The University of Alberta’s Drawing department in the early to mid 2000s was where anyone in intermedia (i.e. not painting, not printmaking, not sculpture) would end up. Drawing encompasses an understanding of composition and draftsmanship, and over the last few decades, there has been an ongoing debate as to whether fundamental drawing classes should even be made a prerequisite for increasingly concept – and theory – based art school students. This is where I met Maria Madacky.
Maria grew up in Novi Sad, in the former Yugoslavia, in the region that is now Serbia. Maria, much like Jennifer Bowes, is one of the finest still life illustrators I have ever come across. She has translated her drawing skills into a distinctive mark making process that strives for the spiritual without being religious.
In her Adobe-style house in Coaldale, just outside of Lethbridge, Maria leafed through an old drawing portfolio. Her sense of light and line in her studies in realism already showed clear spiritual sympathies for energy over matter. Each drawing pushed the eye beyond the picture plane, focusing on shadows and the aura of her subject matter. Researching the spirituality of art through Shamanism and Buddhism, the harboured and occult energies outside of empirical science are central to Maria’s installation and performance works.
I first saw Maria’s work in a juried MFA show held in the basement of the old Edmonton Art Gallery. One of her works, Hushed (2008) welcomed visitors as they came down the central concrete staircase of the bunker-like building. At the bottom of the stairs, a gleaming white, looming hollow canvas chamber held a visual reverberation through a wall of tense illuminated white strings. I did not know if I was looking at a painting, a drawing, or an instrument. Maria’s MFA exhibition was a build-up of these experiments in drawing three-dimensionally, and it stands as one of the more memorable MFA shows I’ve seen at the University of Alberta.
There was overall a peaceful quality about the show that was best encapsulated in Recollections (2008). I remember seeing the work in progress during a round of informal studio visits at U of A. I was visiting some of the other graduate students, but saw Maria working away in her cubicle, hunched over an acrylic gel pad with a nail in one hand, methodically oxidizing the flat head and leaving its rusted circular imprint into the clear gel pad to various gradations and proximities. The final work featured thousands of hand-imprinted marks—thousands of her smallest drawings. When a smaller version of her work later appeared as part of a group show at the then Art Gallery of Alberta, there was talk between Jennifer and Maria of one day showing together. I recall thinking how much I would like to see that.