“The Cro-Magnons lived with fear and amazement in a culture of Arrival, facing many mysteries. Their culture lasted for some 20,000 years. We live in a dominant culture of ceaseless Departure and Progress that has so far lasted two or three centuries. Today's culture, instead of facing mysteries, persistently tries to outflank them.” (This quote is from John Berger, one of the first people to visit Chauvet, home of the oldest cave paintings in the world - The Guardian.)
Painting is definitely one of the most difficult (maybe even ‘the’ most difficult), ungrateful and merciless yet, at the same time, one of the most convenient media to allow an artist to convey what an artist should convey: his world. Convenient, because any viewer and potential buyer has established a culture-long relationship with it. (No doubt the artist has acquired an important lead over the other media, which have slipped from church-bound art to the walls of a private patron of the arts...). Thus the average art lover feels more comfortable looking at painting than looking at any other art medium, and will more easily purchase it.
So yes, the big issue in painting is to paint without this kind of tips and tricks... and certainly to dare to suffer, unconsciously, from some sort of amnesia... meaning the ability to let oneself go. (Kokoschka once said, after leaving art school: “Now one has to unlearn how to paint”). Now deliberately ignoring his homework and art history is one thing.However, to acknowledge that there is somehow an enormous amount of ‘forgotten and collectively stocked information’ is quite another. That sort of information which keeps on ‘popping up’ once in a while and, instead of creating some kind of repulsion and turning oneself into a neurotic behaviourist, one has to be confident of things to come on the canvas.
It is a almost a "creature" which has seen and accumulated, layer upon layer, a long-forgotten history of collective and particular humans bits and pieces.
Those contact signs, this discharge between that dark, hidden cave wall and the stretched canvas today, is supposed to be the same heartbeat. But is it really?
Does an artist have to be confident about letting those dormant bubbles pop up to the surface without controlling it, like a heartbeat while asleep?
A German painter (was it Baselitz or Kiefer?) once wrote that, ‘at the end of the day’, Mondrian had done nothing more than straighten out the branches of the trees in his early paintings. The Mondrian ‘constellations’ of +, - and = signs, starting with the fabulous ‘Ocean’ series (1914), through ‘Jetty and Ocean’ (1914) up to ‘Composition 10 in black and white’ (1916) and ‘Composition in line’ (1916) were supposed to be the tinkling of the rays of the sunrise or sunset on the water, seen from the bank or pier of some other place in the Netherlands. It’s as simple as that.
Or looking at Malevitch’s ‘Black Square’, one could easily isolate the underlying classic Russian icon. There is a shortcut from the Slovak use of colour in religious and folkloristic art to the world renowned and widely consumed ‘Marilyn’ or ‘Mao’ pieces...
Landscape, in that sort of language, is one of the most frequently recurring items, making it an almost cosmological constant. Is it not ‘the thing’ we want to turn to when we try to forget all we have accumulated in the course of a hardworking and precarious life. Is it where the painter finally gives in?
In more detail
The gaze is trapped in a telluric fault line and rebounds towards the surface. As if one cannot control one’s view. Then, on the surface, there appear strange figurative ‘suggestions’ or visual embryonic details such as a tube, part of a dug-up, broken gas system or waterworks... or even the remains of some abandoned kindergarten.
And then, suddenly, a clear-cut, razor-like geometrical surface tears open the painting. And the setting has again changed its channel or course. Propositions for spatial divisions, which challenge any logical control. On certain lacerated, geometrical complications, the colour spills over into the ‘woods’ or onto an underlying layer, and in these layers to some conduits, which then abruptly stop.
Or even of ubiquity, detailing, fragmentation and image zoom. All tools which try to organise a new operating system.
In that sense, the work testifies to a remarkable maturity. The painter allows you to drift in and out during the whole painting process, opening up her methodology in front of you. Also, Magda often groups her works in sets of 2 or 3 canvases. She puts the size of the canvases in perspective.
One of the most curious features in her most recent pieces is that they all contain the same building blocks (not unlike ‘minecraft’), like some sort of DNA. Some paintings are the result of a longer timespan. It could even be several years. She ‘launches ‘ pieces, puts them aside and takes them up again months later, according to the demands of the moment.
One of the pieces that bears witness to this weird, geological layer-mechanism is an exquisite painting which shows, at its base, a large, light blue spot. A sort of synthetic blue, surrounded by a moss green bank. Tranquility at first. But the pool could even be highly toxic. One can sense that.
In another piece, perhaps, the most minimal of the entire show, the separation of the two registers is even more clear. The bottom part cracks away (a bit like the 1974 ‘Splitting’ American house of Gordon Matta Clark). Were it not for the fact that the underlying layer is a marvellous atmospheric blue, it would not have been mentioned here, but it is trapped under the upper part, the house detail part: an open door? One has the impression that the day part is trapped under the night part.
High up, a dark brown stain (night?) next to an azure blue spot (day?).
At first one sees a realistic representation of the trees, pine-green coloured, evolving into a schematic, almost comic drawing, while the colours shift from a pinkish yellow to an orangey light green. And finally, at the bottom, a pure, linear, bluish tree.
“Things emerge when the equilibrium is destroyed, when something goes astray.” (Slavoj Zizek)
* Koen Wastijn is a contemporary artist living in Brussels