per se, nor is self-expression necessarily my aim at all times. Maybe self-expression is just a common byproduct of creativity.
When I see or hear something beautiful, I experience a real sense of euphoria. I spend most of my time chasing that experience. I want to produce it in myself, in my audience. I believe that timelessness is possible, that making a masterpiece is possible. That is what I want reflected in my work: I want to pause the world for people, give them a chance to look at something for a long time, slowly and deeply, and to see eternity in that moment.
Maria Kreyn: [quote]I think that empathic experience we have through seeing images of other human beings is relevant, especially in a world chock full of disposable content and imagery. My challenge is to counter the inertia towards the fast-paced disposable. I think the best things in life are these magical points of concentrated meaning and emotional density. [/quote]
I also think multimedia is interesting, especially when you can bridge it with classical techniques. Lately I’ve been making images with light and plastic. I think if the old masters would have had access to plastic and electricity, they’d have found a way to play with it in a beautiful way, too.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Do you feel there is such a thing as a “feminine” sensibility when it comes to creating art? When you encounter a new work are you able to tell by looking at the way the artist expresses ideas on canvas the gender of the creator?
Maria Kreyn: That question has suddenly come up in my life in a very different way. [quote]I grew up thinking that one ought to paint and draw like a man. Then as I got to know what men and women are like, I thought that really one ought to try to paint like a god. Now I think I ought to paint like a human being.[/quote] I don’t feel like my soul is gendered, so I’m not trying to gender myself in my work.
My experience of gender is more like a spectrum of grey than a black-and-white experience. I think I never felt completely gendered in my life. I think now I feel more female than ever. But I’m not sure I care who makes the work, a man or a woman, and often I can’t tell. On a number of occasions people were shocked to see that I was not a man, based on my work. So its a tricky question. I think the idea is to become more human through your work, not necessarily more representative of a particular half of the population.
But I would hope that the new feminine sensibility is one that shows people a path out of a fetishized sense of gender and gendering. A way out of repression. It’s only recently that I really noticed how much repression there is in the history of art, and of course in society. Even a lot of the classical paintings we love now reveal a layer of glaring injustice in male-female dynamics.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: How has your Russia background influenced your painting?
Maria Kreyn: There is a lot of complicated and compelling energy and history there. It’s in my blood; it’s in my genetic memory. That deep dark temperament comes out in my work. I truly believe that’s why so much of my work is actually incongruous with my day-to-day personality. It’s my ancestors coming out through the painting. There’s a spookiness to my work that isn’t really an overt part of who I am as a person.
Deanna Phoenix Selene: Where would you like to take your work next?
Maria Kreyn: I’m working on a series of drawings right now titled Shamans and Charlatans. It’s a group of portraits in graphite, some self-portraits, that look almost alien. they are stylized in a way that might recall bronzino or pontormo. Ultimately they are all meant to hang together in a room and by their joint presence hold the space, creating a shamanic space energetically. What I’d like to do is actually hang them in just glass in a circle, so the audience enters into the circle and feels them holding that space. And just as in our human experience, ambiguity will surround the question of which ones are the light workers and which ones are the tricksters. in any case, the space becomes an installation on another level.
Russian-born figurative painter Maria Kreyn and her family immigrated to the United States in 1989. She received her education at the University of Chicago, studying mathematics and philosophy.
She exhibits internationally, has been published in a variety of magazines and books, and her work is found in collection throughout the United States and Europe. Most recently, her paintings have been featured as a focal point and narrative vehicle in the ABC tv drama The Catch.
Her engaging interview with Odd Nerdrum can be found in the recent publication of “Kitsch more than Art.”
Maria currently lives in New York City. Her studio is in Brooklyn.