Maria Kreyn

February 13, 2017 by Laura Gomez


Artist Interview

Name: Maria Kreyn

Age: 30
Birthday: December 24
College: University of Chicago

Favorite Color: a very particular deep blue
Favorite Book: Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse
Favorite Movie: Kung Fu Hustle
Favorite Food: Avocados
Favorite Quote:” “For those who believe in God, most of the big questions are answered but for those of us who can’t readily accept the God formula, the big answers don’t
remain stone-written. We adjust to new conditions and discoveries. We are pliable. Love need not be a command nor faith a dictum. I am my own god. We are here to unlearn the teachings of the church, state, and our educational system. We are here to drinkbeer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us.”
– Bukowski

Why are you an artist, and when did you first become one? This is the best thing I can do and give with my hands and my mind. But if you are open to a longer answer, here is my essay: As a child I would doodle all days long with pen on paper. I was a true surrealist, who worshipped Salvador Dali. In a way, looking at his work also inspired my interest in science. His work always seemed to reference some kind understanding of origins, whether religious or scientific— not only would you see distorted, wild figures, but also cells dividing, DNA coiling, holograms, experimental renditions of the forth dimension. So these worlds of drawing, art, and science, were always blended for me. As a teenager I discovered the baroque painters, and over time my drawing began to change from investigating purely imaginative content to being able to deeply see the world right in front of me. At that time I was still only drawing. I went on to study philosophy and math at the University of Chicago for a couple of years, and when I was finally magnetized into the world of painting at age 20, I left university and dove in deep. Figurative painting allowed me to turn the surreal world of external visual symbols inward, into the interior psychological world of the individual mind. The nuance of internal emotion became equally as intense and psychedelic, just more elusive. With the surrealist approach I felt like I was closing my eyes and reaching my hand out into a universe of infinitely complex images, able to grab any which one, and there were many. With figurative painting, the process felt completely different. I felt as though I was wandering with my eyes open, but in darkness, attempting to find and grab ahold of something that seemed literal, but so much more illusive than my imagination, and to illuminate it. Even as I write it, it must sound vague, but probing the labyrinth of the human experience has that feeling for me.

Perhaps that is why the paintings take their chiaroscuro form. My work is very much indebted to and paying homage to the western tradition of painting. I’m reframing these techniques and using them to confront our contemporary world—one of speed, mechanization, and detachment— in order to ask, how can we stay deeply human in the face of this rapid political and technological change? I feel like the chaos of our time actually throws in relief the type of intimacy and humanconnection I’m painting for and about. So even though my painted characters are deeply emotional, and often physically connected, they are suspended in a state of ambivalence—at once confronting their intense individuality (sometimes even isolation), and their need to merge with something larger.

Moreover, the interaction of the figures in the paintings is meant to translate to the interaction of the viewer with those characters—deeply connected, distant.

Can we talk a bit about your process at the beginning of a project? How do you conceive of it? How do you build it in your mind before you start? The bodies of work I have made are all experiments into a thought and emotion that cannot be spoken. Otherwise I would simply write it. In the same way, my physical process is experimental. I spent a lot of time starting paintings in a messy way, just massing in and attempting to create relative order from relative chaos. In the very recent past, I’m learning to become more methodical, more organized, and developing highly resolved underpaintings. What is consistent in my practice is layering. Figurative work has the potential to feel like magic. And I’ve noticed that often when creating emotive faces, the more I work into something, layer it, or glaze it, the more nuanced I can make it, as though its even moving slightly in front of you. The idea is always to make it feel alive—strong, but delicate—even if its a monochrome.

What’s the best advice anyone gave you? “Opportunity knocks, but it does not beg.”

Do you suffer for your art? Ugh, yes. Too much probably.

How would you define yourself as an artist? I try not to. I let the work do that.

What inspires you to work? I simply love painting and drawing. I love the feeling of the materials, the sense of taking dirt and oil and creating a world that previously did not exist. And in the end I love it when the work deeply touches people. Its that whole cycle that I live for.

Lately I’ve been painting a lot about women. To me, showing a scene with women feels even more private than with men. And a lot of the work is about that: looking into a private moment, whether its a single subject or a group. Paying homage to classical form, these paintings throw in relief modern notions of female ambivalence: particularly with reference to romantic love, I’m pushing to accommodate uncertainty, fear, and doubt. This combination is deeply contemporary. The woman is in control, yet frightened. She is neither happy nor sad, but suspended in a liminal state of simultaneous strength and fragility. And its this contemporary psychological moment in-between that I want to capture, using form and technique that makes the subject look and feel real. Again, the emotion in the works is often autobiographical; its the way I
process what happens to me and extrapolate backward as far as I can take it to create the feeling of that woman in the image being every woman, that man being every man.

What famous artists have influenced you, and how? My library is slowly growing and growing. I love sitting around and looking at reproductions. Contemporary artists that have inspired me lately are David Altmejd, Jai Aili, Jenny Saville, John Currin, Michael Borremans, and of course Odd Nerdrum. These people are all very different, and much of this work looks nothing like mine. I just love to see the passion, the skill, and the curious, often deep stories all of these artists are able to tell.

As far as old masters, the list could be so long as to warrant its own essay. Lately I’ve been pouring over Goya’s Capriccios, Valentin de Boulogne’s musical compositions, and of course I always come back to look at Caravaggio and Rodin. Rodin especially gives his figures a monumental quality, even if the piece is tiny, which is a quality that I strive to give my characters as well.

What other interests do you have outside of art? Dance, reading, writing, a bit science (since my mom is a pianist who also studied neuroscience). I play a bit of piano, and have a measurable addiction to practicing yoga. On rare occasions I’ll surf or snowboard, and I love being in the mountains. Like most people, I like to travel, and yet in the end there is nothing really as exciting as a great conversation with an interesting person in my own studio. Lately, I’ve been listening to an enormous number of podcasts as I paint, which have webbed out to so many interesting topics. But tangential to the paintings I make, this last year was pivotal as I made my first immersive architectural piece. Its a structure that I designed and helped build, which was made to house and complement a set of my drawings. I wont say too much, as you can find it in detail here:

You seem to be very aware of the history of works. Where do you see films, photo exhibitions, art performances today? I love contemporary dance. The Nederlands Dans Theater is by far my favorite company… one of my favorite choreographers in Nacho Duato. As far as film, its something I want to dive into deeper. I love going to theaters that are more like parlors, where you can eat, chat, watch. The opera is also a long time love. Living in NYC, the Met Opera is exceptional… not only that, the city has a wealth of classical music. I grew up under the piano listening to my mom play, and then developed my own passion for classical music which has only grown over time. On Wednesday nights in Brooklyn, my friends play jazz all night long at The Keep. Its wonderful. The lists go on …

How would your life change if you were no longer allowed to create art? Not an option.

What are your next projects? Trying to make masterpieces.