Sunday, September 24, 2017

Spontaneous Combustion: The Gestural Paintings of Marija Jaukovic

I Don’t Know Anything / I Know Nothing by  Marija Jaukovic (2015, oil on panel 4 x4 ft.)

“What is this life, if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?” – W.H. Davies

If we do force ourselves and take the time to stop and actually stare at reality, we notice right away that the longer we stare the more blurred it becomes around the edges, until eventually the borderline between being awake and being in a dream dissolves entirely. That is ultimately the true purpose of any visual art that does more than merely decorate reality, or even portray it accurately, and instead provides us with a window, not looking outward but looking inside, where every borderline disappears before our extended gaze and thoughts themselves become forms. What great paintings offer us is a balsamic reduction of reality. Whether we actually use it to spice up our daily lives is, of cours,e up to us.

Some paintings are an immediate seduction for the eye. Like dancing in the dark, or dancing with your own shadow on the wall, they invite the mesmerized viewer into a sensual theatre microscopic in scale and yet as large as a galaxy of forms. Removing all limits to our perception as well as our conception, the boldly compelling and subtly captivating paintings of Marija Jaukovic expand or contract depending on the consciousness of the observer. Their paradoxical stance, somewhere in between the domains of a savage abstraction and emotive expressionism, offers us a glimpse of an interior realm where form and feeling are fused in an erotic embrace of practically tantric dimensions. The spirit of a mid-20th century movement known as Art Brut hovers over her recent work like a misty vapor descending from history’s archive of images and ideas, as does the ghost of its principal progenitor, Jean Dubuffet. Like that visionary French painter, the Toronto-based Jaukovic makes a wealth of psychic content from the raw material of apparently povera sources. That is their primary paradox, and their principal appeal: their secretive stagecraft is the ability to manifest a maximum of visual and visceral impact while utilizing a minimum of economical means to do so. As such, they ironically introduce us to a unique zone of maximal minimalism.

Ego Talk by Marija Jaukovic (2015, acrylic on canvas, 4 x 4 ft.)
First of all, I am pleased to report that painterly inclinations are still with us, alive and well. As usual, to paraphrase the immortal Mark Twain, rumours of its death were greatly exaggerated. Those rumours seem to recur with clockwork frequency almost every ten years, they have been recurring ever since pictorial photography’s invention and rapid rise in popularity circa 1840 in France, and I suppose they always will.

Naturally enough, such are the consequences of the seismic effects of the most dramatically accelerated time in human history, the Industrial Revolution, during which technology has reshaped, shifted, or even obliterated the “aura” of the art object. But Walter Benjamin, as visionary as his 1936 essay on the subject revealed him to be, may still have been overreacting and romanticizing the changes he witnessed, especially those of the camera, the cinema and mechanical reproduction in general. The invisible realm where all contradictions cease to be in opposition: that’s the realm so grippingly depicted in the paintings of Marija Jaukovic.

It’s Called Progress by Marija Jaukovic (2015, oil panel, 4 x 5 ft.)
Both Ego Talk and Dreamweaver, for instance, are stellar examples of how a deceptively simple style can conceal an abundance of emotional content in a pressure cooker of poetic images, even though the surfaces appear strangely placid, serene, and almost empty. In actuality, however, they are jam-packed with enough quantum energy to fuel several daydreams simultaneously. I use the word in its classical sense, meaning reverie, the ability to float in and out of a restrained mindset capable of contemplating a visual narrative without thinking about it either conventionally or programmatically.

The same is true of a fine earlier Untitled work from 2012 and a rhetorical flourish from 2015 entitled It’s Called Progress. One can easily surmise that the curious couple depicted in in the latter have just taken a stroll through the dense and dangerous forest of the former. Only something as primal as what Dubuffet called savage art could conjure up such a visual tale. Painting: is it a fugitive medium from the centre of civilization sent to its peripheries by technology? Perhaps it is rather a constantly recurring meaning-motif which keeps us on our toes by incorporating nostalgia for the future into pigmented works through a sort of coded esoteric language, the exoteric and three-dimensional manifestation of which is the physical painting, but the actual "message" of which is a four-dimensional fabula, or story. A four-dimensional painting is a marvel to behold, which is why Space Traveler seems to suggest a dark ritual, in the sense that every powerful painting is actually a magical artifact that fuses both space and time.

Space Traveler by Marija Jaukovic (2015, acrylic on panel, 4 x 4 ft.)
As tantalizing as these painted poems are, however, what really mesmerized me in this artist’s oeuvre was the urge to objectify her images. This impulse took the form of Jaukovic’s truly experimental gestures using ceramic vessels as the ground for her tactile stories: letting them become three-dimensional suddenly set them free to fly beyond our expectations even of bold abstractions. They suddenly became both tough and tender at the same time, short-circuiting our habitual way of looking by inviting us to consider the haptic realm of physicality and touch that most painting disregards. These delightful objects remind us of the original ritual nature of making art in the first place: they return us to the flickering lights in a curved cave wall where the very first image was ever imagined.

But by returning to a classical domain such as Etruscan or Greek painted urn vessels or a primitive past such as terracotta fetishes from some deep equatorial jungle, they also simultaneously bring us face to face with the totally modernist gestures of a Picasso or Miró. It takes a lot of nerve in the 21st century to take up the humble clay vessel and ask it once again to be the bearer of the fibula, while at the same time giving that historical gesture a fresh new take and meaning. The good news is we need objects like these in our lives now more than ever in the digital cyber-domain we usually occupy, if only to re-inscribe our senses with their considerable charm and allure and help us to withstand the wayward pixels that have come to so dominate our lives. Life is fragile and it can still be broken, they seem to say, so be careful.

Donald Brackett is a Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art and films. He has been the Executive Director of both the Professional Art Dealers Association of Canada and The Ontario Association of Art Galleries. He is the author of the book Back to Black: Amy Winehouse’s Only Masterpiece (Backbeat Books, 2016). In addition to numerous essays, articles and radio broadcasts, he is also the author of two books on creative collaboration in pop music: Fleetwood Mac: 40 Years of Creative Chaos, 2007, and Dark Mirror: The Pathology of the Singer-Songwriter, 2008, and is a frequent curator of film programs for Cinematheque. His current work in progress is a new book called The Devil in Miss Jones: The Soul Music of Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, being released by Backbeat Books in Spring 2018.

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