“IRIS, DUST 2016, oil on canvas, 36″ x 67” (91.5cm x 170cm)
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.’