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Exhibition Reviews

"Peopled Forest of My Mind"
A Conversation with Artist Mary Hrbacek

By Edward Rubin

Mary Hrbacek’s solo exhibition "Peopled Forest of My Mind" curated by Elga Wimmer on view at the Creon Gallery in New York City from April 10 to 30, 2013, features Hrbacek’s new, very small and very large, personified tree paintings. Inspired by her dense dramatic charcoal drawing, executed on stark white paper, Hrbacek cultivates eerie hybrid plant forms as they emerge through the drawing process, coaxing these unfathomable figural apparitions into coherent energized human-like entities that disclose the organic origins of all natural systems. The works stress our primal link to nature in an increasingly high tech global existence.

The following conversation was conducted with Mary Hrbacek over the telephone, as well as via email by Edward Rubin on April 23, 2013.


Mary Hrbacek, "The Wanderer,"
2012. Acrylic on Linen. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Mary Hrbacek, "Witch & Bewitched,"
2012. Acrylic on Linen. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Mary Hrbacek, "Imploring,"
2012. Acrylic on Linen. Photo courtesy of the artist.


Edward Rubin: Why Trees? What is it that made you start painting trees? Give us a little history of what made you switch from painting rocks to painting portraits of trees.

Mary Hrbacek: Good question! After doing the intricate Southwest rock series, I needed a respite from working abstractly. Because of asthma I couldn't use oil, turpentine or acrylic so I used a heavy textural surface on which I dripped inks. Eventually I realized I needed an image to work from to make my art convincing. At that time I had no studio so I spent my time in Riverside Park, an area full of
Sycamore trees. The peeling bark and natural patterns attracted me, and I began to draw the trees, at first without realizing their anthropomorphic possibilities.

ER: I have heard people referring to you as a “curator of nature,” a moniker I rather love. How do you choose the trees that become your subjects?

MH: Actually, I don’t select my subjects they choose me! When I find that a particular tree rivets my attention I cannot ignore it. I photograph various viewpoints choosing evocative human-like forms that often suggest gender. I often make several drawings and paintings of the same compelling subject.

ER: Many of your early tree paintings appear to be anthropomorphic. Is this something that you realized, or perhaps even felt at the time?

MH: In 1997 I started to walk in Riverside Park every day and I would sit down and work on my pencil drawings. At that time I also was drawing from live models. One day my vision changed! I saw the trees in a totally new way, with limbs and other body parts closely related to human anatomy. I realized that the trees that attracted my attention appeared to be anthropomorphic. I felt astounded when my vision changed, as the tree limbs and human anatomy merged in my psyche. The anthropomorphic quality sets these trees apart, and makes them powerful and memorable.

The subject of the tree invokes lore from the earliest of human experiences. The Egyptians believed that "souls" rested in Sycamore trees before their long journey across the desert to the next world. Tree roots penetrate as much as 70 feet into the earth's surface bringing nutrients produced through the sun by photosynthesis deep into the earth. I view trees as objects of significance and interest. I admire them. They matter to me in the way that a friend matters. Exploring their forms in my art nurtures my life and sustains my intellect and imagination.

Mary Hrbacek, "Creature Camouflage Diptych," Acrylic on linen. Photo courtesy of the artist.

ER: This may sound silly, but in your travels around the world you have painted all kinds of trees. What is it that attracts you to a particular tree? If trees can be said to have individual personalities, have you found any differences among the various types of trees that you have captured. Do trees talk to you, so to speak, and in what ways?

MH: Your question doesn't sound silly at all! I am especially attracted by trees that bring the anthropomorphic vibe out strongly. For instance, to me my painting Dark Monarch looks exactly like a king seated on a throne and Hanging Suspended especially evokes an upside down male torso. The trees are actually as different as humans. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but their persona or personality accentuates their unique identity most strongly. Actually, once in Riverside Park I heard a faint whisper. I looked up to see where the sound came from. I immediately noticed a tree with sap seeping from a broken limb. Go figure!

ER: When you see a tree that you know you want to paint do you draw it first or do you take a photograph. In other words what is your process from first seeing a tree that you'd like to paint to the finished painting itself?

MH: If I could sit on the spot to draw every tree I find in my travels I would. Since I move from place to place, country to country when traveling, I find I must take photographs so that I can later explore the forms in my highly intuitive charcoal drawing process. Then I translate the image into an acrylic painting on linen. I am very particular about the forms. I do not stop working on a painting until I get to a point that satisfies the excitement I derive from clearly honed forms.

ER: In this exhibition you are showing your charcoal drawings, a first as far as I know. When do you use charcoal, and how did you come to create such black
charcoal drawings?

MH: I’ve have shown my charcoal drawings before, though not lately I admit. Curator Elga Wimmer liked these drawings and thought they should been seen alongside my paintings. Charcoal is the oldest medium used by humans. It is also made from tree bark. I have used Stonehenge printmaking paper for years. One summer the manufacturer sealed the sheets so that I had to press down very hard to make the charcoal adhere to the paper. I knew instantly that this was an important development in my work.

ER: I've seen a number of your exhibitions, the most recent being Covert Narratives, a group show this past February at the Tenri Institute here in New York City, and now this solo exhibition, and each time, just when I think "what can she do now and where can she take this” you surprise me by adding new elements, an odd twist, or a change in the size and shape of the canvases you use. At Tenri you added human and animal figures into your paintings. I loved this touch. In this exhibition at Creon we are greeted by a wall of very small paintings and then we meet all six by nine feet of The Wanderer which you said is your largest work to date. What is the process, the challenges, the adjustments that you have to make in going from a small work to such a large work as this?

MH: I think I am becoming less of an "outsider" in my life, which is having an impact on my imagery. Unconsciously, I have been adding several figures that relate to one another instead of focusing on a single lone tree. I am less afraid of people now, than I was for a long time. I feel more safe and confident than I once did. It is hard to fathom the fact that a small work can be even more difficult to resolve than a larger piece. The brushes one uses are very tiny, but the image must be convincing, done "just right" to be both established and believable. My eyes were quite strained from working on the small pieces. The large work took everything I have both physically and emotionally to complete. I had to go back in to deepen the forms to resolve and elaborate on areas that I had hoped were done. It takes a lot of tenacity to work large but I intend to expand my repertoire in the near future by working on large pieces in both horizontal and vertical rolls. I like having The Wanderer hang loosely from the top. To me, it looks very playful and organic. It is challenging but it is also exciting to break out of the "usual" rectangular format. I am ready for the change and the challenge, thanks to my new audience whose responses are inspiring me.

ET: The backgrounds of your paintings appear to play a very important part of your paintings. Can you talk to this? Can you tell me how you select your backgrounds as far as color? Is the time of day involved in what colors you select?

Mary Hrbacek working on The Wanderer, 2012. Photo courtesy of the artist.

MH: I paint the backgrounds in a flat graphic mode in order to separate the image from naturalistic references. I want to accentuate the personality of the specific tree to elaborate its unique forms and attributes. The color is related to the form by either harmony or by contrasting tone. A color from within the tree may work to unify the image when it is applied to the background space. I often change the space surrounding the tree form many times to get the right hue and tone, but it doesn't relate to time of day, location or season of the year.

ER: Mary, tell my why you don’t place your trees in a more naturalistic setting?

MH: I want to present my subjects in an isolated, symbolic space that sets them apart from their environment and from art historical associations. The tree becomes the total focus of the painting. This choice gives me the freedom to accentuate the tensions, the gestures and the emotions that specific tree forms evoke.

ER: I see that you like to use flat colors as a surrounding ground?

MB: The flat harmonious colors I use in the background are intended to highlight the sculptural character of the shapes which provides the slightly disjointed aura that transports the pieces out of conventional time and location.

ER: Your paintings have an animated Disneyesque quality to them. On the one hand they appear carton-like, say a still from a Disney film, and on the other hand one also thinks of the naturalism of Audubon, though with a lot less detail of course. Is this a quality you aim for?

MH: Good point! The Disneyesque quality arises from the simplicity and cartoon-like animation of the movement in some of my tree forms. Because my vision is not figurative but representational, I tend to omit realistic detail. It doesn't interest me. I just want to establish the authenticity of my images. Perhaps these factors account for the "cartoon" character of some of my works. I don't relate to or think about Audubon at all. However, because nature is the source of the works, they may conjure thought of Audubon.

ER: All of your paintings have titles that seem to be part of your whole presentation. How do you go about choosing titles?

MH: I choose titles suggested by the works themselves. For instance, The Wanderer strikes me as a figure that is in a perpetual state of searching for meaning for what matters in life. This does suggest a myth like the Myth of Sisyphus but to me it also makes sense in an everyday way. The piece Woman Entwined is one of my repeated power images that reflect the feelings I have had of being "trapped" in my life. This tree-woman is bound by nature to the vines that surround her. The piece called Imploring refers to what appears to be a female tree, with arms outstretched making a plea to the departing “male" figure who has apparently had enough! All these meanings are obviously metaphoric and symbolic of course. I hope these remarks illuminate my art for the viewer.

ER: What's Next? Can you tell us what's coming down to pike? What to expect. Or is this something you only know when you arrive at it?

MH: My art is totally intuitive. I don't think about "theory" or concepts. Because my images are driven by the motif I never know what to expect. I am open to the configurations and networks that originally attracted me within the subject. I do find that I am focusing more on multiple tree trunks with clear figurative elements whose underpinnings hint at drama or relationships. I find my work is more prone now to establishing fables and myths about anthropomorphic figures from the woods. Witch and Bewitched is a good example of this direction.

If you go:
Mary Hrbacek: "Peopled Forest of My Mind"
April 10 – 30, 2013
Curated by Elga Wimmer
CREON Gallery 238 East 24 Street, 1B NY, NY 10010
Norm Hinsey Gallery Director 646-265-5508
Hours: Wed. & Thurs. 6:30 -8 p.m., Sat. 12 – 6 p.m. or appt.



Edward Rubin, based in New York City, writes on the arts, culture, and entertainment. He can be reached at

art reviews from around new york

John Haber

in New York City

Latest News and Views

4.29.13 — SOME TREES

at creon gallery  by mary hrbacek

In Dante’s Inferno, in the seventh circle of hell, suicides have become trees, with harpies eating away their leaves and nesting in the branches. It is a pain lasting through eternity. For Mary Hrbacek, too, a forest has human longings. She gives trees human limbs and gestures. They reach out, often toward one another, and at least once they touch. Now and then, they may even find creature comforts.

Hrbacek did not have The Divine Comedy in mind or a watercolor on the theme by William Blake. She has no harpies, although goats nestle in one small acrylic. Where Blake hints at beings trapped within sturdy trunks, in one case upside-down,

hers are the trees—their temptingly familiar forms all right side up. Still, her titles speak of unfulfilled desires, Reaching and Imploring. The twisted, leafless branches contain demons. She mostly cuts her trees off from the ground, much less from their roots.

They are not just suffering. The associations in her artist statement run from fantasy to her favorite tree in Central Park. The paintings, too, are neither entirely naturalistic nor folklike. Skies run to mostly flat backgrounds in shades between silver, blue, and green, and one title accepts graciously how much the bark looks like camouflage. The ambivalence extends to trees as monarch and wanderer, witch and bewitched, and she clearly identifies with both sides of the story. Most are women, but their sensuality does not depend on that.

As with Lisa Yuskavage, one could grow skeptical of the drama, along with the occasional boobs or butts. One tree has the smile of a cartoon lizard. For all that, Hrbacek is softening contours and extending her range. At Creon through April 30, she smudges charcoal into paper, creating multiple blacks, and one painting, unstretched, extends from floor to ceiling, cut from an eighteen-foot roll of linen. It also has gradations of light in the sky and no hint of a face. As it happens, the greater naturalism goes with more extreme gestures, particularly in charcoal, but also in the nine-foot tree’s thin limbs and the hollow stump of a lost branch.

Hrbacek is closer in spirit to Romanticism than to the contemporary urban and suburban theater of John Currin. And American art has a long history of parallels between human relations, humanity and the land, and art and nature—what Asher B. Durand called Kindred Spirits. Even a

poet as postmodern as John Ashbery wrote of “Some Trees” as “amazing: Each / joining a neighbor,” so that “you and I / Are suddenly what the trees try / To tell us we are.”

Louise Dudis is on still more intimate terms with trees, but the real thing. As her show puts it, at Robert Henry through April 28, she brings one at “Eye Level with the Smallest Leaf”—and then some. Her camera picks out the texture of bark and lichen like pigment on canvas, with the leaves a firmer background. She does not, however, work small. Successive prints set side by side create a larger panorama from a single tree, the small gaps between them bringing the picture plane that closer. One could mistake them for a fisheye perspective except for the mass at the center, and one could mistake its twists and turns for taking place in real time, only the motion is all hers then and yours now.

I always thought that Dante’s punishment for suicides is unbearably harsh, given that they would not have come to their fates without suffering in life. At the end of Purgatory, though, he comes to another tree, the Tree of Knowledge, and allows it to bloom.






The Secret Life of Trees November 26, 2012
Posted by fame nyc mag editor in Arts.
Tags: Contemporary Art, Katharine T. Carter, Mary Hrbacek, New York City Artists

“The Wanderer,” acrylic on canvas, 6 x 9,” 2012

In Manhattan or anywhere in the tri-state area – where the words hustle and bustle are placed somewhere in our daily mantra– the opportunity to observe nature is usually far and few between. Everyone knows the idiom, “Can’t see the woods for the trees.” But in the case of Mary Hrbacek, she sees the trees, the woods and the world that exists within.

I first met Hrbacek during a dinner with respected art advisor Katharine T. Carter. The description of her work fascinated me. Recently I visited Hrbacek’s studio in Harlem to view her art and was pleasantly surprised to find that she is not only an artist, but a curator of nature.

Hrbacek uses trunks, leaves and branches to compose work that exposes the symbiotic relationship that exists between man and the habitat in which we live in. Before my visit, I viewed some of her art online and found it to be interesting, but in-person Hrbacek’s work became animated silhouettes – characters anxious to take their cue onto the proverbial stage of life.

Indeed everyone and everything has a story to tell. Found in Brooklyn, Central Park, Vermont and other places Hrbacek has traveled, the trees selected in her pieces reach far beyond the simplistic, obtuse approach to featuring nature in art. Hrbacek’s work causes the viewer to pause. She pulls the soul out of something thought to be void of one and supplies it with a voice. No longer to be ogled just for the ability to provide shade or admired for their stature or splendor during the changing of the seasons, these trees revealed the delicate dichotomy between masculine and feminine properties.

Virility, frailty, strength, sensuality are all themes that resonate throughout Hrbacek’s work. Through a series of bold, contrasting color selections, Hrbacek’s trees express hope and loss, desire and aversion and all that is ephemeral and divine between the relationship that man has with the universe as well as with members of the opposite sex. Hrbacek’s work presents a pensive look at questions and situations that have reappearing in the telling of man’s history since the days of cavemen. Through these nameless and faceless subjects, we learn more about ourselves.

The Tuesday after Superstorm Sandy I ventured out my home to discover dozens of trees lying in the middle of roads and resting on the roofs of houses and cars. Nature’s fury uprooted them from the earth and took blocks of concrete with them. In that moment, I again realized that nature and art, in one way or another, are always trying to tell us something , and this revelation made my recent visit to Mary Hrbacek’s studio all the more poignant.

Photos: Courtesy of Mary Hrbacek and F.A.M.E NYC Editor

Slideshow: F.A.M.E NYC Editor












SUNDAY, MARCH 18, 2007

Art Space Talk: Mary Hrbacek




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.



Mary Hrbacek

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."


Mary Hrbacek

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."



Mary Hrbacek

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."



Mary Hrbacek



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."


Mary Hrbacek


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."


Mary Hrbacek


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."



Mary Hrbacek

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. " "


Mary Hrbacek

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!"

Mary Hrbacek


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."


Mary Hrbacek


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."



Mary Hrbacek


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.


Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin



Nic said...

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

12:46 PM

ray Dicecco said...

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

12:09 PM

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.

12:11 PM








2012     Emese Krunak-Hajagos, "Toronto's Fran Hill Gallery Features Eight Contemporary New York Artists," Artes Magazine, February 28
             Earl Miller, "Toronto Via New York With Eight Artists," Curated by Ed Rubin, NY Arts Magazine, April
             Earl Miller, "In The End A Good Story Is All That Remains: Eight New York Artists Figuratively Speaking," Curated by Ed Rubin
             NY Museum; Curator's Choice, March

2011     Edward Rubin, "Mary Hrbacek’s Wounded Forests Touch the Human Heart," Adobeairstream, April 13
             Edward Rubin, "Entwined: Into the Woods! In Search of a metaphor for the Human Condition,"
               Artes Magazine, April 9
             Edward Rubin, "Mary Hrbacek at NY’s Creon Gallery: Entwined Depicts the Forest Primeval,"
               Berkshire Fine Arts, April 15
             Robert C. Morgan, "Entwined: Selected Paintings and Drawings by Mary Hrbacek," Catalogue Essay
             John Mendelsohn, "Entwined, Mary Hrbacek’s Paintings at Creon Gallery in New York City," dart International,
               Volume 12, number 2, p. 36
             Edward Rubin, "Entwined: Into the Woods!," Dialog of Arts. Moscow, Summer
             Ed Edward Rubin, NY Museums, CURATOR’S CHOICE, "Mary Hrbacek at CREON GALLERY in New York City,"
               Gallery Gazeteer, April 2011
             Edward Rubin, "Entwined…Metaphor for the Human Condition,", April 18, 2011
             Edward Rubin, "Entwined: Into the Woods!...," NY Arts Magazine, p. 144-145, Summer
2009     Dominick Lombardi, "Trees With Personality," Culture Catch, May
             Dominick Lombardi, "Winter Salon, Works on Paper," d’Art International, Winter
             Joel Simpson, "Winter Salon," The M Magazine, February 2009
             Dominick Lombardi, "Vibrant and Varied Works on Paper," Culture Catch, Jan. 9
2006     Julie Oakes, "X-Country Selection," Headbones Anthology, December
             Chris Twomey, "Entwined," Drawings, NY Arts Magazin, May/June
             Chris Twomey, "A Place To Hang," Review, Resolve Forty, On-line Magazine, December
2002     Korotkin, Joyce, Mary Elizabeth Hrbacek "Metamorphoses," NY Arts Magazine, January
2002     Lily Faust, Catalogue Essay
1999     U.S. 1, Princeton, NJ, TAWA INVITATIONAL, Mary Person Hrbacek, "Close Call" reproduced, July
1998     Simone, Ashley, "Art Show Alive and Well at Muscarelle," The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg,
1992     Bledsoe, Shari, "Drawings As Varied As Their Number"” The Virginia Gazette, Williamsburg, Apr






Culture Catch

Icons by Mary Hrbacek

Creon Gallery April 22 - May 2, 2009

Trees with Personality

by ddlombardi

Hrbacek Moving On

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.

Hrbacek Gold Cornucopia

Hrbacek On My Back
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 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.










The M Mag
The M Mag
The M Mag



NY Arts review



Hrbacek Entwined - Chris Twomey


Mary Hrbacek Split Decision


Gnarled branches and splayed tree trunks twist with kinetic energy in Mary Hrbacek’s charcoal drawings, “World Tree Series,” an exhibition curated by Matt Semler, director of the Roger Smith Lab Gallery. A culmination of ten years of experience in tree and figure drawing has resulted in Hrbaceks' confident prowess in taming the vine medium to actualize complex visual and conceptual ideas.
Inspired by metaphors of transformation in the poet Ovid’s “The Metamorphoses,” Hrbaceks’ leafless tree segments seem to reach out or clutch suggestively, hinting at aspects of the human form.
    From afar, each of the ten black and truncated shapes can read as undulating calligraphic marks contrasting sharply within the confines of the 20 x 30 in. white paper. Upon closer inspection, the shadowed recesses of a growth-like hollow evoke childhood memories of faces in the dark. Flailed bark becomes a woman’s torso and muscular protrusions suggest thrusting muscles or fists. Primitive archetypes lay beneath the surface of the forms, while the mind is encouraged to create fantasies in the dark from the suggestive tonal gradations.
    “Entwined,” a literal reading of two tree trunks entwined as one, is both sensuous and sensual. The dusty charcoal moves in tandem with the regenerative and passionate rendering of the trees’ embrace. The surface moves with the artist’s subtle shadings, so that a knotted whorl becomes a demented eye socket or a vortex sucking at a lover’s loin.
A magical forest is conjured; an adult version of childhood memories from, say, the film The Wizard of Oz. There, a forest literally comes alive. Trees grow faces/limbs and use them to pelt Dorothy, Toto, et al with apples from their own branches.  
That same sinister duality exists in Hrbaceks’ “World Tree Series,” where nature can turn on man/woman by becoming man/woman-like. Finely honed shapes, which are presented as stately and majestic, turn with a blink into secret and psychic perpetrators.
    Hanging these potent totems in the Roger Smith Hotel Lobby Space is delightfully subversive. The customers busily come and go, unconsciously passing the familiar botanicals during their progress. The churning, subconscious life force of the magical trees are poised, ready to encroach on the clients’ perceptions. Like these trees, our human surface resembles the expected; our construct outwardly shows itself by its cover, bark or voice. But, as our ancestors knew with their ancient wisdom as old as the tree, it is the undercurrent beneath the forms that gives us character. It is the subtle perversions and dreams that inspire life.








MARY HRBACEK’S “Metamorphosis”

By Lily Faust

In her recent charcoal drawings and paintings, Mary Hrbacek depicts a fanciful view of nature that is imprinted with the human spirit. Her imaginative work involves the anthropomorphic possibilities within that most prevalent emblem of nature, the tree, yielding a hybrid materiality between it and man.

As whimsical as the results may be, these drawings are clearly informed by the physical world: tree trunks that sprawl to catch the air, roots that reach into the earth like fingers, stubs of trees interrupted by death or decay. Mirroring the source of Hrbacek’s inspiration, her drawings comprise legible images that are clearly about the land and its outpouring. Simultaneously, though, the viewer finds herself in an eerie topology that is charged with hints of human beings; --a branch ending in a fist-like stub, or a limb yielding phallic connotation. Hrbacek seems to explore the amalgam of nocturnal and hidden facets within creature hood, chancing upon a human face on a hollowed tree trunk or a female torso on the rippled bark. The dimensionality of the figurative elements is enhanced by Hrbacek’s excellent control of charcoal. She utilizes it skillfully, grafting wild beings of her imagination into reality.

Conventional notions of abstraction are also present, characterized by sinuous, energized lines that demonstrate the artist’s intuitive take on nature as a field of discovery. These lines represent the pronounced linearity of branches, interrupting the softly contoured tree trunks, inviting the eye to travel from one edge of the paper to the other. The jagged outlines of leaves create loose patterns that, in a formal sense, contrast playfully with the solid, voluminous tree trunks. These linear markings mottle the drawing’s surface, creating ripples on the pictorial space. Subtle details such as knots in the wood serve a dual purpose. Both as a knot in the tree trunk and also as the eye of an unknown creature, they serve their figurative purpose. They can also be read as circular elements in an abstraction, creating the necessary rhythm in the balance of fluid lines, black and white contrasts and vertical volumes. But beyond that, these drawings are amalgams of nature and its human face, involving metaphors of transference and transformation. They convey Hrbacek’s personal narrative, recalling that precise moment in time when the spirit of man materialized in hauntingly conceived scenario.