Sea Cliff’s artistic community were treated to the opening of a special exhibition at the Sea Cliff Arts Council by local painter Wendy Csoka on May 5. The exhibition, “Enviro,” showcased paintings of all sizes focused around the environment, with some pieces addressing the topic from both a global perspective as well as works that focused on the artist’s personal relationship with the world around her.
Csoka, born in 1949 to Henry and Marguerite Hollman, spent her formative years growing up in Sea Cliff. While she did enjoy painting and drawing as a young child in the North Shore School District, Csoka said she didn’t pursue it in early life, instead working in advertising after she graduated from the University of Arizona.
This all changed when she moved back to Sea Cliff and met Frank Csoka, who she would later marry. Frank was an assistant professor in the Communication Design Department at the Fashion Institute of Technology and was the son of Hungarian-born artist Stephen Csoka.
Csoka said that her artistic career really began when her husband encouraged her to make a drawing for him. Doing so ignited a creative spark in her that had laid dormant since her childhood, and she began painting in earnest.
“I thought it was nothing, but Frank was quite surprised and impressed with the drawing I had made, and so it really inspired me,” Csoka said. “The last time I had really done any art was in third grade, when I had made a little tile that I just loved. I realized that I love doing art.”
Since then, Csoka has painted a wide range of works covering many themes. For a long time she preferred painting larger pieces on canvas, until health issues in the 1990’s and 2000’s forced her to reassess her style and begin painting smaller works.
Csoka says she paints what she experiences, and many of her pieces were inspired by her own health issues, as she used the pain and experience of dealing with an acoustic neuroma and a subsequent brain tumor to express herself and help her through the struggle.
“It kind of changed the venue of my work. I stopped working really large and started doing a lot of small drawings, and that led me to doing a lot of things for health issues like breast cancer awareness,” Csoka added. “So art really helped me get through a lot of tough times.”
Her recent exhibition in Sea Cliff was not focused on health, however, but on the environment. Csoka said she began focusing on environmental pieces in 1990, when her son John, who was attending Brown University, began to express an interest in the subject and exposed her to the growing threat facing the natural world.
Her environmental paintings on display at the Arts Council are expressions of several themes, with one being her personal relationship with the environment. These include paintings such as “The shower in the rain,” and “Why do I love to look at the Birds,” which depict human figures surrounded by vibrant colors and shapes.
Many of her larger pieces on display, some as large as 80 by 49 inches, also focus on the human impact on the environment, with one of the most striking entitled “Oil Spill.” Painted years before oil spills like British Petroleum’s in the Gulf of Mexico were headline-grabbing news, Oil Spill uses dark, even apocalyptic colors and imagery to express the horrific impact of such spills on the environment.
Visitors to the opening got the chance to view these and many more paintings and drawings, and several expressed amazement and delight at Csoka’s various pieces. Martita Goshen, a friend of Csoka’s and a professional dance choreographer, said she was particularly enamored with the ability of Csoka’s art to express her sentiments and feelings about the natural world.
“It isn’t just paint and images. They come from her wellspring,” Goshen explained. “She truly embodies her work.”
The exhibition is currently on display at the Arts Council and will be up through June.