"Through this, all the meditative aspects of the work become self-evident. Copper sheeting is analogous to a skin in my hands under the blows of hammer, fire and acid. It communicates its living quality to me and I respond with the tender responsiveness that the metal elicits… it’s a very mysterious and sensual process."
- Maureen Drdak
Maureen Drdak’s art practice was born out of curiosity, rigorous research, and a love for material and design. Although she has traveled extensively to Israel, Egypt, Tunisia, Italy, England, the Caribbean islands, and India, Nepal has been the focal point of her academic research, made possible in part through a Fulbright Fellowship in 2011. Drdak says, “Nepal has been a tremendous source of spiritual sustenance, wonder, enrichment, and connection…In the past fifteen years, the innumerable relationships I’ve developed have been an indescribable blessing.” On view in Burning Worlds, her wall-bound relief works are a combination of painting and the ancient art of repoussé, a unique metalworking technique she studied during her visits to Nepal.
Initially drawn to a photo of the Kali Gandacki river gorge in the Nepali Himalayas, Drdak visited the Kathmandu Valley for the first time in 2005. Upon her arrival, she was immediately and unexpectedly taken with the Newar repoussé that decorated the temples in the area. Dating back to the Bronze Age, the exact roots of the time-intensive repoussé technique is unknown; however, Patan, Nepal has become the contemporary hub of this endangered practice. To develop her repoussé practice, Drdak apprenticed in Patan with the grandsons of the historic Kuber Singh Shakya, a venerated family who’s lineage spans over four-hundred years along with social, religious and cultural responsibilities within the guthi social system of Nepal.
In Drdak’s body of work for Burning Worlds, devotion to her research is evidenced in the many delicately crafted repoussé elements integrated within her paintings. The title, Burning Worlds, conveys a trifecta of ideas that reference internal, external, and celestial “worlds”. Her large triptych, Cantos Helios, is Drdak’s homage to solar energy. Large repoussé gestures rip through the center of each panel representing the sun’s rays, both paradoxically harmful and life-sustaining. Altogether, the triptych embodies the diurnal arc of the sun including its rise, zenith, and descent.
In contrast, the Inner Perceiver works are sensitively painted. A fine line, bifurcating a dark plane and rendered in 23K gold, represents the burning light of consciousness upon the darkness of the Void. Undulating patterns on either side of the gold detail evoke the sagittal sutures of the human cranium, believed to be the gateway for the release of the Soul. These works draw upon shared understandings of both Western and Asian concepts of spirituality, string theory, and meditation.
Lastly, Ardens Mundi, Latin for “burning worlds”, is the cornerstone of the exhibition and Drdak’s oeuvre. These large tondo panels feature Drdak’s signature combination of materials - acrylic and copper repoussé - and manifest the culmination of ideas and concerns developed during her research in Nepal. Each of the three tondos on view represents a specific environmental phenomenon related to the impact of climate change, which has had a tremendous effect on the delicate Himalayan ecosystem. These works embody equal parts tribute to Nepali repoussé practice, and visual tools communicating the urgency of the destabilizing force of climate change.
Maureen Drdak is a graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. She has exhibited her work extensively in numerous solo and group shows in the United States and abroad, and her works are included in public and private collections. Drdak is a 2011 Fulbright scholar and is currently the Advisor to the Board of the Fellowship of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Drdak lives and works in Pennsylvania while maintaining strong connections with her Nepali “brothers” and community members.