November 2021  Vol. 2, No.10

The Cathartic Fantasies of Tanya Kukucka

I have already settled it for myself, so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.
― Georgia O’Keeffe

Wisdom of the Wind by Tanya Kukucka

Wisdom of the Wind

Acrylic on Board

20” x 20” (51 cm x 51 cm)

2016

Great art evokes a reaction by the viewers, but that is based on their own perceptions. People see and interpret art through a complex relationship between visual stimuli and their personal understanding of them. We see what we see and think what we think, but that often does not correlate with the artist’s inner motivations. That’s one reason why galleries and venues often demand from artists to submit statements to define their work, to explain what they were thinking, seemingly to provide understanding and context of what the artist’s idea was.

Advice From the Ancestors by Tanya Kukucka

Advice From The Ancestors

Acrylic on Paper

14” x 11” (35 cm x 28 cm)

2015

Infinite Angel by Tanya Kukucka

Infinite Angel

Acrylic on Masonite

30” x 24” (76 cm x 61 cm)

2016

Healing Angel by Tanya Kukucka

Healing Angel

Acrylic on Canvas

36” x 72” (92 cm x 183 cm)

2014

Tanya Kukucka, from the Hudson Valley in New York, does not do that. She does not care what you think, preferring Andy Warhol’s edict “Don’t think about making art – just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad. While they are deciding, make even more art.”

Kukucka’s recent art includes sculptures and portraits, both filled with vast symbolism and mystery. Her hard skills and sophisticated techniques are as notable as her unique conceptualizations. All of her artwork is exceptional in its rich originality and unusual visualizations. Her paintings, in particular, showcase refined elegance and exquisite style, with realistic, stunningly beautiful portraits of androgynous figures in fantasy world settings. Her sculptures combine natural and manmade materials to create otherworldly figures, often with dolls as the basis. She adorns and transforms them with paint, decorations, skulls, bones and other things until they are metamorphosized into illusory fantasy figures. One often repeated feature of her doll sculptures is an open torso cavity containing some other object.

Angel by Tanya Kukucka

Angel

Mixed Media Sculpture

18” x 22” x 6” (46 cm x 56 cm x 15 cm)

2010

Lughnasadh by Tanya Kukucka

Lughnasadh

Mixed Media Sculpture

28” x 13” x 13” (71 cm x 33 cm x 33 cm)

2000

Diana by Tanya Kukucka

Diana

Mixed Media Sculpture

48” x 14” x 14” (122 cm x 35.5 cm x 35.5 cm)

2013

The Worm Gets Its Wings by Tanya Kukucka

The Worm Gets Its Wings

Mixed Media Sculpture

33” x 24” x 12” (84 cm x 61 cm x 30.5 cm)

1998

Indeed, the artist’s personality is the diametric opposite of some of the more sinister interpretations of her art. She is sweet, shy, gentle, quiet and absolutely kind. Given her personality, one could expect that she would create joyful happy art like perhaps sunflowers in a vase or butterflies and bees on a flower. Indeed, she can do that if she wants. Her decorated urn, Finally Free, which holds the ashes of a family member, is precisely such an expression of natural, realistic beauty.

Wingbeats by Tanya Kukucka

Wingbeats

Acrylic on Porcelain

7” x 7” x 3” (18 cm x 18 cm x 7.5 cm)

2009

The reaction to her sculptures varies. Some viewers see it for what it is, a creative collage, an artist’s surrealistic play on unusual juxtapositions to create interesting new forms, part alien, part animal, part human. Others see a darker side, projecting their own perceptions on Kukucka’s sculptures, imagining them to be representative of something sinister, like witchcraft or occult. Kukucka categorically rejects the notion that her work is in any way demonic or satanic, “It’s their issue rather than mine. I am just exposing my inner feelings. Actually, I make these so that I can be a nice person. I am facing my own inner darkness. People ask me if I have nightmares. I don’t, because I do my art. As a child I held things in. Now I let it out. I see things from a different perspective.”

Indeed, the artist’s personality is the diametric opposite of some of the more sinister interpretations of her art. She is sweet, shy, gentle, quiet and absolutely kind. Given her personality, one could expect that she would create joyful happy art like 

perhaps sunflowers in a vase or butterflies and bees on a flower. Indeed, she can do that if she wants. Her decorated urn, Finally Free, which holds the ashes of a family member, is precisely such an expression of natural, realistic beauty.

Finally Free by Tanya Kukucka

Finally Free

Painted Ceramic

14” x 7” x 7” (36 cm x 18 cm x 18cm)

2009

The Visitation by Tanya Kukucka

The Visitation

Acrylic on Canvas

20” x 16” (51 cm x 40 cm)

2020

Beauty's Rose by Tanya Kukucka

Beauty’s Rose

11” x 17” (28cm x 43cm)

Acrylic on Board

2020

“I am facing my own inner darkness. People ask me if I have nightmares. I don’t, because I do my art.”

Awake by Tanya Kukucka

Awake

Acrylic on Masonite

10” x 8” (25 cm x 20 cm)

2019

Winter Goddess by Tanya Kukucka

Winter Goddess

Acrylic on Canvas

60” x 40” (152 cm x 101 cm)

2016

Carved Pumpkin 2021 by Tanya Kukucka

Carved Pumpkin

2021 

The symbolisms in her paintings are her expressions of her own inner anguish, merely personal coping mechanisms. For Tanya Kukucka, art is a cathartic process. It is not a representation of evil, not scary art intended to frighten Christians, but her own reaction to a scary world, based on her own life experiences and trauma. She lost her mom in a car accident at a young age and still laments over childhood experiences that have scarred her. She had to give up much of her teenage years by having to take care of her younger siblings and she had more than her share of the teenage angst and vulnerabilities. She was drawn to the heavy metal music scene and, like many teens, one of her escapes was watching horror movies, both of which has in some way informed her expressions. To this day she fixes lavish and extraordinary Halloween costumes and plays the dressing-up part to the hilt. She loves Alice in Wonderland and is intrigued by the magical. It is all just play. “I am fascinated with death, which has always been a mystery. I try to accept it. I use skulls in my art because to me they are things of beauty that represent the cycle of death and the transition back to life.” She is not ripping a baby open. What some may perceive as grotesque is just her letting things out.

Tanya Kukucka working in her studio

Working in the Studio

Mad Hatter by Tanya Kukucka

Mad Hatter

16” x 20” (40cm x 51cm)

Acrylic on Canvas

2018

Kukucka does not take drugs or indulge in intoxication. Art is her self-therapy. “When I don’t do my art, I get irritable. When bad things happen and life is tough, you got to let things out somehow.” Her paintings usually juxtapose an androgynous, beautiful figure, often musicians or other people she admires, with many different representations of symbols that mean something specific to her: hearts, snakes, apples, cats, thorns, bats, flowers and more.

“I paint for myself and not for others. If they like it, good. I don’t paint self portraits but when I paint a subject, it’s really not them. It’s me. I substitute that person, that muse, for myself. The symbols I use are for life energy, they are keys to new doorways. I just like to make stuff up and that’s my fantasy-life because real life is boring in comparison. It’s my escape. It’s comforting to me. I like thinking, sketching and doing.”

Valentines by Tanya Kukucka

Valentines

Acrylic on Canvas

36” x 24” (91 cm x 61 cm)

2014

The Soul Gatherers by Tanya Kukucka

The Soul Gatherers

Acrylic on Canvas

52” x 44” (132 cm x 112 cm)

2017

White Queen by Tanya Kukucka

White Queen

16” x 17” (40cm x43cm)

Acrylic on Masonite

2018

Her real life does not actually seem all that boring. ‘Prolifically busy’ may be a better description. She has managed to sustain a living by working full-time in assisting several other regional artists in pottery and sculpture studios. That relegates time for her own art to limited status. She is highly sought after by other artists because of her impeccable technical skills and strong work ethic. “I don’t have a good business sense. I don’t like computers. They hinder my creativity. I learned persistence and this allows me to do what I love, to make a living as an artist. This way I am able to paint and work to make money.” This persistence has served her well since graduating from the art program at the State University of New York Purchase, where she studied under the famed woodcut printmaker Antonio Frasconi. She has been working at perfecting her skills since age five, with unending passion and dedication. Her work is shown in top regional galleries and she has been successful in selling her art, despite her self-professed aversion to the art business.

Temptation by Tanya Kukucka

Temptation

Acrylic on Canvas Board

12” x 12” (30 cm x 30 cm)

2013

Sweet Relief by Tanya Kukucka

Sweet Relief

Acrylic on Canvas

52” x 44” (132 cm x 112 cm)

2018

Self Portrait by Tanya Kukucka

Self Portrait

We all have to make it through life the best way we can. Tanya Kukucka is a superb professional who loves what she does and goes her own way. Nothing else matters to her.

Hammond Museum curator Bibiana Huang Matheis, who frequently exhibit’s Kukucka’s work, calls her an “artists’ artist” who everyone respects as a person of integrity and great skill.

Saint Sebastian detail by Tanya Kukucka

Saint Sebastian (Detail)

Acrylic on Canvas

Moon Child by Tanya Kukucka

Moon Child

Acrylic on Canvas with Real Butterfly and Fabric Flowers

36” x 24” (91 cm x 60 cm)

2012

Saint Sebastian by Tanya Kukucka

Saint Sebastian

Acrylic on Canvas

69” x 27” (175 cm x 68 cm)

2014

Frank Matheis

Frank Matheis
Writer. Photographer. Producer.


Contributing writer to the Hammond Museum, Frank Matheis, is a music, visual arts and culture writer and photographer. His latest project was the book ‘Sweet Bitter Blues’ co-written with National Heritage Fellow Phil Wiggins (University Press of Mississippi, 2020). His Hammond Museum column ‘In Other Words’ features member artists in all disciplines. He is also a contributing writer to ArtsWestchester, Living Blues magazine (Center for Southern Culture Studies) and thecountryblues.com.