October 2015

Ecstatic Forest, 2014
Oil on panel over canvas
38 x 47 inches

Karla Wozniak

Karla Wozniak, returned to the Bay Area after a nineteen year sojourn in the East that included time in the “beautiful, lush, and mountainous” valleys of east Tennessee. She wondered, in an interview this summer, how her paintings, always shaped by her surroundings, would change in a drought landscape. The direction her work takes in the future should prove interesting should the Bay Area’s social and demographic changes finding their way into the work of this painter who once considered an urban planning career. Here she continues to mix contemporary commercial culture — signs, billboards and so on — into her abstractly organized landscape paintings in the manner of the exuberant proto-Pop Cubist Stuart Davis, whom she admires.

Exuberance is the word for Wozniak’s current paintings, which respond to the verdant landscape outside Knoxville, near Smoky Mountain National Park. Ecstatic is another appropriate word, and one that Wozniak cites in relation to the landscapes of another influence, Charles Burchfield. "Kudzu Hillside” is inspired by the “anthropomorphized, figural” trees swallowed by that invasive plant of the title, which has a “choking, aggressive” quality. It’s also, with its tropical palette and obsessive, rambunctious patterning, only just legible as a landscape; visionary experience comes closer to the mark, but an idiosyncratic one. Imagine a David Hockney canvas morphing into a Stella assemblage, with the eccentric humor of Elizabeth Murray or Roy DeForest. Wozniak, on her Knoxville landscapes: “I reached the right head space to be able to make things up.” "Mountain Building," "Kaleidoscope Tree," “Undergrowth," Woodburn Drive" and "Red Bud Road” all demonstrate the qualities that Wozniak admires in the strongly individualistic Bay Area painters of the postwar era: “heightened color, tactile surface, and an outsider quality.”