Maya Kulenovic’s works have been exhibited internationally in over thirty solo exhibitions and many more group shows and art fairs. Kulenovic is currently represented by galleries in Canada, USA, Netherlands and Norway, and her work is collected worldwide.
A book on Kulenovic’s paintings with introduction by Edward Lucie-Smith was published by d’jonge Hond 2008 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Kulenovic’s latest monograph, Fugue, including an essay by Mark Kingwell was published in Toronto, Canada in 2017.
Kulenovic studied art at London University of the Arts (at Chelsea College of Art and Design) in London, England (Masters of Arts), Ontario College of Art and Design University (AOCAD Honours) in Toronto and Mimar Sinan University in Istanbul. While studying in London, Kulenovic was a resident of prestigious London Goodenough College.
Born in SFR Yugoslavia and Canadian by nationality, Maya Kulenovic is based in Toronto.
Kulenovic’s paintings and sculptures often depict borderline states that encompass being and non-being, trance and wakefulness, stillness and action. All of the subjects – figures as well as places – are at once the protagonists and the settings of her ‘still narratives’. Marked by traces of past events or filled with anticipation of the imminent, they haunt and are haunted.
Even though many influences are visible in her work, from classical sculpture and painting to film, photography and architecture, Kulenovic’s work resist being assigned a genre or style. There is a relationship to realism and to history in her imagery, but it would be more accurate to think of her work in terms of speculative fiction, distorted memories, dreams or premonitions about the future.
Kulenovic’s paintings are created through many translucent layers, some of which define the subject and others whose primary role is to obscure or partially destroy the previous layer, the remnants of which can be still seen in subtle traces. In the subsequent layers she rebuilds the image upon the remains and echoes of what was there before. She uses solvents, rags, wire brush, sandpaper, eroding and rebuilding the surface with a certain degree of the unexpected, the uncontrolled.
Likewise, Kulenovic’s sculpting technique involves a similar approach to creation, destruction and reconstruction. The original sculpture is hand sculpted in clay or carved in plaster to a polished finish, then it is cast in concrete – material better known for it’s structural properties and brutal aesthetics then for fine art casting. The concrete Kulenovic uses is a refined version of what we normally consider industrial material, as it includes proprietary blend of fine pigments and grades of sand. The process of casting involves methodical, deliberate layering of the material, with attention to textures and colours. The cast sculpture is then re-worked, often eroded by water and various tools or broken, then re-imagined, rebuilt and refined.
Kulenovic’s work is evocative rather than descriptive. The artist engages with a multitude of possible interpretations which exist simultaneously and in constant flux. This is another way of looking at ambiguity: not as something we have to overcome with certainty, but as a state in itself. Kulenovic’s paintings and sculptures resist closure, as they exist in a state of open-ended, perpetual possibility.
MAYA KULENOVIC; BIOGRAPHY AND WORK
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.
FACES OF CHAOTIC BEAUTY: APPEALS AND ANSWERS IN MAYA KULENOVIC’S PAINTING
The human faces in her work, eerie presences based on found photographs (I want to say ‘caught’ photographs instead, snatched imagistic moments), peer out at the viewer in a variety of complex attitudes. They are beseeching but menacing, challenging yet lost in thought. The dark palette of the backgrounds in these paintings make the faces seem to float in space, carved by shadows into a pattern of craggy promontories and deep cheekbone-overhang recesses. Seeing them this way pulls the metaphorical association back the other way, towards the natural world: we speak of a ‘rock face’, for example; or, as in the title of Wallace Stegner’s magnificent novel, an ‘angle of repose’ detectable in a seam of silver or in a pile of granular material on the farthest verge of beginning to slide downward. These faces, fleshy and somehow mineral, stand poised on the edge of something unnamable.
Kulenovic’s technique of scoring and scraping her painted canvases, using solvent, brushes, or blades, is a risky play of alteration—what she describes as the deliberate introduction of a ‘chaotic element’ to the work. This contributes deep texture and richness to the faces, a layering of material and hue that is not detectable in any reproduction. The faces have been, as it were, worked over; they are damaged, imploring, pre-haunted. Their mute appeals are without limit or end; they cannot be set aside or even answered. The figures that confront the viewer have an intensity and pathos, even a sense of menace, that sets them decisively apart from the superfluity of face images we encounter nowadays, in this age of Facebook, the posted ‘selfie’ photograph, and the global celebrity visage.
MAYA KULENOVIC EN REMBRANDTS CLAIR-OBSCUR (2010)
Bob van den Boogert, Conservator Museum Het Rembrandthuis, Amsterdam
‘Kulenovic is een van de grootste schildertalenten van haar generatie en heeft inmiddels een omvangrijk oeuvre opgebouwd, dat zijn weg vindt naar een groeiende schare bewonderaars in Europa en de Verenigde Staten. In een volstrekt persoonlijke en direct herkenbare stijl maakt Kulenovic gebruik van de picturale middelen die haar door grote voorgangers uit de kunstgeschiedenis worden aangereikt. Een van hen is onmiskenbaar Rembrandt van Rijn.’