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Rastislav Podoba | Galéria mesta Bratislavy | Allowance organisation of the City of Bratislava, capital of the Slovak Republic


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Between 1979 and 1993, there was the Gallery of a Child at the City Gallery of Bratislava. 


Rastislav Podoba

Pálffy Palace (show Contact)
16. 6. 2011 - 28. 8. 2011
Curator: Ivan Jančár

The Young Painting Foundation was established in 2006, a period when classical painting saw a renaissance: it had a strengthened position in the art market and various competitions and awards were established. Many of these awards were supported with large and expensive promotions, yet the origin of their existence needs to be positively identified and credited. From the very beginning,the philosophy of the Young Painting Foundation was a concerted effort to help talented young artists through the acquisition of their work or through organization of exhibitions of their work on the fertile ground at Bratislava City Gallery. The Council was glad to accept the offer for long-term cooperation with a foundation that held similar values. What may seem a far-sighted investment plan was in fact a generous gesture of the Foundation often followed by further assistance to the artists they supported. The first regular presentation was an exhibition titled New Blood. This included young Slovak painters in 2008, followed by a solo exhibition of Juraj Puchovský in 2009 for which a catalog was issued in the past year. In 2010 an exhibition of paintings by Eva and Martin Moflár was mounted as well as a show of works by Ildikó Pálová, also accompanied by a catalogue. This year we will present a solo exhibition of works by Rastislav Podoba. We have not attempted to classify Rastislav Podoba into a scheme or tendency in Slovak painting. He belongs among artists who conceive of painting as a mater of knowledge and discovery. From the beginning of his career as an artist he has examined the extent to which a visual impression of reality expresses the essence thereof, and the extent to which our knowledge may exceed the form of this reality, which is not visible, but which we subconsciously feel and try to reach. This approach, as yet, also creates the conditions for his persistence in the art scene. The first time I saw a painting by Rastislav Podoba was at the office of the then director of Central Slovak Gallery in Banská Bystrica, Alena Vrbanová, in 2006, I think. It was a large-format canvas depicting a landscape that seemed to disappear and then re-emerge again. This immediately captured my interest. The second work I had an opportunity to see was a triptych titled Primary Circle which was featured at Bratislava’s Hummel Museum in 2006. This magical picture of a vaguely disintegrated face only deepened my interest. At that time it did not cross my mind that I had actually seen two basic spheres of Podoba’s artistic research: landscape without human presence on the one hand, and on the other, the human body (most often the face) embedded in a neutral ground with the absence of any other attributes. The human form is situated neither in nature nor in any defined environment. When I later asked the artist about this strict division, I was told that he wanted to avoid any genre characteristics and traces of narrative in his paintings. Depictions of open structures such as Tunnels (1999), Apertures (2002), Prophet’s Eye (2002) or Holes (2005) indicate what is essential in Podoba’s works, i.e. the anticipated behind the known; the invisible presence behind the visible; a search for the possibility of worlds beyond worlds. In the Tunnel, the artist not only depicts real space but also evokes something that actually is not there, but that creates the essence of every tunnel, i.e. the expression of ‘moving through’. The tunnel as interpreted by Rastislav Podoba, comprises several half-arcs, wavy strips and twinkling lights, and actually arouses the sensation of careening from side to side while hurtling through a passage. In Aperture it is a bit different. With its plasticity and structure, the space between “here” and “there” almost acquires an organic quality; it is mysterious and terrifying, as if from another world. Here, the interior of the passage is more crucial as it moves toward something on the other side. The demanding space of this painting seems to discourage any attempts to overcome it and also reveals the materiality of the artist’s working method. His preoccupation with tunnels or passages is also evident in the painting, Prophet’s Eye. By overlaying the space with a distinct section divided into pixels, the artist not only encloses the space but also brings a different expressive layer to the canvas. And finally, in the two paintings titled Hole, it is not the passage to the other side, but the passage toward an end that is examined. As we have mentioned before, Rastislav Podoba analyses and observes patiently and with a certain dose of humility. Many of his paintings draw on this subject directly, e.g., Observers or Watchtowers, but without the actual presence of observers. His observers, who, paradoxically, become the observed, are fully concentrated, searching for things that are not strictly defined in the painting. This can be both the study of a particular thing and the observation and study of something universal. As the artist states: “for me, the cores of compositions are of greatest importance, where everything takes place in the centre of things, where the perspective leads to a single point... it is a centre that is interesting to me. The fact that the picture has a point subjugating the entire composition makes me feel calm.” In the book The Morning of the Magicians, Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels long for a central point as well, “There exists in the Universe a point, a privileged spot from where the Universe as a whole is revealed. We observe creation with instruments, telescopes, microscopes, etc. But if an observer could be in this privileged spot everything that is or has ever been would appear to him in a flash, and space and time would be revealed in their totality...” Among the artist’s latest works is a large canvas with nature considerably monumentalized, titled Watchtower. The monumentality of the painting is enhanced by the artist’s vantage point from below. Even in its solitude, the lookout appears almost noble. But let us return to Podoba’s early works. In the second half of the 1990s, during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava, whether in the studio KR.E.S.BA of Prof. Vladimír Popovič, or in the Open studio of Prof. Rudolf Sikora, he was given maximum freedom (conditions that so often deceive the superficial). Nevertheless, he was not tempted to become inactive or to conduct experiments with other media. He focused on painting and drawing. He created his first landscapes and certain hints of contemplation can be seen in the painting Odyssey (1999). His brushwork crystallised in the year of his graduation (2002). Throughout 2004 – 2005 he created a series of small portraits characterised by a concerted effort to depict something more than a face. Layered aspects include Mandifferent environments, a search for expression, dark atmosphere, and hints of certain physiognomic signs (Sleep, Head, Portrait, and the Scenes of Memory cycle). The paintings from 2004 – 2006, however, were of greater importance to the artist’s future development, namely Untitled, Head (in the manner of Velásquez), Sequence (Solaris), Screen and the aforementioned triptych Primary Circle. In the painting Solaris he employed visual sequences from Tarkovsky’s film of the same title, and created a number of enlarged details of female portraits. In the case of the painting Screen, the title evokes the perception of the searched for object through a screen spreading out between the artist and the object being depicted, or between our visual perception of reality and the physical presence of reality. Using various techniques (spray painting and incorporating soil that not only creates particular structures but also symbolically implies transience, etc.); he creates the entire face or its fragment. He chooses different degrees of “shrouding” or “hiding” the motif. In some cases the face is rather legible, while in the others the structure of the painting is so disrupted that only traces of the face emerge from the ground. In this way he creates an ephemeral atmosphere, where nothing has a fixed location and where individual layers forever mingle together. His depictions of faces embedded in abstract spaces evoke creatures that possess a capacity to enter a region that is physically inaccessible to us. This mysterious aura is at times enhanced by the reduction of colours to black and white. In this context we should also mention the medium of photography, as it is very important to the artist. However, he does not transpose it mechanically to the canvas, as for him, a photograph only represents an initial notation from which to work. In 2008, he created several paintings of Roman interiors based on his experience of a stay in Rome, particularly his attraction to a specific location below the street level and the rich fragments of decoration on these premises As he wrote to me in a letter, “like abstract passages, once lively decorations, (are) still incredibly eloquent and active. I see this fragmentation as the expression of some (of my) procedures, when I build a space of patterns using tapes adhered to the canvas.” And once again, we see human surroundings without human presence: archaic ruins, deserted buildings with the peculiar atmosphere of the ancient past. It is as if the artist has returned to explore the surface structure of Art Informel; however, in his perception it is rather an expression of an unusual atmosphere. Rastislav Podoba does not like stories to enter into his pictures. He is rather attracted by a process: the process of change in an expression or in nature, the transition from one state to another. The process of transformation is also important in the painting itself (though he is fond of nature, he is not a plein-air painter; he works mostly in his studio) where he works with his canvases on the floor, a practice that also affects the distinctive character of his paintings. This is most evident in the cycle of 13 paintings titled Record (2005) depicting distinct stages of a tornado. He is fascinated with the unending change of its shape and by its materiality/immateriality. As a matter of fact, these are the problems he deals with in all of his depictions of nature. As he insinuated in an interview published  in the book Slovenské ateliéry / Slovak Studios, the undeniable indications of his research do not satisfy him, “Often I see around me that people are content without the satisfaction that comes from attempting what is difficult.”  I do not want to divide this study into reflections on the figure and on nature, as the artist works on these two subjects concurrently and has for a longer period focused on only one topic. I thought I had viewed all of the two forms of Podoba’s work, but it was not until 2008 that I saw the essential form: Primordial Springs and Apotheosis. Primordial Springs shows a painter concentrated on the canvas, his brush described as a gesture. Just as the painter’s figure vanishes and blends into the surroundings, the canvas seems to lose a firm shape. The mysteriousness of the painting is enhanced by monochrome colours which arouse the illusion of a mirage of melting and changing shapes. The painting Apotheosis represents a figure of the painter emanating from a dark ground. In this instance, it is very interesting to study how the artist works with light. The painter does not translate his perception of an actual source of light; he instead infuses light onto the canvas through his brush. Here, a special interconnection between the painter and his painting arises; in this moment of depiction there is nothing else but the painter and his canvas. In works by Rastislav Podoba it is most often impossible to determine the source of light; it radiates from within his portraits and depictions of nature. In this context, a beautiful text by Albert Manguel from the book Reading Pictures comes to mind, “With Caravaggio, light itself is the source. It lights what the painter wishes to illuminate and hides what he wishes to conceal, without showing us the origin – there is nothing evident in the manner of a candle or a fireplace like in the paintings by Georges de la Tour. That is what Caravaggio´s recent biographers call the divine hand of the artist bringing light into nature.” The only picture representing a figure as a whole is the painting Woman (2010). I am not sure if it was the artist’s intention, but I feel that he has dealt with the ageold issue of the relationship between the spiritual and the material, with the material partially transported into a spiritual realm. As the titles of his paintings indicate, the artist often works with a quotation. He does not feel an urgent need to remake the works of other artists; he does not work with a template categorically, he rather seems to soften and change its space in his paintings. For Podoba it is the catalyst for introspection, a subtle confrontation with an inner dialogue. He does not preserve the accuracy of the original; the artist rather interferes with this mere source or citation ‘in the manner of’. It is his own version of an image that he modifies and disassembles. He often creates paintings that contain the attributes of ‘beauty’ in the classical sense of this word, searching for completeness, which, according to Novalis, can only be found in infinity. For the most part, his landscapes are deserted and the horizons do not have firm contours. The horizontal of the picture is interrupted by paint vertically flowing down the canvas, as we can see in the paintings Horizon or Untitled (both from 2006). If I had to choose words characterising characterising the atmosphere of his pictures, I would use the words grief and melancholy. If the Pre-Raphaelites were not so laden with references they could serve Podoba as an attractive source of inspiration. In her text in a 2007 exhibition catalogue, Alena Vrbanová, one of the first art theorists who took notice of the peculiarity of Podoba’s expression, writes, “Sharpness of the artist’s dreamlike and defeatist  view is mesmeric. It draws the viewer into the trap of anxiety and a fascination with emptiness. The emptiness spreads out between a real Picture of environments and situations and the artist’s perception of his picture of the world as a devastated paradise.” In his recent large-format nocturnal paintings, he depicts the landscape, horizon or other indications on the canvas using with an economy of brushwork and without searching for interconnection with other aspects of his subject. In the painting Encyclopedia (2009), for instance, he portrays a monumental mountain. This ability to monumentalise objects is also evident in other works by the artist, e.g. the aforementioned Watchtowers of 2010 and 2011. Also worth mentioning is the painting Air (2010) dominated by the depiction of an aircraft’s flight and penetration into the atmosphere rather than by a literal depiction of the aircraft. Podoba also deals with seemingly trivial objects, such as chairs or containers. For seven paintings he examined containers viewed from different angles and in different light conditions. Podoba perceives the container as a distinct element in the contemporary environment, as a natural symbol, well-known in every society, which he uses (as we can see in many other paintings) to speak about man in his absence. In the words of the artist, “... it represents a tempting form and content in terms of art, a scenery of waste – chaos, a source of forms, shapes and colours.” Rastislav Podoba does not depict urgent gestures in his paintings, with one exception, Hands (2010). He is interested in the possibilities apparent in minimising depictions of the presence of a human body by representing it in fragments, in this case disembodied human hands. As the artist put it, “it is necessary to draw on a little and outline more, in this case the gesture, motion, and composition of hands; and previously in the psychology of faces, expressions, etc.” It is not clear whether the hands belong to one or more persons, but it is the double urgency of the gesture from which we can derive that a state of mind in a given moment or the meaning of a gesture are more important. In looking at Podoba’s paintings, viewers might imagine a meditative, lonely artist above the trivialities of the world rather than a riotous man of the world and this would not be far from the truth. Rastislav Podoba works in Krušovce near Topoľčany in an empty school next to a cemetery in moderate, even ascetic conditions. However, a spacious and well lit studio enable him to keep a sufficient distance from large canvases. A more detailed examination would reveal a restless spirit continually trying to approach something that cannot ever be fully embraced.

Ivan Jančár


There is a publication about the author available.


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