Anthony Collins

Maya Kulenovic’s artistic development, as a painter working with representational imagery, has followed a path echoing that of art history: as it has shaped its own story and seen its potentials redefined. Her inspirations range from Rembrandt to 19th century daguerreotype photography, images from damaged motion pictures, Greek sculptures, Roman death masks, ancient Middle Eastern architecture, early American documentary photography and film, East Asian ink paintings, Leonardo’s drawings, Goya’s prints, Turner’s skies, the photographs of Eugène Atget and Margaret Bourke-White, and 20th Century painters Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud, Paula Rego, and Marlene Dumas. From these she has forged a unique repertoire described as “unlike the work of any other artist of her generation.”

Whether with portraits, which she terms “faces”, architecture, referred to as “build” works, landscapes or still life images, Kulenovic’s focus is to capture an ambience or psychological state. She deliberately explores ambiguity, and in her approach to the painted surface she works in glazed layers as well as destructive techniques to create images evoking a particular atemporal context that invite the viewer to linger, and thus invest of themselves in her world. In her words, “the atmosphere of the painting arises from the relationships between the defining and destroying elements.” Despite the removal of particular narrative references to place, time, or human drama, it is not unusual for viewers to make strong personal identifications with her compositions. Her works remind us of the historical without depicting. Instead, there is a compelling evocative power to her imagery that reaches viewers emotionally and viscerally, which can be both fascinating and challenging. In her paintings there is a dialogue with memory and culture, and a subliminal mechanism driven by the seemingly familiar and representative, in contrast with the uncanny. This process can be understood as reflecting a distillation of art history into contemporary forms that raise questions about our world of images, their doubles, and the future: about how we recognize the language of art historical imagery in a world where almost all imagery now comes to us in a secondary, usually virtual form, and where we should place ourselves amidst this duel for preeminence.

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VEIL OF RAIN, 2013, oil on canvas, 32″ x 28.5″ (72cm x 81cm)

The re-presentation and mediation of images from the history of art has been part of the story of Western culture since at least the invention of the printing press and developments in block printing in the 15th Century. The discovery of photographic processes in the 19th Century forever altered the relationship of painting to its subjects and its viewers, introducing issues of indexicality and, eventually, foregrounding the problematic of an artwork’s aura of uniqueness in Benjamin’s “age of mechanical reproduction.” While ever-evolving technical media undermined painting’s monopoly on verisimilitude, artists began to explore its possibilities as an expressive, formally self-sufficient medium. The Modern era saw intentionality and conceptual strategies become key attributes of avant-garde painting. And while 20th Century manifestos launched the brunt of their broadsides at Realism, their real object of contempt was the past, history itself. Though art history’s eurocentric basis would retain its foundational significance, the art world would expand into an international spectacle in the latter half of the 20th Century. Although contemporaneity was afterwards in ascendance, it was still the case with Modernism and its antecedents that representational imagery was often deployed (albeit not as naive academicism but in wiser, more politicized, or more subversive forms). Artists are free to bring all their skills and imagination to the play that is Contemporary Art, where imagery which might – ostensibly – represent the past can effectively point towards a future in which history has the potential to fold back upon itself like a Möbius strip. Maya Kulenovic’s choice of subjects and her approach to their presentation could be seen as embodying the values beginning to be attributed to the Anthropocene epoch, in which the past is key to the future and humanity’s ability to impact upon the natural world, social structures, and individual lives is all-pervasive, not understood, and never neutral.

Maya Kulenovic began her formal art studies at the age of 17 at Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul (1992-1995) when her family briefly moved there from her birthplace of Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (then Yugoslavia). After settling in Canada, she went on to study art at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in Toronto (AOCAD Honours, 1997), then at the London University of the Arts (at Chelsea College of Art and Design) in London, England where she was awarded a Masters of Arts degree in 1998. She is also an alumna of the distinguished Goodenough College in London, England (1997- 98). She currently lives and works in Toronto, Canada. 

Since 1993, Maya Kulenovic’s works have been presented in over twenty solo exhibitions and more than forty group shows and art fairs in Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, USA, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey. Her paintings can be found in significant collections around the world.

A book on her work, with a text from esteemed British author, curator, and art critic Edward Lucie-Smith, was published by d’jonge Hond in the Netherlands in 2008.