Trees with Personality


Icon - Mary Hrbacek

Creon Gallery, NYC

Anthropomorphic trees. Some of you have seen them: a shadowy form of a tree darkened by day's end,looming like a spirit inhabited by a human soul. Or maybe you have seen a face in oddly contoured bark that exhibits the characteristics of a human face. The intent of Mary Hrbacek is to take some of these personifications and paint them as evocative portraits to show all living things as equally important and integral. By using trees, a form that can be found in all ages and cultures, Hrbacek creates a basis for a universal essence that weaves through all life forms. Throughout these works, which are medium-sized paintings of unique trees set against simple backgrounds, Hrbacek manages something of a sense of humor, reminding me of the work of René Magritte, who was also known for his ability to use familiar forms to convey expansive thoughts while offering a hint of satire and dread. And that's the message: if you believe that all living things have a spiritual presence, then chopping down a tree is a violent act. And we all know we need trees -- they give us the very air we breathe. Hrbacek also takes great pride in locating trees in the U.S., Asia, and Europe. 

But it's more than that. There is wisdom in those trunks, those gnarly limbs, and the patchwork of bark. Hrbacek is also working through art history by referencing some pretty important artists who knew how to make portraiture pertinent and profound. "Gold Cornucopia" (right), an acrylic on linen painting, has the edgy linear quality of an Alice Neel, while another acrylic on linen, "Wave Goodbye," reminded me very much of the many flower and skull "portraits" of Georgia O'Keeffe.

There are other art history references as well. In the two paintings "Dark Monarch" and "Gold Entwined," which both have gold backgrounds, there is the feeling of Chinese painting and Gustav Klimt's use of simple gold backgrounds to bring a sense of fantasy and eroticism to his paintings. "On My Back" and "Bright Boy" remind me of the figurative painter David Wojnarowicz, who often uses the "camouflage" effect to make his work more militant. Yet, despite all of these references, Hrbacek's paintings remain fresh and vital by increasing our awareness of who we are, and where we live. - D. Dominick Lombardi

Mr. Lombardi is an artist with representation in Kasia Kay Art Projects and in Chicago, Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY, and ADA gallery in Richmond, VA; a writer with Sculpture, Sculpture Review, DART, and NYARTS; and an independent curator.