Antological exhibition of Jože Ciuha

MULTISHAPED, DIVERGENT, POLYSEMIC On painting of Jože Ciuha Not many contemporary painters would dare to name the exhibition of their paintings ‘’Human Comedy’’ as Jože Ciuha has recently done. This respectable Slovenian painter has been rightfully entitled to do it not only because of having great experience of cosmopolitan insights, and because of the certain universal reverberation of critics and galleries, but also because of the morphologic and psychological characteristics of his paintings. It is quite understandable why he has used this renowned Balzac-like syntagm since he realized that Paris was for him the center and influx of all nomadic moving and style-forming courses. Indeed, a human comedy! First of all, due to his constantly present anthropomorphism. In fact, although he has been changing his style and searching for the way to express his ideas, he has never given up a certain creative imitating of reality, or rather, referring to human body. In other words, he has always had necessity to start by painting signs and proportions of humanoid limbs. The scenes of his paintings are also human because they are not inhabited by individual characters but by groups, collectives and choirs, and they express the destiny of togetherness (mostly difficulties), the humanity itself. The association of comedy is not accidental, because the painter has been aware that the best way to look at the world is through a humorous perspective. Many life situations seem to be similar to theater scenes — funny figures with mechanic movements, puppets and disguised participants. Influenced by ‘his friendship with Don Quixote’, not forgetting Kafka, he has grotesquely disfigured his agonists, by painting them as caricature, making them thinner, longer and by dissecting them in order to subordinate them to his demiurgically disillusioned vision, to his satirical marionettelike interpretation of the world that surrounds him and in which he emphatically participates. More than half a century has passed since this painter tried to make some more mature paintings in various techniques, and there has been no reason why he should have rejected any of his achievements. Although he has been changing and developing very gradually, and although he has been obtaining his own specific, more determined creative handwriting, Jože Ciuha seems to be systematically building up his painting on his early drawings, illustrations, decorations and representative mosaics and tapestries. It is also important to mention his achievements as a travel writer, as an interpreter of far away civilizations and as an author of storiesand poems. We can preliminarily conclude that he has not been frightened by scorned ‘’literality ‘’in modern art, and, by no means, he has not given up certain technical virtuosity and restrained ornamentation. It would be exaggerated to say that he has always been going against the tide, yet it is true that, believing in his power of change and in his ability to impose his own signs, he has managed to express narrative, emotive and reflective contents in his paintings and tried to achieve an indisputably esthetic finished quality and an expressive effect. Ciuha’s approach to painting has been specifically cultivated in his fruitful dialogue with anti-academic and non-European visual artistic procedures, in his principled deviation from perspective illusionism and conventional harmony, in his dynamic composition and tonal modulation. At first he found his own course relying on achievements of Byzantine painting (in the region of Macedonia), and on strict structuring of elements, on radical reduction of forms, on affirmation of one dimensionality as autonomy of the medium and on the colorism of specified symbolic sign. By accepting some explicitly medieval premises (isocephalic arrangement of figures, horror vacui, calligraphy as completely complementary to ‘’iconic’’ conceptions), he has connected them with non-dogmatic contributions of 20th century vanguard, even particularly with some types of lyric abstraction and art Informel. It is not accidental that while he was very young artist he tried his skill in mural painting, because Jože Ciuha has always wanted to communicate widely, to use distinct language of colors and shapes which transmits existential experience. And it is not of secondary importance that he even tried to paint on a transparent glass surface, i.e. on plexiglass, when he realized that he can specifically capture light and get close to popular register of fairy tales, transcendentalism, myths by practicing an ancient technique of Hinterglassmalerei. Anyway, Ciuha has reached a recognizable way of visualizing and shaping — an integral iconic sphere of deep diachronic roots. Refined contours of graphically rhythmic areas showing figures (mostly people, but occasionally animals as well) follow each other on neutral and often monochromatic backgrounds, giving an impression of insects having been pinned to a firm background. In his interpretation of human figures he has paid a special attention to arms that are often painted as animal legs, feelers or tentacles, since elongated fingers seem to be fluttering independently, penetrating into the environment. In his interpretation of human limbs Ciuha seems to be making good use of his previous dealing with letters of alphabet and writing of signs, so the rhythm of exchange of arms and heads resembles a sequence of pictogram. Besides alphabetical and calligraphic interventions, he occasionally puts in cadre other ‘typical motives’ of quotable character, such as targets and laces, diagrams and coordination signs (points de repere), while in one of his creative phases he often used ‘incrustations’ of hyper realistic (or pop art) intonations (especially highlighting the motive of monkey, as the closest human relative, a sort of replacement or Kafkian emblem.) The arrangement of the surface was strictly stylized and rigid, dominant motives showed how difficult it was to realize distinction, how the author feared of losing his identity, and how he was becoming assimilated in Babylonian confusion of languages. One period of Ciuha’s art of painting was characterized by black-n-white contrasts (blackness of Earth and cosmic whiteness) and obviously by existentialistic experience of being thrown into the world. Characteristic motives of his formative period were dedicated to prophets, patriarchs, saints and humanists; totems and rituals; tortures and victims, relating to worshipped idols or to some exotic deities such as Kali and Shiva, and they interpreted some classical stories such as Romeo and Juliet, Sleeping Beauty, Pinocchio’s death. However, Ciuha was aware that he was working in the period of Steiner’s ‘’death of tragedy’’, and that irony and parody rightfully want to give their contribution. This was the reason why he dedicated his time to paint extremely oxymoronic motives, such as “Pieta with a harlequin” or why he decided to pay a tribute to the master of tragicomic expression, to the rhapsodist of serious buffoonery by making a series of paintings called “Hommage á Fellini.” One of his critics has nicely formulated that Ciuha’s opus is something like “Byzantium corrected by Miró.” This does not refer only to formal elements of his paintings but also to a spiritual span, ranging from dramatic seriousness and pathos to fascination and mockery. Apart from Miró, Ciuha has occasionally been inclined to Klee and Dubuffet (‘’figurative painters’’, ma non troppo). Since some of Ciuha’s paintings are persiflage and capriccios on an assigned topic, he could not have painted them without allusions to Picasso, while occasionally in favor oflight picture he has kept a humorous distance, a more leisurely intonation, and brighter registers. He laughs, in order not to cry: how can he otherwise behave when he has named his dominant opus “Human Comedy”? In the peak of his creative power, in the apogee of his painting opus, Jože Ciuha has felt need and found the way to indulge in hedonism of performance, in ecstasy of lines and colors, in extended freedom of ductus and in more emphasized play of coloristic contrasts. In the past few years he has enriched his opus with extremely direct and powerful paintings, potentially synthesized and dense. As he has never done before, he has dared to appoint the role of basso continuo to the whiteness of the background, so that he could draw on it (and by using it) some sound and sparkling registers of various yellow, green, red, blue and azure spillovers and layers. His spontaneousness and apparent ease of performance do not interfere with achieving of convincing compositional syntagm, as in his paintings “Hamlet” or “Daedalus”, a paraphrase “Las meninas” is far from being a slave to its idol, and “pilgrim”, “troubadour” or “blue angel” exceed all the literalness they evoke, not to mention the obligation of illustration. “Summer on the island of Šipan” opens the intimate space of author’s emotional autobiography where the author gives way to his senses, while, on the other hand, his monumental paintings with eloquent titles, e.g. “How to stop the time flow”, “Hommage to Albert Einstein” or “Wolf’s time” speak about his obsession with time. This painter who has found the emblems and correlatives for diachronic connection of time periods could not have been indifferent to the secrets of the fourth dimension. Ciuha’s multishaped, divergent, polysemic opus offers one possible answer, one of the ways of confrontation with the unavoidable transience. Tonko Maroević
Galerija kula
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