Henry Kondracki

Most people hurry through the wet.  Henry Kondracki can’t stop looking at it.  His eyes shine with attentiveness. No-one has painted a wet city so well.  It isn’t just the city that Kondracki paints, but this shining attentiveness, his conscious enjoyment of a moment of living.  This attention is what makes his paintings come alive. The flickering brushstrokes – he’s a modern Magnasco – make everything in the damp atmosphere appear to shimmer and move : nothing is still. Every inch in his paintings is felt.

But Kondracki’s pictures go deeper than that. He isn’t just a latter-day urban impressionist – thought there’s nothing wrong with being that. His paintings have a darker resonance.  There’s almost always a figure in his pictures, often solitary, frequently a child, sometimes with an adult, or a figure-substitute, an isolated car, bollard or traffic light. These figures are usually placed somewhere in the middle distance. They draw you into the scene. These paintings are not flat but deep. The atmosphere they create is essential to their meaning.

Drawing and painting for Kondraki are ways of expressing a full sense of being alive, and, at the same time, this is what gives his pictures their darker undertow, a search back into memory.  His paintings are about today - the roadworks, street lights and cars - but they give you the impression that a ghost has just walked along the street. It’s not a frightening ghost, but a friendly one, though a little mournful because it reminds one of a world that’s gone. This isn’t just the towering, spectral presence of the old buildings, but something more personal, as if Henry was looking back on a scene remembered as a boy.  This isn’t nostalgia, but the reality of memory in our lives – Proustian, not picturesque.  How this elusive, subtle feeling is caught – as it is again and again in his work – is difficult to describe. It’s something to do with the way the space and light in his paintings open up inside but remain enclosed.  These paintings are above all contemplations; that is why their presence holds one’s attention, and this is what gives them their lasting quality.

Kondracki cannot remember when he didn’t draw. Seeing things has always fascinated him, and he still finds the process of drawing and painting magical mystery-making. He never wanted to be anything other than an artist, though his family warned him that he’d never make a living at it.  He has, but not without continuous hard work and a long struggle, buckling down against the trendy productions of his time, building on his determination not to give up looking and feeling, which for him meant drawing and painting. He draws on the spot and takes snaps – these are his research and reference points - but the paintings are always done in the studio, attempts to dig into what triggered his interest in the scene. He spent his childhood in Edinburgh, hardly ever going very far away.  His father worked for thirty years as a waiter in the then highly respectable Beehive Inn in the Grassmarket.  Kondracki left Edinburgh for a decade, to study at the Slade School in London (he’d been rejected by the local art school), and hang about in Copenhagen, before returning to Edinburgh to paint, and bring up his children. He didn’t intend to depict the city, but found he was doing so, when memories flooded back as he saw his own kids growing up in the city of his youth.  His driving ambition has been to make these feelings specific, and in the process, he has given life to streets and stone, amber lights and falling rain.


For more information please visit: www.scottish-gallery.co.uk




Calton Hill in the Rain

oil on canvas

Grassmarket in the Snow

oil on canvas