On display at Ecce Gallery, September 18 to October 28 was a South Dakotan display of hopeful landscapes and anxious brush strokes, featuring works from artists Georgia Mrazkova and Sara Woster. Both painters spent their upbringings in Sioux Falls, S.D. and attended college in the Twin Cities, at Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the University of Minnesota, respectively. Curated by gallery director Mark Weiler, this show brought together dreamy references from shared Sioux Falls childhoods.
Woster and Mrazkova bring midwestern imagery into their work to this day, even as they are living in metropolitan areas now. With Woster living in New York City and Mrazkova in Minneapolis, both of their works continue to showcase natural scenes, while also portraying them with chaotic and even unsetting energy. This show didn’t shy from color, as earthy greens and blues fill the canvases with disruptions of vibrant red, pink and yellow throughout.
Both artists describe their work as portrayals of abstracted reality, tilting towards discomfort. They both are rebellious in their depictions, veering from the expected. But at the same time, including very identifiable objects, unlike strictly abstract pieces.
South Dakotan-born painter Sara Woster constructs organic themes with a skewed reality. Her canvases incorporate imagery of real life, but with a psychological tilt veering it into a less traditional territory. “It’s always too crowded, too many things. It’s just not right, not quite there,” she said. Thick paint and intentionally rough and untidy brush strokes are her signature style, transforming feminine subjects, such as florals, into rebellious scenes. “I’m not a realist or a perfectionist, I’m more interested in the effect than an accurate depiction,” she said.
Woster studied fine arts at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, focusing on painting, even though she has toyed with a number of mediums. “For me, it’s the most physical. Most immediately, [painting] can translate a feeling into a mark in a way that I’ve never been able to do [in other mediums],” she said. With other mediums where there are many steps in between the creation and the end result—such as film photography or printmaking—Woster enjoys the instancy of the results of painting. As she feels something, she can translate it to art. “I get the most catharsis out of it. I can dive the deepest,” she added.
As a female artist, she’s faced push-back on creating primarily floral-based pieces, as it’s seen as too feminine and expected. However, it’s not the subject of flowers, but the interpretation and execution of them that she finds meaningful. In her artist statement, Woster said, “My job as a painter isn’t to always represent beautiful things, sometimes my job is to exorcize myself by putting the ugly, strange and scary things out there without worrying about what people think.”
Most of the year, Woster lives in New York City with her family. However, when the summers come around, she makes her way to the township of Two Inlets in Minnesota lakes country to create and escape the city. Here, she and her husband (who is also a contemporary artist) have a retreat in the woods where they can work and allow their children to grow up with a midwestern experience.
Woster creates pieces both in her New York home and in Minnesota, and she can see the differences in the pieces. “I have more space in Minnesota so the work tends to be bigger. [The pieces] tend to be better, because my head’s a bit clearer there,” she said. “Here [in New York], my work is definitely a little more frantic. It feels more New York paced, even if I am painting the things that are referring to South Dakota and Minnesota, but they are painted here and they feel very dense and complicated and crowded.”
No matter her location, she is drawn to depicting natural elements, like trees, animals or flowers from her Two Inlets yard. Although she has been living in New York for over two decades now, she is still drawn to reference her upbringing in South Dakota, noting that she has yet to illustrate a New York cityscape yet.
The Ecce Gallery exhibit shows work from 2016 to the current day. While still very floral, her pieces have begun exploring animals and humans. On display is “Mountain Top,” (2019) a 20×20 canvas with eight bald eagles perched on a vibrant background of reds, greens, blues and pinks. A favorite of Woster’s is “Irrelevant” (2016), the largest of the collection measuring 58 x 58 inches, and depicting an eerie human form enveloped in flowers. Speaking on themes she’s been exploring lately, she said, “A lot related to nature, a statement on the environment. A lot of animals in peril and…I keep thinking as I’m doing these that it is as if the animals are taking back over. They’ve had it with us and they are taking back over again.”
Such pieces include the struggle for coexistence between nature, man and technology. Serene nature scenes are taken over by predators (much like the eight eagles in “Mountain Top”) interacting with humankind or landscapes (as seen with the swarm of dragonflies in “He Draws Creatures”).
Masterfully depicting midwestern scenes with a New York energy, we are honored to have been able to see Woster’s New York interpretation of our regional scenery at Ecce Gallery in this exhibit.