The Language of Art
Bob Chrzanowski speaks fluently about composition, imagery and texture
by Mara Soloway
First published June 2016 in Lifestyles & Homes Magazine
Drip, puddle, ripple, pool. While these aren’t typical words used when talking about painting, they are part of artist Bob Chrzanowski’s lexicon to describe his way of moving paint on a canvas. He watches how it flows and how pigments drop out and settle on the canvas, often guiding it by tilting the canvas or using a blow dryer. It’s fitting these words evoke the movement of water; they come from his years as a watercolorist.
He doesn’t like the language of art labels, although Expressionism, Realism and Impressionism might work depending on the piece. Or it could be a mix.
“I just paint,” Bob says. “I would say that my new work is Expressionist because it’s all about liquid paint and how it literally flows, it does what it wants to do. If I’m painting figures and florals, the style is Representational. But they’re all painted the same way with transparent liquid paint.”
Bob is currently concentrating on geometric abstracts. “For a long time, I've been observing that my paintings start off in the underpaint stage as certain geometric shapes. At first I thought I was using fractal geometry – the geometry of living things,” he said. “Then I realized that I was simply creat-ing balance of color and shape, without symmetry, detail or even subject. Simple intuitive shapes.”
Intuitive – like the way Bob feels young people communicate using the arts. For some, the arts are the only ways they can communicate. “Whether they are happy or in pain, some are bursting with talent. Many are communicating outside of themselves, by swiping a screen, sounding a tone on a keyboard, mixing a color,” he said. “This is Art as Language. I hope our schools and technology can give them the choices they need to find their own language.”
Bob’s artistic expression is also evident in how he names his paintings. A dense stand of birch trees is “Golden Way.” Tulips go beyond being pretty flowers to “Drama Queens.” Galloping horses stir up the earth and evoke “Thunder.” The names he gives to his abstracts – “Interface,” “Random Access,” “Promises Kept” – let the viewer question their own interpretations.
In the 1990s, he switched from watercolors to acrylic and oils, applying to them the watercolor techniques of diluting the paint, working with canvas laid horizontally so that the translucent and metallic paint he applies pools and ripples and, as he says, “does its own thing,” and the pigments fall out of the paint and settle on the canvas.
“Since the 1990s I’ve been trying to perfect oil wash and oil glazes,” he adds. “I gave up watercolors years ago when I discovered I could do watercolors with acrylic; therefore, I could work on over-sized canvases – some 10-foot ones – and not have to mat or frame them.” He uses paints that are saturated enough that he can thin them down and use as translucent.
Bob observes that layers of watercolor dissolve the lower paint and create another color. “Layering transparent acrylic and oil glazes, however, allows me to see through each color down to the texture. This creates transparent green-red and blue-red-purple-greens, with a little metallic sparkle in between – colors I can’t get mixing impasto [opaque-paste] paint.” Think of layers of stained glass with light shining through.
Bob’s signature style starts from the original canvas and ends with a beautiful, multi-layered work that has great textural details, shines with metallic pigment and leads the viewer on a visual discovery through the mix of warm and cool tones and textures.
Because his technique involves several steps, at any given time he has 10 or so works in progress in his Houston home/studio. His first stage involves texturizing can-vases with a matte medium to give them random high/low relief, as if applying stucco to a wall. At this point, he doesn’t know how the texture will be incorporated into the final work.
“I would take all the credit, but I didn’t do it. The paint did it.”
He then paints the first layer, which he calls underpainting, and later puts on the final layer. In both stages, Bob watches the liquid paint as particles fall out, as new colors appear, as texture makes itself known. A rough textured area might become rocks, a more lightly textured area might become a body of water.
“I would take all the credit, but I didn’t do it,” he said. “The paint did it.”
Bob also has several works in the almost-finished stage: hanging on walls so he can look at them in different lighting and from different distances.
With so many paintings in different stages, Bob doesn’t ever sit and watch paint dry. After his first cup of coffee in the morning, Bob crosses the thresh-old between living and painting spaces – which often overlap – and starts working.
“I’m a very ambitious and active person, so I want to be doing something all the time,” he said. This has been a successful philosophy for Bob, who has been a working artist since high school in Pennsylvania and through earning a masters of fine art degree in jewelry and sculpture from the Instituto Allende in San Miguel, Mexico. In those years, he drew, painted and sculpted whatever people asked him to. This was artistically rewarding and taught him how people, especially non-artists, communicate their interest in and appreciation of art.
Bob’s works have been exclusively shown at Thornwood Gallery at 2643 Colquitt St. in Houston since 2002. They are in private and corporate collections across the U.S. and several countries. A local collector who has purchased more than 30 of Bob’s pieces over the last 16 years said, “I love his variety of styles and how his work changes and evolves. Whether they are florals or landscapes, they are wonderful. And his abstracts are amazing.”
To see more of Bob Chrzanowski’s artwork, visit the Thornwood Gallery in person or online at thornwoodgallery.com; click on his name under the Artists tab.