On display at Ecce Gallery, September 18 to October 28 was a South Dakotan display of hopeful landscapes and anxious brush strokes, featuring works from artists Georgia Mrazkova and Sara Woster. Both painters spent their upbringings in Sioux Falls, S.D. and attended college in the Twin Cities, at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the University of Minnesota, respectively. Curated by gallery director Mark Weiler, this show brought together dreamy references from shared Sioux Falls childhoods.
Woster and Mrazkova bring midwestern imagery into their work to this day, even as they are living in metropolitan areas now. With Woster living in New York City and Mrazkova in Minneapolis, both of their works continue to showcase natural scenes, while also portraying them with chaotic and even unsetting energy. This show didn’t shy from color, as earthy greens and blues fill the canvases with disruptions of vibrant red, pink and yellow throughout.
Both artists describe their work as portrayals of abstracted reality, tilting towards discomfort. They both are rebellious in their depictions, veering from the expected. But at the same time, including very identifiable objects, unlike strictly abstract pieces.
“I grew up in a flat prairie town in South Dakota where the austerity and angularity of my surroundings imbued me with a longing for the exotic and strange, even as the endless horizon, expansive skies and lakes and sloughs of my native land made an indelible impression on my psyche,” reads Georgia Mrazkova’s artist statement.
Mrazkova describes her work as nostalgic and futile with a sense of humor. Once she is done with a piece and steps back, she sees a sense of poignancy or temper that can be frightening or make you wonder what else is in there. Pieces are open-ended and she wants viewers to spin their own narrative, stepping into each work and wandering around, finding new things. A fox dripping into the foreground or a hand grasping out of waves, her hidden imagery is often foreboding and mystical.
Water tends to be a theme in many of her pieces. “I used to be a lake swimmer, I would swim with a friend across the lake and back all the time. I think there was so much sensory input from doing that for so many years that keeps coming out in my paintings,” she said. This is further proven by the bleeding fluidity of her colors.
Carrying with the liquid subjects of her work, Mrazkova’s paintings are oil-based but resemble watercolors. She uses a spray bottle of paint thinner to transform her pieces into dreamy scenes. “I especially do that when I’m stuck and I think, ‘Okay, this isn’t where I want to be, this isn’t right.’ [If there’s an area] I don’t know what I am doing with, I’ll spray it and I’ll take a rag and swipe some things out and it looks better. It’s just making a decision to destroy something and move on,” she said. The concept of destruction and recreation is a reoccurring, much larger theme throughout her body of work.
Mrazkova’s work ended up at Ecce Gallery by way of the Nemeth Art Center in Park Rapids, Minn., where she had an exhibit May 30 through July 27. Having to create a body of work for the Nemeth show pushed Mrazkova to explore her breadth and what she wanted to portray.
In creating work for these shows, she worked with the idea of unleashing her inner teenage girl. She wanted this part of her to be free and to depict that part of her personal history. “It was a catalyst for me to really dig in and start digging out some paintings in an intense way,” she said. This push to create new work allowed her to paint her own reality, pulling from dream-like experiences.
Growing up wanting to either become a farmer or an illustrator for Disney, Mrazkova now combines her childhood passions, depicting fantastic scenes of nature. Having spent time in the midwestern scenery of South Dakota, Mrazkova has gotten to know our earth well and her work showcases its “silent hostility,” as she calls it. She spoke that nature is a place for solace, but also a place to be on your toes. “Nature is a beautiful thing. Our temporal world is a beautiful thing, but it is not just a beautiful thing, it is a sharp, spiky place to pay attention to,” she said. “That’s what I love about art, that it makes you feel. It distills things and makes them come into high relief. If it’s good, it should have layers of meaning, not necessarily that you can put into words. You should just keep getting meanings from layers.”
Her art masterfully merges dreams with reality. Viewers seeing her work can pull out different themes and elements in the oil, which is the beauty of abstract art. Mrazkova said, “After we have been fed and housed and we are going to live physically, we need to dream. And that’s what art helps us do or does for us. We need to think, we need to feel.” Through her aquatic and arcane works, Mrazkova successfully tugs at this part of our humanity, making sense and meaning of our lives with each brushstroke.