Maria Kreyn is a Russian-born painter living and working in New York. She has exhibited with Elga Widmer in Chelsea, Terrence Rodgers in Los Angeles, and Galleri PAN in Oslo, to name a very few. Most recently, one of her pieces, a figurative oil painting entitled ‘Alone Together’ was prominently featured in an ABC series called The Catch.
I’ve never seen the show but was recently invited to Kreyn’s Brooklyn studio for some drinks on a Friday night, just a social thing (she’s a friend of my girlfriend), but instead of talking to anyone I paced back and forth studying the curvature and line of every single work in the space for about an hour. I get why they curated Kreyn. Her works are huge. They contain a prescient combination of past and present, a sensitivity, and a degree of detail that signifies hours of obsessive labor. Oh, and they are gorgeous.
Kreyn, informed by neoclassical technique, studies the sensuality of the flesh, longing, and the transcendence of the human condition. I was very happy to find this artist’s work, and even happier that she agreed to this interview.
You can see more of her work at www.mariakreyn.com
Please describe the intention behind your painting “Alone Together.” Did you successfully express this intention?
Alone together came spontaneously, almost unconsciously. When I stood back to look at it, it seemed like it came out of a naked desire, something palpable inside that I was experiencing and couldn’t package in language. That’s why the title has polarity. Anyone who has been to this place knows what it is. Almost everyone has been here, which is why the image has gripped so many people who have seen it. When The Catch aired, and the tsunami of heartfelt response poured in— about love, loss, tragedy, joy— it really drove home this sense of having touched on something vast and deep in the human soul. So in the end, yes, I grabbed that feeling with my hands, but I didn’t do it intentionally. It was an act of deep intuition. I paint because I love it, and sometimes I hate it; Sometimes I can’t do it at all. I paint a lot about intimacy, probably because I’ve struggled with it. So I think I paint about the things most deeply in question for me, trying to challenge my creative intuition. At the time, I was swimming in this vastness of human longing, so that’s the water my work defined.
Can you talk a little about your formative years as an artist?
As a child I was a surrealist. And I would spend long hours doodling with pens, creating my own language and set of idioms. I think I’m still in those years. They are still happening.
At the same time, I come from a somewhat ideological background about what art is or isn’t. Perhaps that’s why figurative painting has always been important to me, almost by default. I’ve been wandering through museums and studying old master works since childhood. So yes, I come from a background that values this type of painting at times over other art. However, that’s not why I paint this way. I’ve had lots of opportunity to jump that ship, and I have a vast list of conceptual pieces and experiential installations swimming in my mind that I’d also like to make.
I keep coming back to to figurative painting, with an obsession that is unrelenting. The work gives me access to a depth and intensity of life and feeling that I don’t get from doing other things or making other things. My conversation with the past is a conversation with the present, too. As someone who always feels the pressure of time, I want to find a way to pause it. And that’s art: it removes the distance; it has the power to remove time. It’s a sort of magic. I think that’s why I’m so drawn to painting. I love the paradox of using something literal—like a portrait—to point at something abstract — like complex emotion. This is why I will always paint people and their condition.
Which sculptors do you most often use for reference? Why?
I love this question. Thank you. Rodin and Michaelangelo, and sometimes Carpeau… and even David Altmejd (who is my favorite contemporary artist). But in the end I feel most at home with Rodin. When I look at the Burgers of Calais, or the portrait bust of John the Baptist, or the Bronze Age, there is a fluidity, something so dynamic to the forms and to the skin, that the work feels as though it is breathing in front of me. John’s face is sculpted in a completely surreal way. Some of those forms are made very specifically to catch light and create a sense of life, not necessarily to be naturalistic. The genius of that is transcendent. Its so poetic, celebrating reality at once by creating something semi-abstract and also convincing you that its truly alive with this raw emotion and beauty, both painful and ecstatic. Of course I want to take my audience on that journey as well.
Your work is very sexual, physical, and grounded at points. What I find personally compelling though, is the tenderness, and this contrast – like a desire to move from our physical plane into something resembling transcendence. Can you talk about that?
I paint about intimacy because its something that challenges me in life; its something we all experience, and with incredible nuance. It’s the way I chase the sublime, both in life, and in art, so hopefully there’s at least a momentary glimpse of transcendence there. A lot of my work is unabashedly fueled by desire… And then some of it also centers around what it feels like when desire expires—that sort of black hole that is the banality of lack of inspiration, of isolation, confusion, depression. I often paint women in a position of simultaneous strength and vulnerability. Its tricky to do. Eva is my best example. Even as a person she’s perfect for the role: she is small, delicate, but incredibly intelligent, and works with her hands. The woman in so many of my paintings about love and vulnerability is also a builder, welder, and mechanic. She can work with just about any material and fabricate just about any kind of object. Most people don’t know that story about the human being behind these images. So yes, I love the contrast between tenderness and roughness.
Your process includes photographing nudes, sketching them in a sort of medieval pre-Renaissance manner, then painting? I mean, I know fuck all about art, but can you describe that for me?
Haha. well, my process is actually a lot more erratic than that. It’s rare for me to start two different paintings in the same way. I do a lot of drawing from my imagination, often to compose an image. and then sometimes I don’t do any drawing at all when it comes to the actual painting. When I started painting about nine or ten years ago, I worked mostly from life. The more demanding my life became, the more I started working from photo, which is at once more limiting and more freeing. I’ll have a model come in and we’ll just play and take pictures. there are a few people in my life with whom I just know how to extract that empathic quality from life. The just emote perfectly, exactly the way that I need. I really cherish those people. They are mainly women. Of course, getting a good reference is only the the march to the battle. i had an assistant watching me work one evening and she gave me a great compliment: “wow,” she said, “when you paint you make the reference look completely boring.” and thats the trick of it all. thats the magic. nothing can compare to the human touch when its done right.
They say if you could be anything but an artist, don’t be an artist. What career are you neglecting right now by being a full time painter?
A tech billionaire.
If you could resurrect (or kill) one person right now, who would it be?
everyone always says they’d go back in time to kill hitler, but I think I’d resurrect Caravggio.
If you could sleep with one rock star, alive or dead, who would it be?
Everyone with a perfect body, pretty long hair, and a meditation practice.
What current series are you working on?
One of the studios I’ve worked in over the past year has been in a very industrial setting, which has been frustrating for me because I really value beauty. I find the surroundings abrasive, so I’ve tried to turn that frustration in to something beautiful. I made a piece called “Even Here” that is traveling to the New Museum Los Gatos for a group exhibition called “Et in Argacia Ego,” which runs from June through October. The classical phrase, “Et in Arcadia Ego,” translates roughly to “Even in Arcadia, There I Am,” where the “I” generally refers to death or decay, meaning that “even in Arcadia, there is a shadow of death.” My painting speaks to this phrase by inverting it: “even in the shadow of death, there is an Arcadia in life.” Even here, in the midst of a chaotic deterioration, a sense of ceremony and human connection—even a utopian space—is possible. Exploring the idea of death and regeneration, I’m asking the question: what is it that needs to collapse for new life to form?
So this is the beginning of a new series. I already have a sister image composed for it, which will be exhibited this summer in London, details TBD.
What is your favorite genre of music to listen to while painting?
I run the gamut from Rachmaninof to Nicolas Jaar. But audio books usually win. Right now I’m getting into Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I was just in India a few weeks ago, so the listening to a literary portrait of that country is wonderful.
Do you have any upcoming shows or collaborations?
I’m exhibiting all the time. Right now I have a piece in Untitled Space NYC in Soho; There’s the New Museum Los Gatos show; the upcoming one in London in connection with Heist; ArtsxDesign, an instagram platform is connecting with Guy Hepner for a show I’m participating in… And of course, my painting “Alone Together” is very prominently featured on the ABC’s new TV show called ’The Catch.” Its produced by Shonda Rhimes, head-written by Alan Heinberg, and full of a wonderful cast. Its an incredible experience to share a painting so personally important with such a vast audience, and to receive such an ocean of moving, heartfelt response. I’ve been overwhelmed with hundreds of emails each week inquiring about prints and original paintings since ‘The Catch’ aired. For those interested, visit www.mariakreyn.bigcartel.com
INTERVIEW with Painter Maria Kreyn – Images Courtesy