Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Artist Uncovered: Henry Kondracki

Born, bred and based in Edinburgh, the city features prominently in Henry Kondracki’s work, often depicted in dark and wintry nights. But his paintings are not dystopian visions of the modern metropolis. On the contrary, they are lyrical cityscapes, full of poetry and emotions where his brushstrokes playfully distort the lines of buildings to conquer their daunting mass while at the same time remaining true to their identity and features as in this view of the east end of Princes Street entitled ‘The Wellington Statue’.

‘The Wellington Statue’, oil on canvas, 133 x 150 cm, courtesy of The Scottish Gallery

Here we can see how the artist has offset the pervasive greyness with many touches of bright colours and placed the focus on the people’s resilience as they go about their daily lives despite the inclement weather.

Henry Kondracki trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London in the 1980s. He has won many prizes throughout his career and is represented in many collections and galleries. Art in Healthcare has four of his works.

In ‘Autumn on Arthur’s Seat’ the city is seen from above and occupies most of the composition but, in complete contrast with ‘The Wellington Statue’, it is bathed in golden colours. A small figure is seating in the foreground, facing away from us towards the familiar landmarks in the distance, in harmony with nature, the city and the sky.

‘Autumn on Arthur’s Seat’, watercolour, 77 x 94 cm

In ‘Miles and His Kite’ we recognise Kondracki’s theme of the solitary figure connected physically and spiritually with nature. This powerful Expressionist painting is set on an idyllic and deserted sandy beach and the artist has imbued the diminutive figure with the same determination displayed by his city dwellers as Giles takes control of his kite by the mere suggestion of a string.

‘Miles and His Kite’, oil on canvas, 141 x 153 cm

I went to see this painting in the Royal Victoria Building at the Western General Hospital. It has pride of place in the common room where patients eat and relax and it felt right that it should hang next to a glass wall with panoramic views towards the Firth of Forth. I enjoyed its depth and intensity. All Kondracki’s paintings are drawn out first and these marks soon disappear under many layers of paint that he applies with meticulous brushstrokes until he feels the work is done.

The two remaining works in the collection are both monochrome prints which illustrate the artist’s mastery of line and sense of humour.

‘Shipwrecked’, screenprint, 63 x 81 cm

In the course of our conversation, Henry pointed out that the fishing line in ‘Shipwrecked’ and the string of the kite represent continuity and connect not only the earth, sky and water but also time, nature, history, all the great issues which guide our transient lives.

He also explained that he is always aware of the dichotomy permanence vs. impermanence and that although his works suspend a moment in time, that this moment will last an eternity or at least several generations and will be on somebody’s wall for all that time. This is why the thought is never far from his mind, except when he is absorbed in the work, that his paintings should be as joyful, uplifting and healing as possible.

The elderly patient in the Royal Victoria common room certainly seemed to think so.

Further information: 

The Scottish Gallery will be showing Henry Kondracki’s 'Works on Paper' from 8 October till 3 November 2012.

The Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh is currently showing a breathtaking selection of Expressionist and Symbolist painters in the 'Van Gogh to Kandinsky' exhibition until 14 October.


With many thanks to Henry Kondracki for his time and for sharing his thoughts during our telephone conversation.

Thank you also to The Scottish Gallery for the use of 'The Wellington Statue' image.

Martine Foltier Pugh is a freelance writer and visual artist based in Edinburgh

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