Ezra Krzywokulski
Tango with mortality

by Ashley Crawford. 2016

In June, 2013 Ezra Krzywokulski held his first solo exhibition in Melbourne. It defied what have become the ‘norms’ of young artistic expression. There was a dearth of video and photography. It wasn‘t slick. It wasn’t neat. It wasn’t ‘cool’ in the way that most post-school artists seem to think is the commoditised rule book they are supposed to automatically follow. It was the opposite; gnarly, at times brutal and brimming with jagged honesty. Opening the show, well-respected artist Victor Majzner accurately stated that the works on display could be recognised as “deeply felt, fragile dream memories and primal, hormonal needs.” He went on to note that one could “find references to high art as much as to street art, beautiful delicacy as much as earthly grit.”

Majzner, surrounded by Krzywokulski’s beautiful and brutal brushwork, went on to blast the supposed ‘death of painting.’ He was totally on the money, of course, but his argument seemed rather beside the point. It had already been made for him and the canvases on the walls spoke far more loudly for his cause than words.
It’s not altogether difficult to view Krzywokulski’s as scenes from a battlefield. The opposing sides take many forms; Melancholia versus joy, inhumanity versus the inhumane, abstraction versus figuration and logic versus dreams (or, in many cases, nightmares).
As Majzner noted, hints of street art remain in Krzywokulski’s output. In Man Fights Bird 1. Identify with nature and hurt (2015) and Man Fights Bird 2. Why should shadows light (2016) he utilises a skateboard panel as a canvas. There are hints of tagging and aerosol spray. But Krzywokulski by no means settles for some lame graffiti – indeed he portrays a phoenix rising from the flames.

Man Fights Bird 1 – Identify with nature and hurt. 2015
Man Fights Bird 2- Why should shadows light? 2016
Man Fights Bird 3- Only in dreams. 2016
each 83 x 22 cm
Mixed media on used skateboard decks

With its triptych form Panning for none (2015) one can recognise a degree of homage to Francis Bacon’s masterful TRIPTYCH (1974-1977). However Krzywokulski throws us a conundrum here. The figure portrayed suggests a strong lineage to the wooden human figures that artists often have in their studios and one is left wondering whether the figure, rather than panning for gold, will be in fact be the subject to be portrayed on the canvas he handles. ​

Francis Bacon. Triptych. 1974-1977

Panning for none is not the only canvas that suggests a degree of homage: Death and the Maiden (after Munch) (2016) is not so much a postmodern appropriation of Munch’s 1894 painting as it is an electrified regeneration, with the maiden’s sensuously curved buttocks, it is a strangely eroticised tango of mortality.

Edvard Munch. Death and the Maiden. engraving. 1894

Similarly, Danger, Confined Space (2015) portrays a humanistic figure with a gnarled horses skull for a head in a style not unlike Albert Tucker’s Apocalyptic horse (1956). However where Tucker’s work clearly described death in the harsh outback, Krzywokulski portrays a Minotaur clearly throbbing with dangerous energy, confined in a flimsy glass vial, a creature from hell capable of unleashing Armageddon. Tucker’s creature is dead. Krzywokulski’s, whilst confined, is potently alive.

Albert Tucker. Apocalyptic Horse. 1956

If you like your art plasticised and polite, Krzywokulski is not for you. His work exudes an honesty that can be challenging, but he battles his demons with exuberance in dark celebrations of survival and the soul. And he wins.
– Ashley Crawford ​​

Ashley Crawford is a freelance cultural critic and arts journalist based in Melbourne and is the author of a number of books on Australian art, including Transformations: The Work of Sonia Payes (2016) and Spray, The Work of Howard Arkley (co-author, 1997). He is a regular contributor to The Age, The Australian, The Guardian, The Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald, Australian Art Collector, Art Monthly, and numerous other publications.

© Ezra Krzywokulski 2018