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 townspeople (in a long sticky line) exhibited their greediness for gold by being unable to unhook from the chain of folks who tried to pinch a golden feather. It is an old Russian tale.
Janet looked just 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 intimately 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 also later with the granddaughter of Maria Martinez. In 1999, she was the founding president of the Society of American Mosaic Artists. And her work is just as broad as this mosaic of an education.
All of this background is represented in her exhibition of small works opening at the Orangeburg Arts Center on February 11, 2014. In most of the works, one can detect the influence of multiple academic experiences, but clearly created by western hands.
The series of little 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 the vessels sit seem likewise worldly-influenced, and all nervously vibrates. Janet creates these little wonders by paint removal and scratching as much as paint application and calls them painting/monoprints.
Tango dancers done in quick calligraphic-like lines exhibit Janet’s Chinese self, again combining a fertile gene-mixing of her history and coming up with a hybrid. To some Janet has added Chinese cartouches, containing characters saying (in translation) “Chinese tango”.
The most unsettling and evocative works are a series of paintings of troll dolls (yes, the ones from the late sixties), the doll shapes again dominating the clipped ground. The surfaces of these examples are brilliant and shiny, completed in oil made with Renaissance techniques. The detail and description of the dolls is masterly, including both fronts and backs. But why troll dolls?
In a way, the brilliant colors used in the dolls seem like 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 the group was created.
Janet has suffered through an undiagnosed illness for some years. During the time the trolls 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 even know about these strange beings?
In general, this exhibition is a tribute to the healing nature of art. All these small works being done during the years of her illness, it is proof that the time she has had to be quiet was not lost.