I first met Janet Kozachek years ago at the old House of Pizza in Orangeburg, one of the only places to have lunch in that small town back in the day. I was immediately touched. She looked exactly like a character in one of my childhood story books. It was about the Golden Goose, and how the townspeople (in a long sticky line) exhibited their greediness for gold by being unable to unhook from the chain of folks who had tried to pinch a golden feather. It is an old Russian tale.
Janet looked like the girl who was directly attached to the goose in my book. It was stunning. Russian in extraction, her almond eyes and her Chagall-like wisps of hair connected me immediately with this old memory.
Janet came to us with amazing recommendations: she was the first non-Chinese person to earn a Certificate of Graduate Study from the Bejing Central Art Academy (1985), and a graduate degree from Parsons School of Design (1991). She studied ceramics in Holland in 1986, and later with the granddaughter of Maria Martinez. In 1999 she was the founding president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA). Her work is just as broad as this mosaic of an education.
All of this background is represented in her exhibition of Small Works currently at the Orangeburg Arts Center. In most of the works, one can detect the influence of multiple academic experiences, but clearly created by western hands. Local art viewers remembering the Impressionist exhibition at the Columbia Museum last year could find common ground between Janet’s paintings and the work of Chiam Soutine, then exhibited.
The series of little painted vessels (there are seventeen), done in acrylic, stand boldly and aggressively on their trimmed ground, allowing examination of their surface creatures. One can find small worlds pictorially within these vessel walls. The grounds on which these vessels sit seem likewise worldly-influenced, and all nervously vibrates. Janet creates these little wonders by paint removal and scratching as much as by application with a brush. She calls them “painting/monoprints”. The center Chinese stamp on the wall of this teapot means “the person inside”.
Tango dancers done in quick calligraphic-like lines exhibit Janet’s Chinese self, tapping into the gene-mixing of her history and coming up with a hybrid. To some Janet has added cartouches saying (in translation) “Chinese tango”.
The most unsettling and evocative works are a series of paintings of troll dolls (yes, the ones from the sixties), the doll shapes again dominating the clipped ground. The surfaces of these examples are brilliant and shiny, done in oil paint created by Janet using Renaissance techniques. Some of the paintings in the exhibition feature likewise Renaissance ground preparation. This extra work on the part of the painter makes the surfaces seem magic.
The detail and description in these paintings is masterly, and examples include both the fronts and the backs of these dolls. But why troll dolls?
In a way, the brilliant colors used in the dolls seem to be pure light and heat that needs to attach to something. Simple, geometric, vibrating Amish quilts come to mind as similar in color “heat” if not in visual language. The trolls can be spooky, but their description is not. Here’s why they exist: Janet was very ill when they were created.
Janet has suffered through an undiagnosed illness for some years. During the time the troll paintings were created, she was at a low point, could barely leave the bed, and could lean up to paint just sometimes. These dolls were collected by her, at hand, and she could lift them. Therefore, she painted them. That simple.
Could one make an allusion to the boomer experience with these paintings? Maybe, who else would know about these strange beings? Further, in the example above, we see a black troll. There were no black trolls. Perhaps in this one she asserts a sense of place.
In general, this exhibition is a tribute to the healing nature of art. All of these small works being done (over 90 in all) during the course of her illness, it is proof that the time she has had to be quiet has not been lost.
A former instructor of art at Columbia College, Coker College and OC Tech, three time SC Arts Commission Fellowship recipient, and winner of a Regional National Endowment for the Arts award, Lee Malerich shares her home in Neeses with artist Glenn Saborosch. Her most well-known work consists of personally expressive narrative embroideries; the most topical ones are about her battles with colon cancer. In a new life, and producing new work, Lee is making sculptural work from waste and found objects from flea markets, a long time interest not served by the embroidered work. What is common about all her efforts, including creating an art village from ten acres, is that creativity heals. She also blogs at: leemalerich.wordpress.com