Jean Kawecki began her career as a fashion designer. As a youth, she was constantly drawing and making things, inclinations that ultimately would lead her to become a sculptor. As a young mother, she enjoyed making small toys for her children. But it was not until the 1970s, that Kawecki began to create sculpture in earnest.
Motherhood (1972), an early example of Kawecki’s work, is a testament to the mother’s role as nurturer. The image of a dog feeding her pups is a metaphor for maternal energy and effort that is both natural and draining. The drooping head of the canine mother expresses her exhaustion, as well as her attentiveness to the suckling litter that depends on her.
Inferno, a work Kawecki created after the death of her son in 1977, is a roughhewn cedar stump with inlaid heads made of plaster and cellulose fiber. The sculpted faces, with their distorted features and anguished expressions, may allude to the torments the artist endured during the grieving process following her loss. During this period, she was unable to work for at least a year.
Ultimately she found salvation in the studio. By the time she created Transition in 1978 Kawecki was in full command of the mature imagery she would return to repeatedly. The androgynous figures with arms extended upward holding a body are in many ways a signature motif. Strong vertical and horizontal thrusts are essential elements in Kawecki’s approach to composition. Triple Image (1989), The Soul Said It Maybe Thou Wilt Have Need of Me (1995) and other images from this period all share these traits.
An interesting story accompanies the work Sleep is the Brother of Death. Kawecki had a recurring dream of lying in bed and being pulled by a stallion, an image replicated in the sculpture. When the artist told her mother about this dream, her mother responded that she also had had the same dream when she was pregnant with her – evidence, perhaps, of the psychic connectedness between mother and child.
Kawecki’s art draws on her observations about life, her personal experiences and visions. She is a quiet, diminutive woman with a lilting laugh, who brings great economy of means to everything she does, including her physical movements. Kawecki’s visual language is direct and succinct. Her forms are elongated, minimalist and measured. There is no room for embellishment or decoration. Yet, however elemental, her compositions are infused with innumerable references to life conditions, movement and sublime gesture.
Her materials, in part, dictate her aesthetic: chunks of wood, tree branches and found pieces of slate and shale are among the materials used to construct her sculptures. The heads of her figures are made of cellulose fiber, wood and stone; in some instances, their limbs are constructed from steel and copper. She uses epoxy to fuse the wood, metal and stone elements of her sculptures. Perhaps because Kawecki was not trained as a sculptor, she has had to find her own path in solving construction problems.