When the famous French Impressionist Auguste Pierre Renoir called artists “pleasure givers,” he must have been looking into the future to describe Mark Kurdziel and his paintings.
Kurdziel’s colors grab your attention initially, followed by familiar motifs and forms, and then you are ensnared by his perspectives and depth of emotion. His style is very much his own, easily recognizable as his and cannot be shoe-horned into any particular artistic category. However, if pressed he may suggest Symbolism. The subject matter of his paintings is his life.
He is first and foremost a master of color, understanding the technicalities of hue, brightness and saturation, the power of color combinations and the psychology they imbue. He understands color academically as well as practically, able to make the colors sing from his paintings and drawings. It is something that he diligently teaches his students at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), where he is an adjunct professor of Fine Art.
A former student of FIT himself, he benefited from many great teachers who “vomited great quantities” of information about art and painting. During and after college he was fortunate to meet many talented painters and teachers who would happily spend time with younger artists such as himself, to talk, critique and encourage them. Peter Heineman, a teacher at SVA —the School of Visual Arts— who studied under Joseph Albers, was one such artist who spent time with Kurdziel allowing him to “absorb the knowledge of Albers osmotically.” Another was Paul Georges who studied with Hoffman and Ferdinand Leger who was extremely generous with information and great at dissecting paintings when he came for an enlightening studio visit. He met Leon Polk Smith who created geometrical abstract work, Larry Rivers, sometimes called the godfather of Pop Art, Richard Pitts who was painting figurative work at the time, Don Perlis the “old master at 28,” and many others, kicking around ideas and learning all the time while they shared a drink or two.
The concept of Forms is also something that Kurdziel focuses on, perhaps giving it more importance than Subject. His imagery includes himself, his friends and family, animals and items in his surroundings such as furniture and furnishings. His girlfriend and cats often make an appearance.
To these forms he layers perspective. There is sometimes a hint of ancient Egyptian two dimensionality, but this is contrasted with depth perception and fullness. He creates a snapshot in motion, which provides movement and feelings of continuation. These juxtapositions offer richness and significant intrigue to the viewer. There is also an unmistakable seriousness and perhaps some sadness that tethers his work. As Renoir once said, “the pain passes, but the beauty remains.”
He starts with a textural foundation and background using pigment powder and rabbit skin glue. He often has a concept, a germ of an idea or imagery, or a poetic sense of a moment. However, in the end the painting is usually radically different from his original thoughts. He uses oils and glaze to achieve a depth of color, varying how they sit on the canvas to provide differing textures. He allows the colors to sing, to create active tension and resonance, to “be a notch short of animation.” He conducts the different elements of his paintings to work in concert to create and capture the magic of the moment, which would ordinarily move on and disappear. The world within his paintings should continue and move.
Renoir said “Art is about emotion; if art needs to be explained, then it is no longer art.” Kurdziel agrees and says that he “doesn’t want to be a describer of things.” Instead, he wants to “pretty up the world and give them something to think about.”
Kurdziel and his sister grew up on Long Island with a Polish father and an Italian mother, who met in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. It was a grand mix of cultures that must have impacted him. He was allowed to independently enjoy the arts in New York City from a very early age and he started painting and drawing seriously during high school. That youthfulness remains in his work 50 years on from his first foray into art. His artwork has continued to evolve into the rich, emotion driven, metaphor of his life. Painting is not work but pleasure for him. It is who he is. It is a relationship between himself and his life. As an artist “it has to mean something to me, it has to touch something in me, otherwise it can’t mean something to someone else.”