Through lines, shapes, brush strokes and colors – it is a common idea that whatever goes onto a canvas contains a piece of the artist. Whether it is a nod towards a culture or some form of self expression, a part of the artist’s being is engraved in the work. But how much must an artist lose themselves in the work? Should the artists step away from the work or always be a part of it?
What is more important – the art or the artist?
Thanks to all of these ideas and questions, Antonia Gurkovska’s journey of artistic discovery was challenging. Currently, the Kavi Gupta gallery is exhibiting a series of her work – each piece utilizing unique materials outside of oils and acrylics. As rich and provoking as her works are, Gurkovska doesn’t want to make a statement with just the pieces themselves. “It’s about physicality and the process through which they are made- it is very tactile and related to the touch,” she says. “The general concept for the show was for selection of works which would allow the viewer different experience with scale, starting from a hand span size painting to a whole room transformed into a container.”
In short, Gurkovska wants to use the space of the gallery itself in ways that are not expected, in order to show individuality as a creative being and not just someone who learned how to put something on a canvas. In the process of achieving this, both her background and creative methods reveal the relationship between the art and the artist – how they both work when they are separated and joined together, how previous art influences the artist, how materials effect the artist, and what happens when the artist lets the art speak for itself.
“I’ve never wondered what I would become, I just kept following and doing what I was interested in… ” Gurkovska explains about her decision to become an artist. She started in her home country of Bulgaria, a place that prides itself in artistic tradition. Attending a high school for the arts as well as a fine arts academy for her BFA, her love for art was supported by teachings of icons, classic European traditions, renaissance and other historical painting. A part of this upbringing appears in her current pieces at the Kavi Gupta show but also in her earlier works. In a piece entitled “Europa,” silhouettes of figures are depicted with deep, rich, almost dramatic colors that seems to pay tribute to paintings such as The Fall of the Rebel Angels by baroque artist Peter Paul Rubens. However, Gurkovska’s work plays with latex, wax, and fabric to create the same allure. Her current works produce the same result except without revealing a specific narrative or figurative depictions.
“If you look at a classical painting and see how enriched it is in terms of depicting materiality and details…” Gurkovska says. “It is so exuberant and loaded that I wanted to do something similar, but with the materials themselves, emphasizing on their own structure and characteristics. I wanted the work to have the same type of richness with just the material yet without representation of objects or a story.”
This is the result of Gurkovska breaking away from artistic schooling and into her own craft. “All of my work up until I came [to America] was very image-based, very figurative, history-related, traditional mediums – oil on canvas. I wanted to break all these down and see what I can construct. This lead to reducing my palette, color extracting, working primarily in monochromes, emphasizing on mark making and repetition, giving priority to the basic elements of painting.”
For her most recent works, Gurkovska makes a point to use familiar materials in unfamiliar ways, including staples, fabric, plastic, spray paint, washers, leather, vinyl, and much more. Looking at each piece, the viewer would notice certain patterns. In regard to a piece named Index Gurkovaska says that “the piece is trying to hold onto an obvious grid, but far from precision – it’s almost like the free rhythm of the hand is directed to fit into imposed compositional rules….It’s looking for a solid structure, yet trying to avoid and interrupt it.”
And why grids? Why the patterns and repetition? “In a way, it reiterates familiar habits – like the way we write,” Gurkovaska says. “Some of the works, especially those with staples, recall pages from a book, but what is more important for me is that it (the grid) almost functions as a skeleton of the painting, a composition without being figurative or a pattern, which allows for the painting to only contains itself.”
Fittingly, the small bumps on a piece called Reversed resemble a purposeful pattern that one might find within the language of Braille. Even the missing “bubbles” within her installation, a large empty room with copper painted bubble wrap plastic and a black floor, seem to hold on to a certain order. She emphasizes on the importance of the work carrying a trace to the body, and how the grid “is subordinate to the mark making I am invested in – it holds it and points back to the painting.” The relationship between the art and the artist is working together in this instance.
But what happens when the artist separates from the art? Gurkovska wanted to find this out for herself while in grad school. So she decided to invite people (those who knew her and those who did not) to see her work but instead of having them hang on display, she put all of her work on the ground for people to walk on. Here, she asked a very daring question: “What comes forward the artwork or the artist?” Much like her current use of gallery space and dedication to adding something more to her historical art education, she is interested in questioning authorship, boundaries, limits and expectations in the representation of painting in established gallery space.
With the Kapi Gupta show as well has the rest of her artistic efforts; Gurkovska holds one motive in mind: “I am interested in always showing and sharing the place where I (artistically) am at and the questions that are scrambling and thriving within my studio.”
Visit Kavi Gupta gallery until March 24th to see her latest work.