Time spent in Greece has led me to view life and history as a continuum. In 1980 I began painting what I now refer to as a Minoan series. The imagery is primarily from the site at Knossos on Crete, 1600-1200 BC. This series moves away from preceding work since the subject matter is approached metaphorically rather than literally. The paintings are not a compendium of observed facts; nor is their intent to state a historical narrative. Rather, the works are partial assemblages that attempt to see into the meaning of things. The significance of these ancient forms, which I have attempted to reduce to a personal iconography, rests on the idea that these very same symbols, once found in a culture not totally unlike those following it, still exist today in a different context.
If my recent work reflects one thing strongly, I hope it will touch on a dormant, not outmoded, ideal. This ideal manifests itself in the ancient Greek, although probably not Minoan, philosophy of moderation, and takes into account Edmund Keely and George Savidis Preface to The Axion Esti by Odysseus Elytis. This states, in part, that the Greek sensibility, it would seem, is its capacity for balancing the world of the senses and the world of the spirit. In these recent paintings, I endeavor to bring together those particular Minoan symbols which for me have that continuing meaning: Priest Kings Throne signifying religion, government, law; Lintel and Post, shelter, community; Pithoi, sustenance; Vista, sea, freedom; Decoration, art, culture; Sacred Double Horns, generative vitality of the bull; Female Symbol from Linear B (Mycenaean), woman, language; Double Ax, technology and ritual; and Kemos, sacrifice. I attempt to weave these archetypal images into compositions, which are intentionally understated, since semi-concealment is inherent in the enigmatic nature of Knossos and its legends and myths.
The paintings, finally, have to stand on their own merits as visual statements, independent of my thoughts. However, I hope they may evoke a sense of that time and its continued relationship to this time, and perhaps suggest a modicum of what Thomas Hardy referred to as primitive feelings rubbing against modern nerves.
In late 1986 my painting began to change dramatically, and in a major shift of emphasis I abandoned color for black and white. As this time I began to question and reconsider many ideas, especially those that would allow me to experiment more fully. Of a particular and sustained interest was the vast symbol of the labyrinth. The richness of its complexities and its strong relationship to the past and present have continued to intrigue me on many different levels of understanding.
While I wished to continue exploring the Minoan symbols with which I have been working since 1980, in the new work since 1986, I intentionally fragmented or obfuscated many of the symbols in order to punctuate the idea of how they might speak more to the nature of the labyrinth, as if the new configurations were enigmatic pathways out of embedded memory. While it is clear that this occurs differently from one group of works to another, and even from piece to piece, in some cases it is more pronounced than in others. It is also worth mentioning that, unlike in the earlier work, there is no obvious set pattern in the way these have developed and evolved; nor is there the formalist logic of the earlier work. In my desire to find a language free from that constraint, the labyrinth has offered me a continuing series of visual, as well as metaphorical, dilemmas, which I have had to weave my way through to understanding.
In a larger sense, todays persistent dilemmas and problems reverberate; indeed, are echoed sharply in the search for new freedom and escape from confinement. While time and context change and things seem to move forward, it is rarely in a straight, unbroken line. It is as if our frail, scattered markings are the only evidence of our progress. For in the layering of time, these imperfect emblems are incisively linked to the fabric of present life and human history. Whatever progress I may make in my own visual investigations seems tied to this complex notion.
To allow myself to become more intensely immersed in these labyrinthian complexities, I eliminated color from my work. With black and white I felt I could confront ideas more directly and boldly. I knew at this time I did not wish to succumb to the subtleties of color, to be seduced by its beauty. In limiting myself in this manner, I hoped to find unexpected avenues of expression, where archetypal forms become real in the mind, inseparable from memory, from pigment.
Henry Chodkowski, 2001
Henry Chodkowski lives and works in Louisville. A 1961 graduate of the University of Hartford, he holds a masters of fine arts degree from Yale University.
Over the course of a painting career spanning more than 40 years, Henry has explored a wide range of subjects and styles and mounted more than 20 solo exhibitions. His works are in museums across Kentucky and the eastern United States, as well as at the Hellenic-American Union in Athens, Greece. It was in Greece that he encountered the ancient Minoan ruins and symbols that have inspired his recent work.
Collections where Henrys work can be found include the Library of Congress, the National Collection of Fine Arts, and the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC; college art museums at Yale University, Indiana University, Miami University in Ohio, the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, the University of South Dakota, Sweet Briar College in Virginia, and Kentuckys Cumberland College; the DeCordova Museum in Lincoln, MA; the Speed Art Museum in Louisville; the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Alabama; the New Jersey State Museum; the Ogunquit Museum of American Art, Ogunquit, ME; and the Philadelphia Museum.