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EDITORIAL

EPIFANIO RECOMMENDS

MY RECORD COLLECTION
Mark Young

IN MUNTINLUPA PRISON
August Künnapu

A FEW WORDS ABOUT THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN LATVIAN PAINTING
Maija Rudovska

IMPRESSIONS OF NEPAL
Vilen Künnapu

THE TWO TOWNS: A TRANSFORMATION OF TOWNSCAPE IN MODERN CHINA
Peteris Ratas

HARRY PYE'S POSTCARD FROM LEEDS
Harry Pye

LEO GIDON'S WANDERING MIND
Mehis Heinsaar

ANTONIO MACHADO
Lauri Sommer

TEAM

A Few Words About the Latest
Developments in Latvian Painting

To provide a comprehensive overview of Latvian contemporary painting, one would have to look at many young artists, both talented and not as talented. However, to discuss the very best (and that which could become such), the compilation of a few accents will suffice.
Outlining the latest developments in Latvian painting, one must first and foremost mention the Soviet legacy and the fact that this generation of twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings is the post-Soviet generation whose childhood memories date back to the passage of time between the end of that era and the beginning of this one. The lives of its representatives are often characterized by a nostalgic, retrospective mood and an inability to depart from the remnants of formal Soviet heritage resulting in their frequent uncritical use of outdated traditions and their simultaneous and enthusiastic assimilation of that which is new and different. What then are the manifestations of this heritage in art? As an aesthetic retro sign in the aspect of its formal manifestation, it has been tackled by several Latvian artists of whom the best known is Andris Vītoliņš. However, as an archetypical experience rooted in the sub-conscious, few have come closer to it or have done so as directly as Jānis Avotiņš. The intensity of the transformation of experience, memories and impressions can also be felt in the works of Ēriks Apaļais. The sensitivity of colour, very best traditions of tonal painting and visually perceptible emotionalism are displayed in the paintings of Daiga Krūze and Inga Meldere. In contrast, the reflections and documentation of reality can be noted in the paintings of Arturs Bērziņš and Andris Eglītise.

Jānis Avotiņš is almost the only Latvian painter of his generation who has been acclaimed by not only Western curators and critics, but whose works can also be found in important collections (such as those of Hamburger Bahnhof collector, Heiner Bastian and White Cube’s Jay Jopling etc.). His tonally nuanced, metaphysical “landscapes” painted in an almost grey tonal gamma which are not narrative and can only be intuited imaginatively, generate a feeling of an observation that puts one in mind of childhood memories and the manner in which we remember the Soviet era, that is, through a foggy prism of memories existing on the level of feelings and mythical impressions that have arisen from the heavily retouched magazines and books published during the Soviet years. A presence akin to a secret or another space which exists on a metaphysical level, can be sensed intuitively and only observed when open is that which Avotiņš manages to capture in his paintings. Jens Asthoff was right on the mark when he said of Avotiņš: “It has to do with looking in a manner impossible to reduce any further and also impossible to replace by words. Quite obviously, what interests Avotiņš in his art is the ineffable and something essential about it is its particular way of keeping silence.” a

Jānis’ works are multi-layered: firstly, they manifest seclusion and introversion; secondly, silence and refinement, unobtrusive contact – delicacy and gentleness and thirdly, imperceptibility and secrecy. The thing that should be highlighted in regard to Jānis’ painting is the union of relative reality with an emotional, mental environment.

One of the most recent newcomers to Latvian painting whose work is characterized by systematic and conceptual clarity is Arturs Bērziņš. His first personal exhibition, “Nomalība” (“On the Periphery”) in April 2008 was surprising, ideologically balanced and a convincing debut, because the conceptual framework successfully complemented the visual realization and, moreover, it was and is in accordance with Arturs’ defined philosophy of life and art. Arturs believes that nowadays, creating art is a great luxury which explains why the costs of his exhibitions to date have not exceeded 700 EUR (including the creation of works of art). At present, the most important theme in Arturs’ works is nature or the environment in which he resides and about which he tries to reflect directly and personally in as objective and documentary a manner as possible. He is interested by local objects which are more obscure and have evaded analysis. As he himself says, that section “...where human activity is less active and where progress is, perhaps, not yet regress. In those places where processes occur most slowly, i.e. on the periphery.” b

Arturs’ grey-toned minimalist works can be described as drawn paintings or painted drawings, because of their close relationship with artistic mediums such as drawing and photography.

In Latvia, painting has always been loved and welcomed with open arms. Particularly, if it’s saturated with the blossom of colours, expressive, large (also in the literal sense) and emotional. Perhaps, this myth has been successfully maintained by such powerful Latvian painters as Džemma Skulme, Biruta Baumane, Anita Meldere and Maija Tabaka etc. who were all-talented, noble, infused with masculine spirit and certainty, as well as possessing an enduring sense of mission. Daiga Krūze is an artist who is maintaining this tradition in a contemporary manner with a broad and expressive sweep which sees her transforming colourful, often large-scale canvases sensitively, intuitively and emotionally, but, at the same time, confidently and surely. Daiga’s art is painting that is rooted in intuition and the sub-conscious and perhaps this is what renders it so understandable, because it appears that this is what constitutes art’s mythic power which it is often difficult to perceive and explain rationally. “Right from the beginning, painting presented Daiga Krūze with an opportunity to be herself – it was an intuitive route to self-understanding. The development of her artistic handwriting was an organic path of development guided by her own personality. It was a path not so much influenced and guided by external conditions, but rather driven by the feelings emotionally and intuitively perceived by the artist herself.” c

Alongside Daiga Krūze, one of the most exciting newcomers is Inga Meldere, the hallmark of whose works is defined by a union of irony and slight scepticism with understated warmth and sincerity which is expressed through brushstrokes that are characterised by nuanced tones of colours etc. In Inga Meldere’s paintings, the moods and references have been carried over from Soviet era films, memories and the remnants of things that have been preserved all around us. However, the breath in Inga’s works emanates from her sensitivity, feminine instinct and refinement which give her paintings an imperceptible soulful dimension that can only be sensed.
Contemporary Latvian painting as a whole can be described as being introvert and contemplative favouring the resolution of inner painterly problems rather than actively commenting upon the surrounding world. It is painting rooted in intuitive and emotional experience. The latest generation of painters is slowly beginning to evaluate the heritage of the Soviet era and to identify its major drawbacks such as its propensity to be illustrative, as well as its formalism and ornamentation etc. which must be treated extremely critically in the search for a contemporary language. Identification of historical experience in the context of global art is very important right now and in recent years young Latvian artists have also gradually begun to embrace it. This prompts one to view the future growth of painting in an optimistic light and to already detect interesting, new developments within it.

a Asthoff, Jens. Keeping Silence, looking – painting by Jānis Avotiņš // Catalog of Jānis Avotiņš - Ludwig Forum, Stadtgalerie Schwarz, Kerber art, 2008. p. 79.

b Text from the materials of Arturs Bērziņš exhibition, “Nomalība”, April 2008.

c Rudovska, Maija. Daiga Krūze’s contemporary romanticism // Catalog of Daiga Krūze – Riga, Riga Art Space, 2008. p. 6.

 

   
Maija Rudovska
is a young art curator and critic from Riga, Latvia. She regularly writes about contemporary art for Latvian art issues “Studija” and “Fotokvartāls”. Has curated exhibitions of Daiga Krūze and Inga Meldere and was co-curator of “Candy Bomber” - young Latvian painters group show in Riga at 2007/08. Member of young curator company “Hole curators”.