LONDON — The underside of one of London’s busiest train stations is an unlikely place to find a room full of Kabbalistic imagery. Yet, located under Waterloo station, south of the River Thames, is Gallery 223, now showing the works of artist Simone Krok, whose main inspiration comes from the Kabbalah.
Taking center stage in Krok’s most recent exhibition, which opened on June 5 and will run through June 18, is a 4-foot, 2-inch high bronze ring upon which are etched the 10 aspects of Sephirot, the Kabbalistic concept for the 10 aspects of creation. It’s one of the more well-known themes found in Kabbalah and has captivated Krok throughout her career.
As a student at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, the South African-born artist concentrated on Kabbalist symbolism. In the years since, she has made a point of studying spirituality as well as Judaism and currently learns with the rabbi and his wife from her local synagogue in London.
“I like it when people look at my work and have a personal response,” said Krok, 46, whose soft-spoken nature is at odds with the violence found in some of her work. “I don’t want to say ‘this is what you have to see.’ People should take away from each piece whatever it is they get from it rather than what I feed them. The art should speak for itself and have a life of its own.”
Titled “Paradise Lost,” after John Milton’s epic poem, it is Krok’s first solo exhibition and features elaborate sculptures, smaller pieces of intricate bronze jewelry as well as two multimedia pieces. It is a show of paradoxes in that it incorporates the themes of creation and destruction, heaven and hell and war and peace. It’s also noteworthy for the range of media the artist employs: bronze sculpture, collaged canvas, digital animation and plates of resin and steel.
One of the more interesting and upbeat pieces in the exhibition is a bronze sculpture of a baby fixed to the underside of a wing shaped like the Hebrew letter yud. According to Krok, the wing represents both the wing of an angel and the scapula on a woman’s back, the place where babies in South Africa are often carried to keep mother’s hands free. This baby, unlike many of the other broken babies on display in the exhibition, is protected.
This piece also demonstrates the influence Krok’s South African upbringing. Though she describes her childhood as sheltered and isolated from the reality of apartheid that was happening around her, it’s a theme that has greatly influenced how she approaches her art.
“I don’t believe there are new ideas or themes but a layering of existing ones,” said Krok, 46, whose history is as varied as her work. “My work is a culmination of my personal experiences.”
Krok has studied in her native South Africa, Australia and Tel Aviv and earned degrees in subjects ranging from classical civilization, animation and digital media to jewelry engineering, all of which she considers influences on her work. In particular, her work with metals led to the creation of extensive sculptures, or as she describes them, “turning little things into big things.” She now lives in London with her 12-year-old daughter.
For “Paradise Lost,” Krok worked for about a year to prepare the pieces, some taking weeks to complete and others up to six months.
“Every piece I work on, I have a love-hate relationship with,” said Krok, who has also spent time living in Berlin and Los Angeles. “There always comes a time that I want to throw it in ocean and never look at it again. Especially if a piece is taking a long time to finish.”
Current events also strongly influence the pieces on display. In the colorful “Sequence of Many Levels of Deception,” newspapers are used for the base of 12 collages, framed and hung in three rows of four.
“When I was working on the pieces for this exhibition, I was feeling very affected by war, by what happened in Paris, by the girls who were abducted in Africa,” said Krok, whose work sells from several hundred dollars to more than $23,000 for the larger bronze sculptures. She added, “We are so exposed to horrific things that we become desensitized to what’s going on.”
“Most of the work explores themes such as war, death, creation and destruction, and the underworld cave-like setting of Gallery 223 is a fantastic place to consider the somewhat darker underbelly of our existence,” said Alex Wood, gallery manager and curator of the exhibition.
One of the most striking — and disturbing — works in the exhibition is an interactive piece entitled “War Games.” The viewer is asked to spin a wheel to determine the color of the wax-work baby that the viewer will then place in an entanglement of barbed wire.
“Krok deals with questions and themes that are relevant to each and every one of us. The viewer does not need to know anything about art to find some meaning,” said Wood. “The work may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it certainly doesn’t take an appreciation of art to leave an impression.”
Rachel Stafler is a freelance writer from Baltimore lives in London.