- Pulchérie Gadmer
Enigme des ombres
Nika Zupančič twists and turns in her studio like a worried alchemist. She’s working on shadows apparition and reduces the fresh figurative layer until it erases. She destroys, in order to construct. Necessary dislocation for the birth of an organic swarm. The surface becomes a living fabric. Abstract figures dance on the canvas, the movement of hand and time does print, as it would on the film of a black and white Chunking Express. She redraws a photo or a video excerpt of nature and, by a combinatory game, arranges her references until the line melts into the scenery, until the pictorial treatment becomes a scenery in itself. The image then appears simultaneously in positive and negative. The viewer chooses his perceptive angle.
Nika is restless. For years, she’s been torn between her masters, between Rembrandt and Malevich. For years she experienced their techniques, she confronted their dialectics. Change of paradigm. Nika lets loose, distances from her perfectionism, takes a leap of faith with the creative process, with the migration of pigments, the hazards of sinkage. The subject exudes from itself, spreads in itself on the surface. The Heraclitean change dear to the artist is perceptible. Everything is movement, flow, change. Opposites combine. Memories persist in their elusiveness.
A point of light appears in the crepuscular contrasts. The need for colour emerges. Nika refers to Odilon Redon, getting out of his night, his desire to enter the symphony of colours. The Slovenian painter has been contemplating on black and white for 15 years. Her automatic writing is now complete, thanks to the knowledge of the techniques and concepts that she explores, at the whim of the accidents that she welcomes in her plastic, sensible and metaphysical flights. Nika Zupančič is evolving. Shapes and organic faces emerge, whisper in abstraction, in the white and black dichotomy of day and night, in her material, steeped in a prophetic ray.
- Nika Zupančič
Light seeps through.
The crown of a tree blocks the view: like a dark coolness between the eye
and the blinding light. What is this dark surface, inhabited by leaves like
refined tones? A painting – a symphony for the eye? This sensation originating
halfway between the throat and the diaphragm and spreading into
the total openness and floating-ness of Chagall’s angelic humanity surges
from blue labyrinthine melancholy to the golden, blinding sunshine.
It is framed by an unbearable extremeness in which we touch the source
where everything originates, which determines and shapes everything
glowing or dimmed in the fine nuances, which at times fills us with almighty
In the cracked black epidermis we discover the field of the sun. Light germinates
from black furrows. Into every dark recess …
“The sun is something that cannot be reproduced, but merely represented,”
said Cézanne. It is only by translating our own sensations, by representing
ourselves (according to Maurice Denis) that we can create new beauty.
Creating a new presence, a new reality … This is where representation
differs from reproduction (academic drawing as understood in the 19th
century or photography).
In its inexhaustibility, every motif is beyond capturing. This is all the more
true of the motif of a living, pulsating phenomenon. Yet it can be represented
– its presence that is beyond capturing can be depicted. Individual
paintings are not just fixations but also imprints, traces of a living phenomenon;
in its sequencing, the serial form enables both a fixating gaze
and the experience of life, of motion.
The arguments used in the popular rejections of painting today, which
aim to dismiss it as something obsolete or to relegate it to the sphere of
decorative and archaic artisanship, are not tenable. Painting does not
compete against other media: its vitality makes its language untranslatable,
and the space it creates cannot be recreated by any other art form.
A painting is living tissue. It inherently bears all the characteristics of all
living things – including, or above all, transience, which is carved on the
painter’s consciousness as he or she conceives a work and chooses the
technique and the material. The artist faces numerous dilemmas: which oil
to choose, poppyseed or linseed; the latter will yellow, the former crack-
le … Unlike a poem or other, more recent forms of art, a painting is not
reproducible. Its life is as fragile as a butterfly wing and its membrane
alive until it decomposes into colorful dust.
Yet I repeat: A painting is living tissue.
Translation: Tamara Soban
- Andrej Medved
After the success story of Emerik Bernard, which came to a climax in the eighties and the nineties and still continues to enfold, contemporary Slovenian painting reached an impasse, a personal crisis (since only a handful of artists have stayed faithful to themselves and their artistic pursuit) and a general one, precipitated by the “onslaught” of new media against the national galleries. Today – despite a re-discovery of the painting and “classical” artistic representation, by Amerika, by Europe – these institutions persist with their local quasiartistic approach and exhibitions. A decisive turning point, in a way, was the retrospective exhibition of works by Živko Marušič at the Museum of Modern Art entitled “The painting is dead, long live the painting!” that served as a sign of this medium’s revival. It is none other than Marušič, a painter whose invariably new, renewed artistic energy and quality never cease to astound, who today ranks among the pre-eminent Slovenian painters of international renown. His equals, at present, are Dušan Kirbiš and Ivo Prančič, both of whom have been nationally reasserted; nevertheless, the Museum of Modern Art has not included the latter in its permanent collection as the management of this prestigious institution considers his work a postmodern kitsch. And an exhibition by Marjan Gumilar presented at the Loža Gallery and the Kostanjevica na Krki Church … as well as the unrivalled Marko Jakše and his phantasmagorical figures. And then, in the new millennium, a discovery of new painting, a new and a landmark return to the picture. First with Mitja Ficko’s ”dreamy” canvases and supreme, classical command of the metier, a fresh artistic vigour that has also been recognized abroad, and then, instantly, a pictorial miracle, pure “texture” in the pictures by Joni Zakonjšek, and paintings by Uroš Weinberger that blend – congenially – computerized and social/existential iconography in temporal zero-point, until finally, today, a wave of female painters has burgeoned forth, painters who have re-established trust in the pictorial statement and artistic insight: Maruša Šuštar, Nika Zupančič, Ksenja Čerče, Katja Sudec, Ana Sluga, Suzana Brborović and, Ira Marušič. Numerous others are surfacing, the ones who have only begun to evolve their style of discovering and inventing a new painting.
First Generations in the 3rd Millennium
“For the sublime has no object either. When the starry sky, a vista of open seas or a stained glass window shedding purple beams fascinate me, there is a cluster of meaning, of colours, of words, of caresses, there are light touches, scents, sighs, cadences that arise, shroud me, carry me away, and sweep me beyond the things that I see, hear, or think. The “sublime” object dissolves in the raptures of a bottomless memory. It is such a memory, which, from stopping point to stopping point, remembrance to remembrance, love to love, transfers that object to the refulgent point of the dazzlement in which I stray in order to be. As soon as I perceive it, as soon as I name it, the sublime triggers – it has always already triggered – a spree of perceptions and words that expands memory boundlessly. I then forget the point of departure and find myself removed to a secondary universe, set off from the one where ‘’I” am – delight and loss. Not at all short of but always with and through perception and words, the sublime is a something added [un en plus], that expands us, overstrains us, and causes us to be both here, as dejects, and there, as others and sparkling.” Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror
The painting of Nika Zupančič is not an image of death, pain, but of the phantasm of “absolute Desire”; or – according to Kristeva “désir absolue, déterminé par l’objet absolue”.
What we find far more intriguing is the space of colour, this blackness. Not a blackness of skin or complexion, it occupies a space much profounder than the body of body or the body of painting. The black colour is a thin and transparent layer (albeit without a “bottom”, a background), the epidermis of complexion that pulsates inside it, or, better said: “persists”, “resists” – an integrated, embedded – melted world of sophisticated relations that are no longer passions or sensual experiences. As if nothing could happen; as if the journey was over and we were left confronting ourselves. With only traces surrounding us: the traces of traces, in a floating world, in blackness whose light has morphed into a veil, a shroud; the light that does not deprive us of sight but provides us with it. In this world we feel spiritual residues, a spiritual “gust”, spiritual “thrust” of painting. This inwardness, the dive into blackness, into non-space that is preparing to implode, into bottomless memory and firmament, inwards and outwards at the same time, is the sign of a changing body, a move from the sensual towards the spiritual. Although not portraying delight, joy, happiness, this series of images of ostensibly “benumbed” figures, and those in “flight” evokes a moment of “assumption”. Yes, assumption as sublimation that is possible only in a work of art.
Blackness, illumination, light. The entire space, everything characterised by light: instantaneous visions of a “fatal” moment. There is gloria all around us, enlightenment, but not the light from the sun and illumination. It does not stem from anywhere; it does not enter the space of the painting from anywhere. This light and this blackness involve craving and longing for “clearing up”, for “awakening” into the world. Not every world, not a profane one, but a world of light. This desire, the craving for awakening in light is actually an allurement into a space, towards a space where one is one’s own self one’s true self and thus null and absent in an ordinary sense. Light is absence – on the surface, in this life; light is presence in another world, in a space unto oneself; it is the inner and heavenly enlightenment. A picture done in black is a sign in the sky and in the soul; seemingly communicating: Come (erkhou, veni), come to the space that is simultaneously within-without your space. An apparition? Or merely a light-sleep dream? There is something angelic in this “flight” into the sky – an image hardly real (substantial, material) that is merging and merges, like the weave of a shroud, with its inner body. An image of a figure that again utters the word “Come” is the desire for one single being, for a mystic wedding, for a union; which is possible only in a fluid state, in a non-existent space, in blackness, and in a prenatal state of the soul and body, in the – posthumous – “assumption”. Yes, these images of figures taking skyward flights are actually allegories of assumption; where the body instantaneously acquires spiritual nature and the exterior form is therefore only-still a disguise for this world’s existence.
Like in a dream, in abdominal fluid, in translucent maternal cover; in the thrust of one’s own spirit. An image is not merely an “act”: not an activity from afar, a space of truth as untruth, instead, it is morphing, before our very eyes, into a spiritual picture that is overflowing inwardly, barely perceptible. A spiritual picture, slipping from our gaze and turning into an artistic quality as such. A re-sublimation into soul is taking place (sich ereignet) before us, the soul of painting and the body. Thereby, an image of the soul returns unto itself Now, finally, it has come to be itself, its proper self. The act of this union is a moment of merging, the state of re-appropriation (Ereignis is propriation). Images without truth, with their own, binding recognitions. There is light in blackness, in colour, light calling for “enlightenment”, for “clearing”; light is the “act of being” as an interior, spiritual appropriation of each recognition and thus as a cognitive norm that is the highest creative force and creed, a norm: the norm dictating how and what a painting, an artwork should communicate, “narrate”.
Zupančič’s painting is not a monochrome, although it is reminiscent of one. These are neither “mirrors” nor “monochromes”. The conditionally supposed mirrors have now been painted with a uniform colour, and consequently echo the opacity of a monochrome in the “reflectiveness” and “illusionism” of chromatic mirroring. It is the reflective quality and opacity that are more prominent now, more than the monochromy, to the point that it seems – in some remote proximity – that they resemble the glimmering surfaces of Monet’s Water Lilies. What’s essential for the monochrome is the density of surface that is to erase such a space and the colour nuances. While in these paintings the shade of colour – the colour nuances – erases the monochrome … As if the meaning of the painting lies in Hegel’s negation of the negation, Aufhebung: an expedition that is “reconciliation”, unification of all artistic principles and their enhancement by their own “sublime field”. On the edge between the visible materiality and immateriality of a picture there emerges an inimitable optic effect, the distinguishing vivid and blinding intensity. It has prevented the surface of the canvas from being torpid or substantial, dense, subdued. Colour: pigment as blackness once again floats above the surface of the painting … The black painting has now become “a core of dust bathed in sunshine”. Matter and materiality as surface of the painting once more suddenly inverts, becoming pure, blinding apparition and a (self)reflexive expressive surface …, idiosyncratically retrospective in a series of black canvases, where the optic effect is foregrounded, without a clear dividing line within a single – let us conditionally call it abstract – painting. The issue of “lack” arises because nothing lacks in these paintings. Nevertheless, one can detect the differences among the complex effects of the subtly nuanced and expressive surface, where the diffuse and blackish streaks of colour are actually more or less opaque. Thus, one could talk about “veils” that vary in diverse shades of black. And about a differentiated surface of the canvas, about its horizontal and vertical (con)volution – morphing into a structural grid that collapses in colour iridescence, through numerous “disturbances” and “caesurae”, which the painter draws from the background of countless stains – streaks scraped across the canvas that is delineated – erased, filling up the painting to the brim.
Now, in front of our very eyes, the black colour substance, as if liquefied into blurred pictorial figurativeness, once more vanishes and slips into the depths in order to return anew as a compulsive force, alternating between states. Therefore, one is dealing with a serial “erasure” and “replenishment”, where the colour black is not associated with absence, emptiness, death, but gradually develops into a virtuous and glowing pictorial field with “blinding” aesthetic effects. Thus, the dual structure of the painting and colour black as the source of light simultaneously incorporates opticality and visionary destructiveness (According to Nerval, a black sun symbolizes depression and melancholy.) that repeats itself and can be inverted invariably. For it convolutes between the visible and invisible material and spiritual fields, between Lacanian and Freudian Pleasure and Loss. This supernatural and quality pigment functions (in this manner) immaterially … through the process of” disquiet” and distinguishing among countless retrograde and past as well as present, current impulses and moments … (Variations on Briony Fer’s On Abstract Art)
Furthermore, the images of Nika Zupančič are not religious paintings but sublime works, works devoid of a real object, phantasms of “lack”. And of desire for union with the “other”. Instantaneously, the figure (or, better said, the colour “figurative status”) becomes immaterial, dematerialises, assumes spiritual form; in the absence of distinction between heaven and earth, night and day, death and eternal life. The figure is contoured, “sliding” beyond the applicable perspective. There is no depth; in lieu of it, what becomes prominent is the colour evidentness, the apparentness of pictorial screen. Hence, canvases are no longer bodies; the external form as symbolic presence of a – certain – body has been imparted a spiritual nature, “translucence”. The sensation and the “logic” of sensation (according to Deleuze) are therefore indicated only with the twist of colour lines, with an elongated inclination of figures towards a spiral that seems “vacuum-like”, as if the air had been sucked out of it, thus making the painting float in emptiness, in a space that actually does not exist. Indeed, the space of these images is the silent and airless space of the painting as a spiritual moment. A spiritual allegory of the primeval source. A space without any real reference, one interior, hyperreal, entirely enclosed and self-sufficient. Where nothing gets lost, a space devoid of amazement but also recognition; before any theory.
Paintings that express neither passion nor sensual experiences but only a certain dematerialised substance assuming simple, yet “fundamental” conditions. As if nothing could happen anymore, as if the journey had ended and we were left confronting ourselves, in a world floating in colour black and light. A space free of shadow and darkness. A space of light opening every space, every vision and every understanding. A space of clearing (Heideggerian Lichtung); without clearing, there is no light, vision or understanding. Clearing is opening, das Offene, “presence”; clearing is the path towards oneself. The image becomes “pure form”, where some fundamental relationship is still being felt (loss and solitude), yet without a declared content. Maria Desolata is neither reality nor metaphor for the painter’s picturing. Reality is absent, and metaphor impossible. Because of the corporeality that is vanishing now, falling. But not into darkness, the abyss of nothingness, but into spiritual thrust, into eternal union with the Other. Where only a spiritual, psychic journey is possible, glowing with the otherworldly beauty and light. Hence the reductionism of form and the purity of colour relation. For, as it has been contended before, the sublime painting has no object of its own. Instead, it inherently carries the possibility for denominating the prenominal, pre-objective state. In this sense, the painting is trans-objective. Now undeniably as the subject and the artist, the painter is searching for her way “home”, in illuminating the painting she is approaching the innermost essence; that which has been entrusted to us for safekeeping, to nurture and eventually comprehend.
Contemporary Slovenian Painting:
First Generations in the 3rd Millennium
- Andrej Medved
˝The Painting as ˝Paysage˝ – The Architecture of the Soul˝
The titles of the paintings from the monochrome /primeval/ darkness and Void – Nika’s “black paintings” talk /to us/ about some fundamental and transcendent – sublime – negativity, mystery of the dark mirror, that is “never, always, and already seen”, of whose “adultery” /trompe l’oeil/ i.e. the screen that displays the hidden horizon of the appearance of the image, in the background, from the background, Void, of a beloved object /del Amor/, which is obscured by a black sun. This is, in fact – in prudentia – a simulacrum, a miracle that swills the area of black paint into ecstasy. Where does this black sun come from? From which galaxy shine its visible and invisible, heavy rays, that push me /according to Kristeva/ into the ground, into denial and into muteness?
The secret comes from the interior, from a remembrance /Erinnerung/ towards the outside, “discarded” in the sense of réjéter, on the side of possibility of something that can still be endured, that is still bearable and can /still/ be thought and felt. It requires some sort of fundamental attention from us that would arouse unrest and fascinate our desire for the image. It is protected by an absolute, which is in the same moment – simultaneously – a /call/ing, “calling” and a reflection that inhabits this mystery, this interior in principle. In this absolute, thoughts are bound by affects, which do not have, to be exact, absolutely no object. But nevertheless Nika’s images are about /some/ Thing, a primeval rudimentary structure, which is actually the Thing of painting. And this is a “tangible” object-game / ob-jeu / with the object which is the correlate of the painting and the painter, as well as being unique and autonomous at the same time.
La peinture est l’expression du peintre. Y. Michaud: De Kooning, Paris, 1984
Nika’s more recent “paysages” can be classified as pictorial screens, where creativity is at work in the search of a new modern landscape that has been long lost. Melancholy can be felt everywhere at the fundamental loss of the former pictorial object. Both the painter and the viewer experience the /slow/ed rhythm of the revived landscape depiction. But we also notice the highest metaphysical clarity in the approach of the depicted landscape, a primary concern at its loss in modernist painting. The painting tells us that we do not yet know how to lose, that are not yet ready to renounce the depiction of landscape. For the painter, its disappearance represents a modernist experience which she can easily relinquish. Her landscape is therefore not imitative, but a brilliant and at the same time fragile visual illusion, an idealization of love and a melancholy fervour. Its creativity is therefore not a traumatic mania in any way, but an approximation, recognition of the void, which the image of the landscape still evokes.
The chromatic charge on the canvas shows the lack of lost and almost forgotten content. Hence the content, subject, message of the work remain a mystery to us and to the painter, who is in no way torn between the desire to paint landscapes and the abstract, abstracted themes in modernist painting. Despite all, the artist is now resolute in her decision to paint “psychic landscapes”, in which she is now led by a primal internal effect, which are: experience and emotion. These paintings are no longer daydream, that is to say: the regressive internal daydream at the core loss of the painting object, but the infinitely alive pulse of the image. Therefore, it would be difficult to argue that the artistic approach and visual expression are reduced in principle, just the opposite: in no way do they devalue the content-message of the canvas, but enrich it with pleasure, delight, which now lead the artist’s hand. Nika reconstructs the originality of /primeval/ forms and the illusion of the premodernist landscape by creating a visual language, which does not replace realistic objects, but combines pictorial signifiers with impulsive rhythms in the application of paint. Her significant psychic force now joins every structure, all pictorial – object forms – with the subject, that is with the painter, thus preventing the separation of the painted image from nature. The melancholy in her works is otherwise also tied to the past, that is to say to the loss of landscape in modernism (in this sense it seemed that this topic has become exhausted and obsolete), and yet the artistic entity remains true to her, without the possibility of significantly changing or revolutionising the situation. The mental content of the painting is otherwise also filled with a hypertrophic past of the landscape, but the artist is already capable of giving it a renewed sense of meaning. This internalization, this evasion while forgetting nature as an object in contemporary post/post/modernist painting is very much evident, yet the negativity – deficit, forgetting of imitative pictorial processes – is replaced by the positive, postmodern romantic experience that leaves itself open to an emotional rhythm. Where imaginary, existentialist activity is at work, and gesture, condensation holds prominence, and the former discursivity and narration of the image are defeated.