Although I can’t remember when I first discovered the work of Midwest-born, Portland, OR-based artist Christina Mrozik, I know I was already aware of her the first time I got to see some of it in person, right here in Portland at a group exhibition at the Antler Gallery in 2016. That was where I met a marvelously surreal piece, rendered in ballpoint pen, entitled Beheld:
There was a moment of revulsion upon first noticing that this grass-haired woman’s eyes had become bird eggs, each cozy in a nest, an expression of awe upon her face. But that moment quickly gave way to wonder as I considered the symbolic significance of having nests for eye sockets and eggs for eyes. Eggs are symbols of new life, of beginnings, of the universe; they’re full of potential, representing both nascency and transformation. To me this piece depicts a moment of tremendous realization and the symbolism is breathtakingly beautiful.
Depicting the skeletal remains of a cat curled inside a ring of gold leaf, numerous butterflies emerge in sequence from cocoons along its tail and spine and a morning glory vine grows around its neck. Root and Marrow is as much a work of memento mori as it is a reminder that death nourishes new life and nature always finds a way.
In-between states and transformations are often part of Mrozik’s work, incorporating flora and dissected fauna into her visual explorations of the human condition, which she creates using graphite, ink, marker, watercolor, and high pigmented acrylics as her media. As conveyed by her art, Mrozik is keenly aware of our mortality, of our inherent fragility and resilience both physically and emotionally, of how we’re often in states of flux or transition, struggling with conflicting aspects of ourselves or each other, seeking balance, seeking connection.
Animals partially dissected, their flesh, muscle, and bone separated yet intertwined, serve as visceral representations of the struggles of living with pain and illness, the continuous dance of awareness of body and mind. While animal bodies made partially or entirely of grass, “the only plant that can be taken down to its roots repeatedly and with intense frequency and still thrive,” symbolize our own endurance and resilience.
Mrozik creates marvelously surreal combinations of flora and fauna, predators and prey, that symbolize our ongoing efforts, both conscious and unconscious, to grow and change and become.
“There is a name for every season, for every connection and moment. It’s buried deep, often unspeakable, but a knowledge we carry nonetheless. ‘Anthesis’ is the name for the time period in which a bud blooms, and while it is a technical term, I can’t help but apply it to all of the short bursting moments in my own life and something long cultivated came forth. There is surprise and mystery even within ourselves, and we are connected to it by invisible words; tied to it by invisible threads.”
One of my personal favorites of Mrozik’s recent work (and another print I’m proud to own) is the Keeper of Malady, a snow-white corvid whose body is abloom in white anemones and oriental poppies. Spiderwebs and strands of spider silk stream from between its petals as a single white spider extends a leg to tenderly touch one of the bird’s claws.
Existing in the shadow world, this extraordinary creature is a caretaker, a keeper, a gentle friend:
“It knows every sickness in every body and it holds the memory of hurt. It is commonly believed that this creature is dark, a monster of ill spirit and malice, but according to the Ancient Wisdoms it is rather made of light and blossoms. It is a tender thing, with the embodied knowledge that pain does not separate us from beauty but rather binds us to it. It whispers reminders of self grace when things are just too hard, and sweetly reminds us how to bloom again from the darkness of the dirt.”
Christina Mrozik’s artwork is of that magical sort that makes the world around me go very still and quiet. Even those pieces which convey pain and distress also contain a singular, reassuring peace. Here the myriad processes of growth and becoming are vital experiences, growing pains, scars, and all, and death is very much a part of life, not something to be feared.