Growing up in an artistic family from Slovenia, Kralj was introduced to art at a young age. She started as a graphic artist in the 1970s and found herself enthralled with abstract expressionism in the early 1990s.
She hasn’t looked back.
On her website, Kralj explains: “I paint in the non-objective style as it frees me to be immediate, direct and in the moment. Abstraction allows me to transcend pictorial representations and communicate to the viewer that which is intangible and illusive such as concepts and sensations.”
It wasn’t long after Kralj transcended into abstract painting that she moved from Southern California to Del Norte County.
She has found a niche offering the local community art it might only see in metropolitan areas, which is where she sells most of her acrylic paintings.
One of local artist Dušanka Kralj’s pieces, “Off the grid fog 1.” More of her work can be viewed on her website, dusankakralj.com. Courtesy of Dušanka Kralj
Kralj has had extensive formal training in the U.S. and Europe. She has won numerous awards in juried exhibitions and was also a finalist in “The Artist Magazine’s” 27th annual Art Competition in 2010.
Her work can be found in galleries in Portland, Seattle and right here. She’s the artist of the month for April at Wright’s Custom Framing in Brookings. Kralj is working on several pieces for a 2013 exhibit at the Coos Art Museum in Coos Bay, Ore.
This exhibit is about transcending boundaries, Kralj said. The boundary between the artist and the audience will be broken down, she said, but she’s not giving up any more information than that right now.
“It’s going to be really fun,” Kralj said.
The foundation of the pieces will be the texture of a grid and then Kralj will layer paint on top. Normally, she paints and then adds texture.
“Everything is around a grid nowadays,” Kralj said.
Her paintings, though, will represent “going beyond limitations,” she said.
Kralj has worked her way up from drawing on paper to the freedom of a 48-inch canvas.
With such a large space, Kralj takes pictures along the way, “listening to my inner voice” as she works.
“The painting seems to paint itself,” she said.
She relies on her thoughts and feelings to move the brush. But Kralj started off drawing in a realistic style, not abstract. She worked with pastels, did figure drawing and made collages.
“1992 was a turning point,” she said.
She was introduced to abstract expressionism. She developed her aesthetic with Paul Gardner, a Laguna Beach artist, whom she studied under for years before working with the artist Judith Hale, (who was a student of Helen Frankenthaler, a well-known abstract expressionist painter), at the Mendocino Art Center.
Since then, her work has shown in New York and all over the West Coast, including the Gallery of Arts and Culture on H Street in Crescent City.
Kralj moved here in 1995, craving peaceful nature.
“I felt a calling,” she said. “The trees called me.”
She had never been north of Eureka, and when she made it here, “it was like a religious experience.” She ended up marrying a local.
Just outside her studio window is a redwood grove. It has to have an impact on her artwork, Kralj said.
“I would be painting differently in Manhattan,” she said. “Redwoods are my muse.”
Kralj grew up in Wisconsin, raised by immigrant parents from Slovenia in Eastern Europe. They were penniless with limited English language skills, but they introduced Kralj to European art, opera and ballet.
In the 1970s, Kralj began her career in graphic art, working in photography and film. Back then, “everything was done by hand,” she said.
Part of the appeal of art to Kralj is the physical movement.
“I liked working with my hands,” she said.
It runs in the family.
Her father made wood furniture “of necessity” with scraps he would bring home from the factory, Kralj said. Her brother is a sculptor and her aunt, Elvira Kralj, was a famous actress in Slovenia. Her cousin runs a theatre company in Milwaukee.
Kralj studied theatre at the University of Wisconsin and joined a troupe in Chicago before transitioning to photography.
She moved to Southern California in the early 1980s “to get out of the cold,” Kralj said.
Kralj toiled as an artist, studying abstract expressionism and developing her technique.
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that Kralj exhibited her work in San Francisco. An exhibit had been cancelled and the artists in the Society of Layerists in Multi-Media put their pieces in the show. Kralj got positive feedback for her paintings.
Good feedback from viewers and awards from critics are encouraging, she said, expecially when she felt that she couldn’t sustain a career as an artist.
“At one point, I was ready to give up,” Kralj said.
But, she felt art was her calling.
“The universe is telling me to plug away and do what you love,” Kralj said.
Galleries in seaside communities like Crescent City and Brookings typically feature a lot of seascapes and wildlife paintings and photography. Artists are inspired by many different things, Kralj said.
“Somebody might be inspired by a lighthouse or a bear,” she said. “There is not any one thing.”
Kralj’s paintings bring diversity to local galleries, but she sells most of her pieces in Portland and Seattle.
She’s chosen to focus on galleries in the Pacific Northwest and live among the redwoods.
“I feel very blessed with the situation I’m in,” Kralj said. “I can sell my work. I’m fortunate to be selling as much as I do.”
Kralj tried her hand at selling hers and other people’s art with her gallery Eye for Art Gallery in Brookings, which is now closed.
To be a successful artist, Kralj said creating is only part of it, artists have to market themselves by exhibiting and getting pieces in galleries. That can mean “you have to go to them,” rather than waiting for an art dealer to call. She spends part of her time maintaining her website, dusankakralj.com.
“If you love what you do, you can make it happen,” Kralj said.