Roz Chast’s Pysanky
March 18, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
Roz Chast does excellent work on paper—and sure enough, her latest memoir, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, has just won a National Book Critics Circle Award—but I think her real medium is the egg. She’s been doing great things with pysanky (i.e. Ukrainian painted eggs) for at least a decade. Her latest efforts will be on display, along with her cartoons and her work in textiles, at Danese Corey Gallery starting this Friday.
As Alexandra Schwartz explained in the The New Yorker last year, the pysanky tradition goes back to pagan times, “as do the eggs’ motifs: the sun; triangles that represent air, light, and water or birth, life, and death, from long before the Holy Trinity came along; plants and animals; talismanic lines and spirals indicating eternity.”
But Chast has elected to forgo the conventional imagery—her eggs are painted with the same grimacing neurotics and beleaguered everymen you see in her New Yorker cartoons. As she told the New York Times in 2004, “I had always wanted to learn how to paint eggs … I saw at the time that it had real possibilities for transferring my stuff to it.” Carol Kino notes that
many of her eggs play pretty sophisticated games with perspective and space. One depicts people sitting in a subway car that has no beginning or end. Another shows five reclining bodies, floating dreamily against the indigo depths of a starry sky … the technique heightens a gently philosophical undercurrent that is only vaguely hinted at in the cartoon drawings.
Chast’s pysanky are on display through April 18.
Dan Piepenbring is the web editor of The Paris Review.