GREEN CATALOGUE 1999 | Vlastimil Tetiva

The motive force of the picture, comprising both irony and nostalgia as well as the imprint of pre-modern painting. Human self-reflection, whether socio-cultural or individually psychological. These are the essential boundaries of the work of Martin Kuriš, a young artist who completed his studies this year at the Antonín Střížek studio of Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts. Lay yourself open to temptation and to the influence of a large canvas painted in the style of an old master, preserving and once more enlivening day-to-day banality and genre-painting. His paintings and drawings are not inherently exclusive or reductionist; on the contrary, they are a synthesis, freely working in a whole range of situations, experiences and inspirations beyond one particular theme. Instead of seeking to capture a single, whole experience, the author aims at of encyclopaedic motif, with innumerable access points, with an infinite number of interpretations. Although there is a stylistic unity in the work, at the same time there are an abundance of situations, bringing you face to face with the basic reality that goes beyond all social conventions.

Martin Kuriš never mistakes stylistic clarity of outline as a means for attracting attention. So close to post-modern his juxtapositions show a peculiar and uncliched application. The author combines traditional forms in an untraditional way and endeavours to bring out the irony in otherwise serious themes. But, in the case of Kuriš, we can go even further. The juxtaposition concerns also the individual figures in his compositions, who are always located in the panorama of the land which varies according to the season. Nature itself is portrayed as a known but scarcely comprehensible parallel alongside humanity. In a given situation, the author behaves as a story-teller, one moment pointing to the fictitiousness figures and of their behaviour, the next (respectively in the “story”) presenting the same figures as participants in a different tale. The endeavour to reach a visual completeness indicates undeniable ability, akin in this respect to photography. Ho the “stories” that are played out in front of us in Kuriš’s paintings have a greater completeness than ever seen in real life. Thi is the fundamental difference with photographic records. And we can continue. Martin Kuriš sets reality and fiction s side and lets himself enter the work of art, thus erasing the difference between the real and fictitious. In such cases, the j embodied in Kuriš’s paintings are often confused; they do not know in what world they are located, and they experience uncertainty as to how they should behave in this “close encounter”. In fact two planes, respectively two worlds, are deli] – of landscapes and human figures. Although he locates the figures in the context of a real landscape, they are two distinctive worlds alongside each other. The most obvious is the realm of outside appearance consisting of individual tales (figurative scenes), a sort of reflection of reality but one that often appears like illusion. In the background and inside the world of o appearances, an important role is played by the second realm (the appearance of objectively recorded landscape), which is somewhat threatening but basically more authentic than the “real” world. The existence of these two worlds alongside each other keeps us in a permanent state of uncertainty. Is someone really what he appears to be? What is objective and truthful and what is delusion and danger?

Martin Kuriš Thus proceeds through situations according to choices that define, to a certain extent, the frontiers which his decisions can extend. He respects the frontiers, and an awareness of possible different points of view simultaneously, open up in front of him. Man ought to consider the limitations of character and the consequences of each decision. He ought to remember the blind points of his own vision and save himself from his own absolutism and from the absolutism of others. Only then will he refrain from thinking and condemning with the pathos of absolutism and finality, and admit that the side could also be in the right – even defying his own convictions. Not only will he be convinced that the situation can appear different from another perspective, but this knowledge also passes into particular decision-making and practice. A world built accordingly will be more specific in the details but more connected as a whole. A similar world is opening up in the paintings of Martin Kuriš. On the one hand, his work is elegant and instructive. Because he does not emphasise the content and intellectual background, he does not follow the artistic conventions of time. At the same time, he mocks these conventions to a certain degree by emphasising not only individual figuration elements but also by incredibly dextrous and refined rend of individual and figural elements. Figurative themes are not without purpose as in the classic portrayals of realistic I rather individual figures are present here mainly because they function as part of a mechanism with a specific provocative quality.

Martin Kuriš seeks and finds his themes in completely ordinary scenery from everyday life. People from his closest surrounding (relatives, parents, friends) serve as models. But, for him, their reflection of being is a reflection of a boundless fantasy that enters the real world with all the corresponding attributes of the lived and seen reality. He does not lose contact with anautonomous reality that actually attracts and inspires him intensively. In front of us, we have an example of an exceptionally naivistic mocking of narrative figuration. This term was used in France in the sixties as a counterpoint to American pop a recently some artists from the circle surrounding Pittura Colta (Vittorie Scialoja, Milet Androjevic, André Durand) have making connections in this direction. In this context, there are a number of names emerging from the contemporary Czech artists´ scene, in parallel with the work of Martin Kuriš. I detect an immediate similarity with the paintings of Jan Knapp and Jan Šafránek and, slightly further removed, there is the outlines of a likeness to the works of Antonín Střižek, Ivana Lomová and Tomáš Císařovský. Naive realism, the situation comedy of the banal scene, turning to tradition both thematically and as a means of expression. Subjective humor, plurality of understanding of a single motif, wilful manipulation of the characters of particular stories. These are at least the basic connecting elements. However, everybody works with them in a different way and to a greater or smaller degree. As regards Martin Kuriš, his approach differs in form to the others. The paintings of Kuriš are, on the one hand, a satire on the post-modem confusion of values, on the other hand they are an expression of joy emanating from the multi-Iayered reality of human existence today. The chilling veto of time – so lonesomely guiding a man – is eloquent evidence of the double polarity of today’s human being (life). Programmatic coarseness or intellectual sarcasm are breaking into communicative tenderness, however masterfully evading the possibility of sexless sentiment. For a certain while, we do not recognise that the author does not use a refined mystification in his mind and that there is no transmission of subjective intimacy, but of creating quite new, contemporary and wide-ranging poetics. These are “stories” neglect nothing and leave nothing to chance.

The paintings and drawings of Martin Kuriš have to be understood and also to be assessed as a complex connection of thematic “order” at two kinds of level. The figures that appear “live” on his canvases are to be understood as social constructions, defined by the local climate and as specified types. Particular figures, which represent for us entirely anonymous human types, play determined social roles, arising absolutely naturally from the point of view of the chosen social group. The conception of realism is, of course, very complicated to define or specify. The characteristics of each motifs emanate from the generalising thesis, for which Martin Kuriš is seeking confirmation in reality. The realistic artists were mostly understood as creators, whose stimulati were at variance with what was happening in the rest of contemporary art. The reality of Kuriš can also be understood as an appointed antagonism. AIthough it is reality, it does not have anything in common with the photographic vision. He alone creates his own new definition of reality. Reality is for him something that is necessary to penetrate emotionally, something necessary to understand from within and then by patient manipulation with artistic means to put it at the onlooker’s disposal. On the one hand, we practically enter the real world by means of the author, but on the other hand it exists as a duplicate of reality, as an invisible and simultaneously inevitable condition of visibility reflecting the transparency of the appearance of what is portrayed. The acknowledgement and simultaneous negation of depicted motif ensure not only a transparency of classic portray, but also define the portrayed subjecťs status. If what is portrayed is associated with the specific human subject who takes possession of objects, adopts the reality as his objects, then on the other hand such a subject finds himself in a space and time with everything which belongs to them. But in such a case we are talking of the universal and abstract. Platon argued that “there are some who, with their backs turned to paintings, behold what the pictures express”.

It may have been surmised in acknowledgement (conclusion) that so-called real objects are mere pictures of existing real forms or ideas. Under these circumstances, the words of American art-historian David Freeberg are appropriate as well. He wrote among others: “It is time, instead of perceiving the diffrerences, to start recognising a picture and sculpture as existing elements parallel with reality – whatever we imaqine under the word “reality” – and, to a much larger extent than we have been accustmned untill now, to incorporate figuration and imitation into this reality (or better into our enjoyment of reality) ft has simply come to the point where we should admit the possibility that our response to the depiction could be the same as our response to reality and insofar as we should somehow assess it, it should be understood and assessed on this basis.” (Visual theory, page 159)

We could also examine Kuriš’s creations from the other point of view, which is limited by his approach to the problem of the relation to the fine art culture which surrounds him, and to the problem of his relationship to the intellectual structures connected with art of the past as well. I am convinced that this experiment in recording contemporary reality, in an untried and for its era innovative art form, has been successful. The more complicated conceptual background is reflected in the confrontation of symbolic elements with reality, when the motifs suddenly appear in a real “capture”. These motifs fill the space either as inserted scenes or isolated components, playing an important role, however, in the “reading’ of the picture. AII the picture space-filling details are developed in time sequence. Martin Kuriš intensifies what he has observed, aiming to clearly express it to his human types, to their mutual relations and to the individual character of each of them as well. Just as at the beginning, we now face the problem as to what in fact reality is, what it personally means for the author, what it could ultimately mean for people, who find themselves in proximity, in the centre of these pictures.

Martin Kuriš paints rather pictures about landscape-painting than about landscape, about pictures, about stories than a definite story, about inspiration and metaphor as a contribution to the margins of painting history. To live in contemporary society means to inhabit a world resembling a film – the realm where truth and fiction fuse. We watch the world in the same way as we watch films – with the suspicion that everything we see around us could in fact just be an illusion. Martin Kuriš knows everything of it but he also knows that he is an intuitively engaging painter, and this is always a great source of hope. For him and for us as well.

October 1999
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