Mary Hrbacek
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Sustainable Trees 2014

Trees are essential for the sustainability of our planet. They inhale carbon monoxide and exhale the oxygen that enables us to breathe. Without them, our environment would be barren. Through the action of photosynthesis, leaf chlorophyll absorbs the sun’s rays, synthesizing nutrients that are transported through root systems that penetrate as far as 70 feet into the earth’s core. Their ecosystems create habitats that nourish and support countless species of birds, animals, insects and microorganisms, providing shelter and shade from the harshness of the sun’s rays. Trees are directly relevant to the existence of the peoples of the world, and to the problems caused by the disastrous climactic upheavals that challenge the global environment.

The foundation of my art is actual tree bark in its carbonized form, charcoal; therefore, my tree drawings are made of trees. My tree painting work pivots on an extreme charcoal drawing practice that shifts from solid mass to line, inscribing meaning through the carved white space that contrasts with deep black elements which mine the charcoal media’s limits. My hybrid paintings take transformation to the borders between imagination and belief, yielding semi-abstract human-tree amalgams morphing possible meanings, which test the similarities between human anatomical features and tree forms. They symbolize the ultimate interconnectedness between mankind and nature.

Trees hibernate in winter and are reborn in spring, providing symbols of hope and resurrection. They rejuvenate us by expanding our imaginations, illuminating our minds. Trees are at the center of the sustainable development that seeks to preserve a sense of wonder at the beauty of nature and the infinity of its majesty. They are a playground, a place for contemplation and a source of life whose presence makes cities livable. When the wind blows, their swaying motions suggest that they are dancing to the rhythms of the breezes. In my art, I focus on the essence that originates within, to accentuate its variability through the visual language of color and form. We must save the trees to sustain life on our beautiful earth.


I make anthropomorphic trees that resemble people; they are
not realistic, but evocative.  They look like someone is "there."
 Body parts, emotional states, or certain poses and gestures, 
may emerge in different ways for different viewers.

The paintings are created with acrylic on linen; the drawings
are made with charcoal on paper.

Metamorphosis: Entwined  2011

My new series of paintings, Entwined, is inspired by anthropomorphic trees I discovered in Central Park, in Brooklyn, and while traveling in China and Italy. Suffused with feelings of revelation and regeneration, the paintings are anchored in symbols of transformation in Roman poet Ovid’s work, The Metamorphoses. I have been drawing trees for ten years, while also working from live models. Gradually the human physique and tree limbs merged in my psyche, fusing human and tree anatomy into a hybrid essence. Trees become a refuge and a sanctuary as the forms reveal themselves as hollowed out, hallowed, haunted and inhabited. Dark monarchs and monsters, entwined Majestic couples, animals, and faces emerge in the poetic context of multiple, shifting identities. Understated elusive forms morph into penises, entrails, breasts and vaginas as the varied personas within us, and in our networks of relationships, are revealed to correspond to the mysterious affinities in the tree configurations. The unity of all life is accentuated. Transformation in nature mirrors the perpetual changes we as human beings undergo through our multiple roles and masks.

Amon Ra Sun Sculptures

Egyptian idols and artifacts inspired my determination to evoke a glimmer of the essence of ancient devotion by employing gold paint to suggest the inherent value, and significance of all things, whether they are manufactured or natural.  The paint suggests the equivalent of sunlight by illuminating objects with a golden glow.  Since the gold standard is the epitome of recognized worth, the message is that all material things have innate value.  Cast-offs, and junk left for trash pick-up, often intrigue me. Gridded scraps of plastic that were formerly used to organize kitchen cabinets, add a ready-made structure to the sculptures.  Nothing can be truly discarded; it can only be put in another context or environment. 

I combine objects from the street, whose forms attract me, with natural materials, that can be gathered easily, like leaves, pinecones, sticks and stones. I found enormous pinecones on the ground in Sequoia National Park. Each leaf in my ”pile” has been picked from a tree and hand-painted.  Natural objects combined with manufactured items, generate energy that germinates unexpected fresh meaning.  Several of the quasi-devotional sculptures can be viewed as shrines to venerate nature.  I don’t carve objects; I paint them, sew them with thin wire, and construct forms with clearly delineated shapes.  The lightweight wire mesh adds transparency, allowing the fragments inside the artworks to be viewed. Ultimately, the works are organic rather than systematically structured.