‘Maya Kulenovic’s aesthetics present a constant dialog between spontaneity and control, creation and destruction, likeness and anonymity, presence and absence. While she does create chiaroscuro effects reminiscent of Caravaggio and Rembrandt, her technique is expressive, direct, fresh, and often surprising; it invites the viewer to participate emotionally in the work.’

Paintings by Kulenovic are difficult to photograph. The image is created by light from within emerging through layers upon layers of thin glazes and transparent paint, eroded and rebuilt, with a certain degree of unexpected effects. Her process incorporates opposing forces acting upon the image in a cyclical fashion: obscuring and revealing, damaging and rebuilding, randomness and control. This is what gives her works a particular sense of life.

Even though her paintings appear to be in the realist tradition, they are anything but. Kulenovic works in oil, yet there is very little paint present. She begins each painting from a monochrome sketch done in medium, with little pigment, painted on the canvas in broad strokes with a wide brush. She covers the entire canvas and, from this moment, the painting shows presence and character. Subsequent layers subtly change and define the painting, slowly enveloping it in shadow and giving it volume and presence, obscuring some elements of the initial image, and revealing others. Shadowing in Kulenovic’s work is never empty. It often conceals parts of the image, which can still be seen through the layers of dark glazes. Transparent layers are often applied randomly and quickly, sometimes using surprising colours, introducing an element of chaos and spontaneity, undermining the classical tone of the painting. The artist then makes decisions regarding which of these accidents she wishes to keep and which to erase, yet the traces of these actions can always be picked up by an observant eye.

In Kulenovic’s completed works there are no flat colour fields and few identifiable brushstrokes. Every section of the canvas, every colour, including shadowy, seemingly black backgrounds, is the result of many overlapping layers of different transparent vibrant pigments. She often uses between 15 and 25 layers per painting, and sometimes more.

About her method Kulenovic says:

‘My aesthetics and sensibility come from my relationship with classical art, which I grew up with. But my paintings are neither classical nor representational. There is an element of realism there of course, but what I see in my images as I paint are not only the figurative elements, rather, it is the relationship of light and shadow, bright and dark areas of the canvas, and an often uneasy balance of these elements as they push each other and struggle over the areas in between. Light is in conflict with shadow, yet they define each other, and together they bring into existence the figurative image underneath, but at the same time they threaten its integrity. I see shadows as both protective and suffocating, and light as redemptive and obliterating. This balance between light, shadow, and the fragile reality in between is what the psychology of these images is built upon; the expressions and particularities (of the faces) are secondary.

The process of painting is a sort of a struggle that is neither predetermined nor neutral; each layer is it’s own complex battle. The figurative nature of the image alludes to classical painting, but this is subverted by a process of erasure, which is in its essence abstract, random. I use thin and transparent layers of paint to establish the image – the defining layers are usually in neutral tones, then I follow up with a layer of destruction, using whatever I get my hands on – rags of different textures, blades, pallete knives, hardened brushes, wire brushes, sandpaper, different solvents. Often the ‘destruction’ layer has nothing to do with the realism of the image at all, but it is applied randomly and haphazardly, completely ignoring the image underneath. Other times I use it to obliterate areas in light, exposing the canvas underneath. Much of the light in the painting comes from the canvas, and I try to use as little paint as I can. Sometimes instead of erasure, I use a randomly applied layer of an illogical or bright colour, the remnants of which can be seen in traces. So, in a way, my process of painting lately has been to create a defined image, then allow it to be partially destroyed, and then rebuilt again upon the remains. I find this dialog between creation and destruction (or control and abandon) very satisfying on a primal level.’

AETHER / UNFOLDING, 2013, oil on canvas, 119″ X 54″ (302cm x 137cm). Detail.