In 1983, Michelangelo Antonioni exhibited a series of 'paintings' at the Galleria de Arte Moderna in Rome. 'Paintings' only in the sense that he originally produced a series of miniature landscapes, which he then photographed and enlarged to hundreds of times the original size. As in his film, Blow-Up (1966), the resultant images must literally be deciphered by the viewer. Looking at Mitja Tusek's recent series of paintings, one also thinks of an image about an image; a reflection upon a reflection. Tusek, like Antonioni, is interested in process the way in which a work nears completion, nears the moment when it is mediated by the viewer. Whether it is a question of landscapes, abstractions or 'throwaway' works, the artist constantly makes us aware of the path that led to the final result.
The majority of Tusek's works are made by applying numerous layers of beeswax mixed with pigment to the canvas. For works in previous exhibitions, the starting point was often a photograph. In the case of the four large paintings in this exhibition, the works (at least in spirit) began with a painting of a painting that the artist made, in which a space that is evident becomes illusionistic through transcription to another surface.
The painting thus becomes more and more abstract as each layer is added, until we are left with an image that seems to be both empty and full, invoking the notion of presence and absence. Empty and absent in the sense that the representation has been 'reduced' to a series of planes, denotation replaced by connotation. Full and present in the sense that the tactile quality of the works presents us, literally, with layers upon layers of paint. It is as if we are looking to the bottom of 100 diaphanous paintings placed on top of each other. Here, painting seems to become an obsessive activity: an activity that begins with, yet always attempts to leave behind, its subject.
In fact, the 'subject' of these paintings is particularly open-ended. Abstract only in the sense that a representation is not clearly visible, the paintings resemble landscapes in their treatment of light and multiple planes. By alternating between vertical and horizontal formats, Tusek draws attention to the fragile state of the viewpoint, equating it with a kind of inner camera that may produce positions which defy gravity. There is no way of telling which way is up with these images not just a reversal of the way we see a painting, but a meticulous invitation to examine the work's balancing of a multitude of elements.
Peinture Ratée 2 (recouverte) (1995), Peinture Longue (1990-95) and sans titre (la truite) (1994-95) are another story. In fact, installed in a gallery with one of the dark, luminous, beeswax paintings, they are simply awful. Tusek cranks out these paintings like throwaways, almost as a means of reminding himself of another, less conscientious way of producing images. By combining both types of works, he questions and affirms the very process of painting. Each work forms part of the whole, an installation of conflicting, yet complementary parts that represent an activity which can neither be rarefied nor decontextualised.
First published in Issue 25