Anthony Collins


One needs to understand the role of imagery in the paintings: its inverted but integral relationship to realistic representation, while also understanding that the imagery cannot be abstracted from the material. These are paintings whose “object qualities” – paint handling and destructive layers – are present and bring time into play. But whose time? What epoch? The canvases themselves may appear aged, but this is principally a visual cue for the viewer to consider the works differently. Maya Kulenovic’s paintings are created through many translucent layers, some which define the subject and others whose primary role is to destroy the previous layer and introduce an element of chaos. Here she uses solvents, rags, wire brush, sandpaper. This chaos adds a certain primal energy to the image, as if the medium breaks free from both the subject and the artist. The result is a fertile ground from which she can continue working.

Taken as a whole, the landscapes, architectural works, stills and figures, present a coherent and familiar world, but is it our world, now? Clearly there is a relationship to realism (and viewers often believe that they recognize places or buildings depicted) but in fact the coherent world depicted is an inverted world, a world of utter difference from the world we identify as the real world, and viewers are perhaps best off leaving assumptions about realism behind when interpreting the paintings. While the imagery in the paintings, at first glance, may seem to come from the past, it doesn’t. It may be closer to premonitions about the future, and the stories they tell may perhaps be best described as “speculative histories”. If we look far back into the pre-history of civilizations, we find mythologies. Mythologies have familiar elements, and others we cannot easily reconcile with our understanding of what is real, but they also contain, within their paradoxes, allegories and symbolism that transcend the ages.

Maya Kulenovic never tries to connect her personal life with her paintings. ‘I believe that the connection between personality and life of the artist with his work is inevitable, and that it should be left as a subliminal process’, she says. ‘My paintings are inspired by what I see, and if something inspires me, this is usually because it contains a larger, universal truth as well as a connection to my own life. So all of my images bear witness to my own experience as a participant, but also as an observer of both history and the present. Ultimately my paintings are existential in nature and they usually depict liminal, borderline states that encompass being and non-being, creation and destruction, life and death, trance and wakefulness, sanity and madness’. Nevertheless, in order to avoid artificial polarities: good vs evil, hope vs despair, her paintings aim for truth, a sense of life in an aesthetic quality. As a consequence, though not necessarily as a goal, a certain measure of ambiguity is evoked; so darkness is not necessarily ‘threat’ nor light ‘salvation’, it can be seen the other way around, too. Hope may be in the resilient presence of the figure, persisting even when it seems to be fading, pulled apart (and held together) by both light and shadow. Resilience is sometimes lithe and elegant, sometimes brutal and decayed, sometimes all of these qualities, and this overarching effect underscores the architectural works as much as the figures and landscapes, and is the source of the coexistence of the familiar with the unfamiliar in her work. Resilience may reside in the ambiguous perspective towards history in the works generally, which allows her to direct the viewer’s interest to the cycles of life and the life-force a subject manifests, even though this might be as a memory, or an intuition of the future. In her words, ‘My hope is that these elements will create the conditions for viewers to experience a moment of recognition and empathy’.

DESERT / EDGE 2015, oil on canvas, 23″ x 37″ (58.5cm x 94cm)