Sunday, March 18, 2007

Art Space Talk: Mary Hrbacek

I recently interviewed artist Mary Hrbacek. Mary is a writer, art critic, and painter. She has contributed to The New York Art World magazine for years and recently started writing for NY Arts Magazine. Mary has concentrated on creating paintings and drawings of trees that capture a wide range of human emotion for over a decade. She is a strong advocate for art and artists.

Q. Mary, you have focused on painting trees for over 10 years. Through the years they have taken on a form and message of their own. Why did you decide to concentrate on this theme?

A. "I became interested in drawing trees while taking walks in Riverside Park. At that time I was also working from the live model. Gradually the human physique and tree limbs merged in my psyche, fusing human and tree anatomy into deconstructed anthropomorphic tree forms. I viewed these forms in an imaginative perception as entwined figures, dark monarchs, animals, facial features and body parts."

Q. Observers of your tree paintings have noted that the leafless tree segments seem to take on aspects of the human form. This leads me to ask- what is the link between your tree images and humankind? Are these trees or are they humans captured in a different 'skin', so to speak?

A. "Good question. Because they are alive the trees could be said to be inhabited by "tree spirits," but for me, their forms recall human body parts, which is where the correspondance with humans lies. The unity of all life is accentuated as the varied personas within ourselves and in our network of relationships are revealed to correspond to the mysterious affinities in the tree configurations. Transformation in nature mirrors the perpetual changes humans undergo through their multiple roles and masks. By realizing that nature's constant state of flux reflects the variability in human existence, we can more readily accept our insecurity and reconcile ourselves to life's true changing character."

Q. Many have noted the 'dark vibe' that some of your images convey. I can see this in your work, but I also see another message... considering that we live in a world that often places nature on the back-burner. Thus, I see your images as examples of hope (or as a warning) for tomorrow and for the future in regards to environmentalism. Was this your intention? Or at least an aspect of the message you convey with your work?

A. "These images are definitely hopeful. I see the blackness as both mysterious and beautiful. The movement and gesture in the works suggests dancing figures swaying to music. Hopefully, these unusual aspects will stimulate viewers to appreciate a new vision of tree, of nature."

Q. Now, about the 'dark vibe' that viewers observe in some of your images- your work provokes memories of childhood fears with some viewers. A time when branches swaying in the wind seemed like demons lurking in the darkness. Is this symbolism an aspect of your work? Can you go into further detail about why you provoke these childhood fears?

A. "It is not my intention to provoke memories of childhood fears. I view the black swaying branches as beautiful and mysterious. To me, the works are marked by simplicity, are full of emotion. They have movement and gesture, yet they exude a calm, peaceful feeling. The pieces are both tragic and hopeful."

Q. I understand that you are also an art critic. You've contributed to The New York Art World magazine for years and recently started writing for NY Arts Magazine. Care to tell our readers about your position with these publications?

A. "Being a writer gives me the opportunity to express my thoughts and responses to some talented inspired work that I have the privilege to see in the galleries and museums here. It spurs me to get out on the scene to keep up with the times."

Q. What is your opinion of the art world at this time? Do you have any concerns? Give me your insight.

A. "In my view, the art world has never been more vibrant, dynamic, and open. There is unprecedented innovation taking place in traditional art forms, and new hybrid forms are rapidly emerging. The creative energy out there is taking ambitious form."

Q. Now, let us take a few steps back. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "After the long process of acquiring teaching credentials to earn a living, I finally had a chance to study art. I immediately realized that a life in art was the life where I belonged. I moved to New York and never looked back."

Q. Can you share some of your philosophy about art and artistic creation?

A. "I believe philosophy comes after the creative process is complete. To me the technique of color mixing is crucial to painting. The tones of dark or light, warm or cool must be differentiated, just as tones in music must be clearly articulated."

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "I enjoyed having my drawings on view a five month installation at Roger Smith Lobby Series."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "I am overjoyed when I see the view from my studio window; even though it is industrial, it puts me in a working mood. I like being surrounded by my art (I also make painted metal sculpture.) Most of all I enjoy quiet when I can get it!"

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "They are people who possess a knowledge and love of art; artist friends, an art historian, a critic, and recently an architect, and a member of a law firm have acquired my work."

Q. Where did you attend school? Did you concentrate on art?

A. "I studied history and political science in order to teach high school history. Then when I found no job I went into special education to make a living. I was sparked by a desire to paint while making murals for the kids. I attended San Francisco Art Institute one summer. The atmosphere was very friendly and free. The instructors were dedicated to teaching; luckily for me they were incredibly generous and inspiring to work with."

Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I am allergic to oil and turpentine, so I have turned to acrylic. I like the potential of charcoal; it is senuous and easy to use on a large scale format."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. " "

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "Several shows have recently come down. I will be represented, hopefully when I am fully prepared for that step."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "There are currently a number of trends in photography, there is installation, painting with it's hybrid off-shoots, performance, collage, drawing, sculpture, video; the list is endless!"

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Keep developing your art. Get your act together professionally. Stay focussed and never give up"

Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "Because I was naive, when I faced the reality of cut-throat competition and perennial envy, I was shocked and disillusioned. I got over that."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "I am highly ambitious, addicted to challenge, and I love the feeling of achievement that I get from creating a successful work of art."

Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "I reside in New York City. I have never seen the art world so open, creative, innovative and dynamic as it is today. The business of art is tough but it is flourishing."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "My art is infused with feelings of transformation and regeneration. Because it is based on natural forms, it is aligned with Asian art. There are many art trends, but there is also room for the individual artist to pursue their own vision. This diversity is highly liberating."

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Mary Hrbacek. Feel free to critique or discuss her work. (,

Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Nicole Hyde said...

What a great interview! Her tree portraits are so compelling - thanks for introducing me to this artist.

Anonymous said...

this is one of the best interviews i've ever read on your site!!! congratulations.
and the images are superb.

Anonymous said...

here's an artist who knows where she's going and how she fits it.
very well spoken.
we need more artists like mary.