Karen Bondarchuk, assistant professor of art, will be one of about 30 members of Western Michigan University’s Gwen Frostic School of Art faculty and staff who’ll display pieces in the annual art faculty exhibit, which opened on Thursday and runs through Dec. 23. The works will range from oil on canvas and mixed media to sculpture and, well, crows. Karen originally began sculpting the birds from scavenged tire, wood, and polystyrene. “I’d see a heap of tires on the side of the road, and I’d imagine a claw sticking up in the air,” she said. “Crows are scavengers by nature, and so am I.”
Karen’s current sculpture and drawing work, focused exclusively on crows and ravens, examines the complex, interwoven relationship between humans and corvids. Her artwork has been exhibited widely in the United States, as well as in Canada, Italy and England.
“Using tire scraps and an automobile headlamp, Autogenesis contemporizes the Haida and Tsimshian myth of the raven stealing the sun. Most traditional Native American and First Nations myths recognize the intelligence of these creatures by ascribing complex attributes to crows and ravens. These myths often include a corvid’s ability to shape-shift, wherein the bird will take on human qualities in order to achieve a goal or procure some desired object (which is typically shiny or luminous). The title alludes to both the process of autogeny (organic organisms developing from inorganic matter) and this raven’s genesis from automobile tires, while the form is suggestive of both a prize trophy head and a portal through which this raven is seemingly unable to pass.”
Of her painted body of work, Karen says,”The large charcoal raven portraits in this body of work Speak, Memory and others are scaled with the intention of creating a meeting of minds or reciprocity: in as much as we are contemplating these brainy birds, they seem to be equally contemplating us. The stark, high contrast and large scale also demands our attention and consideration (as birds in the corvid family crows, blue jays, rooks, magpies, jackdaws, ravens, etc. so often do), while the emphasis on individuality and personality with each portrait challenges the generalities we may have regarding what a raven is. “
“The title of this series is from Vladimir Nabokov’s autobiographical memoir called Speak, Memory, and relates to my desire to understand the true nature of these highly intelligent creatures, as well as the futility of my desire to do so. In my ongoing research of crows and ravens, I have had various encounters with verbal corvids, including Julian the incredible talking raven (“who’s a good bird”), Blue, the feisty imprinted blue jay that imitates meowing cats and door alarms, and a cursing green-eyed British jackdaw, and I am struck by the fact that their ability to speak makes these birds even more inscrutable. The language they utter doesn’t speak of them or their memories, but of us and our desire to understand these intelligent creatures on human terms.”
Bondarchuk’s contribution to the art show is a six-foot charcoal-and-ink drawing titled, “In Defense of a Stolen Golfball” which was inspired by a story she heard about ravens stealing balls from a Virginia golf course.
“The ravens were fascinated by the golf balls. In this, the raven is defending itself.”
You may follow Karen by visiting her website at www.karenbondarchuk.com.