18 months ago Kitchener-based professional chef Alex Krawczyk found himself newly single, living alone, and inundated with copies of The New Yorker.
After neglecting to cancel after his free 12-week trial and facing at least another 35 weeks worth of magazines, Krawczyk began putting scalpel to page and rearranging found images into new forms, not unlike the way he had always arranged ingredients on a plate.
At first, Krawczyk worked in secret: “I didn’t tell anyone I was making art for a while, because I didn’t want anyone to think I was going into a crisis … when you hear ‘I’ve started collaging!’ you go ‘Oh, are you okay?’”
Whatever the initial motivation, in practice it was an extremely resourceful way to pass the time. Instead of disposing of the given material or stacking it in a corner, Krawczyk salvaged and repurposed it. He began hunting for more content to dissect and collage, including old copies of Playboy, comic books, and Polish interior design magazines.
The resulting canvasses are surreal landscapes full of stylish, non-sequitur text, disembodied figures and advertising detritus. Recurring elements include fashion, faces and of course food — in one piece, an upright, trenchcoated man stares down a delicious forkful of noodles. In another, a young David Bowie gazes longingly at a very sad-looking cheeseburger.
“Food has an extremely deep connection to memory, so using the recurring theme of food in my art is a great way for me to evoke a strong emotional response,” Krawczyk said.
Looking over these pieces is a free-associative visual exercise, in which the viewer interprets connections across 50 years of printed media. None of it would work if the artist didn’t have such a knack for clever composition and juxtaposition. Bad collage art repels the eye and defies interpretation, while Krawczyk’s actively encourages it in a very personal way.
As a result, he’s found that family members, friends and other patrons can become deeply invested in individual pieces.
“They have been buying what stands out to them. It seems so arbitrary to me, but people definitely have [pieces] they love … ‘The rest are fine, but that’s mine,’” Krawczyk said.
Right now several of these pieces can be seen on the walls of Grand Surf Lounge, the DTK bar where Krawczyk works as head chef. He carefully describes the relationship between his two pursuits.
“I don’t make anything when I cook, I just manipulate [food] that other people have already made,” he said. “I change its context. I cut [pages] up like I cut up a carrot.”
The beginning of that process is shaped as much by necessity as inspiration, given that Krawczyk is limited to material within the pages at his fingertips.
“There is very little intent when I start … a lot of cutting, mixing and matching until I see something and say ‘this is it.’” While the initial meaning or message in the striking canvasses he has created may be obscure, he admits “I try to tell a story with a lot of them, especially using [text].”
He also sees the arrangements as a way of creatively redistributing pieces of his increasingly massive print magazine collection.
“I couldn’t just hand you an old cigarette ad and say ‘here, now you get to have this,’ you know? But I want my friends to have them … I’ve looked through so many arbitrary magazines and books. The chances of [my audience] coming across something I’ve put on my canvas in their daily life is almost nil … unless they’re reading Polish interior design magazines from 2007. Or the “Stimulant” ads from old Playboy magazines. Having one of [my pieces] is like having a piece of that time, that history.”
When asked about the strangest artifacts from that history he has yet uncovered, Krawczyk wonders about a Newport cigarette ad depicting “a guy on a ski hill with his family … why the family? ‘I’m a family man. I smoke Newports,’” he laughs.