Aleksandra Popović, Subtile & Subtle
4.11. - 28.11.2021.
About the subtile and the subtle: The painting of Aleksandra Popovic
If we were to reduce everything that makes up the visible world, and is not man-made, to two elements which, according to our scientific knowledge, represent the beginning of planet Earth’s formation and from which those myths with a known “creator mundi” originate. What remains is only water (“the primordial sea”) and – necessarily – the rocks that form the Earth; specifically, that which is rigid, solid, seemingly immutable, although it may disintegrate under the influence of water, change shape, crumble and be blown away; and that which is soft, fluid, constantly changing in its appearance, but which can also release a vast amount of energy when it starts to move or even when it crashes into an obstacle.
Both can be experienced in a tactile manner, and thus haptically, so it is no coincidence that Aleksandra Popović started her artistic career by modelling sculptures. But, in pursuit of her talent she soon turned towards painting, in other words: towards light without which we cannot see anything. Along with water and rock, it is the third element she devoted herself to. And it is one special light.
When she paints mountains, they are not lovely green hills fading in the blue distance, but fissured rocks of high mountains, wrapped in frozen water – pure ice, shimmering snow and glistening glaciers. When she paints water, paintings are not “seascapes” wherein our gaze is directed and rests on the horizon line, but an optical network of water, rocks, algae and lichen that sunlight sets into dizzying motion and turns in our imagination into siren song. It seems that light in Aleksandra Popović’s paintings never emanates from a source outside their subject-matter, but it lives within it, it shines from within without shadows. And since it is only colour that her paintings consist of, light and colour merge into one.
We have all found ourselves, at one time or another, at the water’s edge and surrendered to this game of elements. We like to turn such impressions of nature into metaphors in order to make them clearer mentally and understandable linguistically. But elements do not “play a game”, sunlight does not “dance”, and the gurgling of water or rhythm of the waves “does not speak”. It may not come easily to us, but when we separate ourselves from everything we already know, everything we have read and heard, then we see nothing but colours in nature. They are the quintessence of painting.
Its greatest challenge, however, has always been to capture the intangible, which allows us to see colours at all: light. It was only photography, wherein light itself crates the image, that managed to achieve this. And just as painters have been using photography for 170 years, Popović is also using it to capture her own motifs at a particular moment in time. Because neither mountains nor the sea can be painted with oil paints on an easel in plein air. It is only in the studio that these motifs are aesthetically arranged on the canvas in such a way that they create an image that transcends reality, which light alone could never have created.
The prevailing view since Romanticism has been that nature can reflect our moods because it is an antithesis to culture. This dialectic concept of art and nature was the basis for the rise of painting, which began with mood Impressionism in the 19th century and ended with 20th century Abstract Expressionism. Since then, painting has been pronounced dead several times, but without consequences. Nowadays, we understand human culture, including its devastating consequences, less as an antithesis of nature and more as a way to deal with it. Nature is no longer the other, in need of conquering, it is not harmonious or wild, it is simply what it is even without us, but it is something we cannot escape because we need it. Man’s struggle against nature has been replaced by his struggle for nature.
The art of painting and sculpture cannot escape from nature, unlike drawing – there are no lines in nature, only colours and forms, and both are the foundation of our elementary sensory experiences. Aleksandra Popović has the ability to dissolve forms – that we were taught the world is constructed of – into colours, and thus make a new experience from that world of colours. With great enthusiasm and perseverance, she strives for perfection, with only a few role models to follow, such as Thomas Ender, Paul Cezanne or Gerhard Richter. Aleksandra Popović’s paintings, rendered with many layers of oil paint over a prolonged period of time, are subtile and subtle. Photographs of the same pictorial objects would question our gaze, displace, so to speak, the image, in order to evoke it. The painting of Aleksandra Popović, on the other hand, requires from us a gaze that plunges into the painting – if we want to get through to the wellspring of the image: water, light, life.
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Aleksandra Popović, Collision, 2021, oil on canvas, 141 x 191 cm
Aleksandra Popović, The Beginning, 2021, oil on canvas, 150 x 120 cm
Aleksandra Popović, Emergence, 2021, oil on canvas, 150 x 120 cm
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art