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Artist of the Month - November 2005

Contour over Color in Michael Kaniecki’s Art
By Annabelle Numaguchi

Two things are immediately evident about Michael Kaniecki’s art when glancing at his work on display at his home/studio; first, he’s hard to peg, and second, he’s got enough talent to defy being pegged.
Kaniecki’s art ranges widely in subject matter, color palette, medium and size. He seems comfortable with and curious about visual art in a myriad of forms. Through his work, he has explored creating nudes, landscapes, still lifes, and abstracts.

Many of his drawings are monochromatic, or nearly so, and he has created several ink drawings using bold hues of red and black. A little of his work also features vibrant colors. The work he has done and exhibits in his home is done in paint, pastel, ink and charcoal.

The one continuity I perceive in Kaniecki’s art is a fluidity with lines and shapes. Although he uses color effectively within the works that are polychromatic, he displays a penchant for contours.

This preference becomes obvious in the drawings and paintings he has done in the last year since he arrived in Moab. Where most painters who become inspired by the dramatic scenery around us regale themselves in vibrant, multi-hued palettes, Kaniecki’s landscapes are primarily in black and white.

The scenery is recognizable even as Kaniecki shifts from representational art to more abstract. The angles, shapes and contours recogni
zable to this area surface in his work, but the actual image is more difficult to define and the end result may remind the viewer of this area, but not of a specific locale.

"City Park"

This quality is evident in the ink wash entitled “City Park” (shown), as it walks the fine line between representational and abstract. The most outstanding features are the quick vertical lines, which are surrounded by various shapes ranging in tones. There is a resemblance to trees shading a park, but it is the title that suggests that image.

Kaniecki’s current interest is moving him into abstracts. He attributes his readiness to explore this form to his perception that it allows him to be more intuitive, less conscious, or as he puts it, “it lets the marks speak.”
He recently finished a four part series in charcoal entitled “Creation” (shown), which depicts the metamorphosis of a plume of mist dividing and separating an amorphous inky cloud. In each drawing, the transition reaches a new level, reminiscent of text book images of cell division. This series was inspired by a dream he had and the naturally flowing shapes and curves reflect this tendency of the artist to allow the marks to speak for themselves.

Another manifestation of this shift towards the abstract in Kanieck’s current work is the series he has done on tumbleweeds. Fascinated by this dried plant and it’s intricate patterns, he has explored this subject in several mediums.

In one expansive work entitled “Universe” that measures 4 feet squared, Kaniecki depicts the tumbleweed with black charcoal, excepting the center, which looks like a glowing red ember. A second work entitled “Tumbleweed” (shown) is done in oil pastels, featuring reds and blues, and resembles a burning bush, the tendrils of the dried tumbleweed snaking up like flames.

Kaniecki’s interest in patterns is a remnant of the decades he spent in industrial design, starting with a job designing tires for Goodyear. Although he always had a drive to pursue art, he felt family pressure to “get a real job,” and like many like him, he segued his artistic interests and talents into attaining a B.S. in industrial design.

This field eventually took him and his wife, Fredericka (or Freddie) to Seattle, where they spent thirteen years. For part of the time, Kaniecki worked for an ad agency owned by artists who employed other artists. The job gave him a strong circle of friends who occasionally exhibited or collaborated together. One exercise they pursued was to have an artist begin a sketch and then hand it over to a second person to finish it. Kaniecki says that this was an interesting idea to pursue as it allowed him to “see how much you actually own your own work.”

Another aspect of working in industrial design that attracted Kaniecki was the process of creating thumbnail drawings to explore a visual idea. Because of its rapidity and lack of refinement, he found this process relaxed and loose, allowing for a great deal of spontaneity, or as he describes it, “it flows out of you.”

This influence is still easily evident in his current work, particularly among the red and black ink drawings. Many of these feature tiny images repeated several times, sometimes changed minutely by a line or a reversal of color. Kaniecki explains that these are a result of an artist’s exercise in which the drawer practices or explores making lines spontaneously and then repeating the same lines. They are the artists’ version of playing scales.

Unlike many accomplished artists, Kaniecki seems to still enjoy testing and honing his manual skills. This willingness to commit himself to rote exercises belies his real attitude toward art, which is a belief in passionate self-expression. Again, a musical analogy comes to mind to explain this balance; he is a visual jazz expressionist who is willing to master the basic skills in order to use and manipulate them in his own impromptu creations.

This improvisation explains the wide range of Kaniecki’s art. He claims that he gets bored specializing in subject matter or mediums, but the truth is, his abilities allow him to explore so many possibilities that little time passes before a new idea calls to him and he follows that path.

In addition to raw talent and honed skills, Kaniecki has freedom to pursue his inspiration in art. By choice, he is not attempting to make a living as an artist. In part, he doesn’t want to be limited to producing what other people ask for. He recalls from his days as an industrial designer the frustration of setting aside your own artistic interests in order to create what is expected of you. The other reasons why he chooses not to pursue the business side of art is that he is simply, “so in love with the things I create.”

The possibility of exploring so many visual ideas keeps Kaniecki excited and passionate about art.
His interest in art extends beyond producing it to thinking about the process. Freddie describes him as “a bit of an art philosopher,” and proof of this lies in a seven-step process entitled “The Artist’s Path” that he uses to define the creative process.

He has also become an integral part of Moab’s burgeoning artist community. He has joined the board of the Moab Arts and Recreation Center (MARC) and has helped create the Artists Alliance, a group that is promoting this town as an art destination.

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