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The Still Life Paintings of Maria Kazanskaya
Roses in the Dusk

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Art of Maria Kazanskaya


Roses in The Dusk

Superficially we see nothing more than the spreading of a cluster of roses in a small jar. It seems such a simple subject, and there is no startling compositional masterstroke as to draw instantaneous attention. However appearances are deceiving. The first trait that is important is the use of the mirror. In most paintings or photographs where reflection is a prominent element - the reflection is kept separate from the main image - either by being distant in the way that double self portraits are - or by being part of an off symmetry - such as a reflection in the water.

Here instead we see image and its reflection interlace - at a glance the different between object and reflection is blurred and the two are one in the center of the painting. The reflection is no longer symmetrical or an image which references another for comparison. Instead the image and its opposite are seen as aspects of the same thing - traditionally modern art has used the loss of perspective - or multiple perspectives to treat seeing a thing from multiple angles. This painting shows not only clear user of perspective - but clear use of the reflection as a way of extending that perspective behind the wall.

The reflection then is no longer about the axis of symmetry - and thus does not help establish the line which divides the painting. Instead the dividing line comes from the clear "L" shape of reflected light, and the reflection of light off of the table top in the mirror that is dark in the foreground. This dividing like is heightened by the reflection cutting off the edge of one of the roses. The harshness of this line means that the light region - which by perspective and overlap is farther away from the viewer jump out past the lighter wall. The backdrop in the light area is untextured, where as the wall is textured. The nature of this texturing will be examined in some detail in a moment.

This crucial boundary is shown here in a detail from the painting - its effect is enhanced by closer examination:
The line itself is not straight as would be seen in a real mirror - nor does it cut exactly cleanly - for those people familar with the art of Piet Mondrian and his edges in his color paintings - this effect of blurring a boundary to enhance it should be well known. The rose does not reach the boundary of the mirror.

But what looking at this boundary closely calls to attention is that there are details that are mirrored which the mirror could not possibly reflect - note the elongated diamond of brown below the petals of the rose. In other words the details below a certain threshold are no longer representational in any sense - but are created out of a texture of their own. This texture follows its own rules and its nature is clearly important - since every inch of every canvas has details of a similar nature - they dictate every object and the space that in encompasses, the texture of light and the creation of distance or its negation.

The other important aspect of this boundary is the contrast of light on both sides, the wall is a dark object illuminated by a hidden light source to the point of highlight, the mirror is a highlight darkened and roughened by shadow - thus it is light which dictates the impression made by the viewer - but we are not dealing with the impressionist idea of light, which is that it is reflected and scattered by points or the cubist or Cezzanean ethos of plane - though this ethos has more in common with Kazanskaya than does the ethos of Monet - nor is she painting in some manner of smears of color.

Instead the artist whose application of light she most resembles is another seminal modern: Edvard Munch. Munch used the creation of a backdrops without representational detail to focus the eye upon the central object. In his portraits the subject is made all encompassing by the reduction of extraneous detail, and he used the blurring of perspective to heighten this focus.

Why would someone wish to paint in this way - with clear central objects and backgrounds which seem to consist, not of details, but of noise?

Because it is the way we actually see. At any moment we are focused on a few objects that we actually see, and can process the details of, everything else is seen in fragments - it has enough substance in the minds eye that we can perceive it - but this substance is really a place holder that is inserted by the mind itself as a way of representing information that is remembered - but is not actually perceived in the present. With a flick of our eyes we can look at the thing itself - and so if the place holder has some feature which shines or stabs the eye we turn towards it, only to see the actual object as a whole thing and return to our main focus. Try looking at the center of your computer now - the edges will be enough there, but there will be ghosts of shading and shifting color - artifacts of sight. By painting clear objects and phantom detail - Kazanskaya is representing the actual experience of seeing more clearly that a representational painting.

The reason a representational painting has such an impact to the eye is that it to is an abstraction. No one can hold as many details firmly in focus as the painting contains. Thus by being clear in every detail it represents not what you see when you look at it, but the totality of all of the things you would see by looking at the object at every point. It is this hyper-reality which gives representationalism its power. It is the avoidance of detailing each seperate thing which gives this painting - and the others like it - its experientialism.

Once you can see this - that when you look at a thing only certain prongs stand out - the same way that listening to a complex piece of music one really perceives only certain foreground events clearly - the rest are reduced to a blur which never the less inflects the basic sound and controls it, these paintings make complete sense in the way they symbolize looking. Thus what we see when we look at them is what we might see at a glance - some things stand out - and the tension between these things actually perceived, and the disquieting background of a world visible, yet unseen, that gives the paintings their potent tension, contradiction and energy. Because the painting has stripped away the detail, we can never be any more than in that tense state that our mind enters when it can feel that there is more to look at than it has perceived, and that further examination is necessary.

But Kazanskaya does not merely leave us with visual plaster to fill in the gaps between these sharp points of focus. Instead when one looks at each painting one sees a welter of strokes, scoring and brush work. Clearly there is some other force at work - and that force is the tension which provokes contradiction between that which is seen and that which is felt as present because it is unseen.

Look carefully at this detail around the leaves of the foreground object - you can see the carefully shaped triangular areas of colour and the very carefully scored canvas which spreads away at the top in a "V" and which ripples through the light area in the centre in waves and surrounds each leaf. One might think that this is "intersecting planes of colour". But the object in the back ground is a flat wall, there are no planes, even if one granted that a light is hidden behind the desk and that these shapes represent undulations and imperfections in the wall, it is a strange wall - the rose step cuts its imperfections neatly in two. Thus the scoring and colouring do nor show any solid object - but either they mean something we can discern - in which case Kazanskaya is an artist - or they do not - in which case the entire painting - indeed all of the paintings - are merely complex brush work.

Note first how the scoring is bent in the same way the leaves are bent, that the triangle of yellow light at the lower left centre is attached to the stem at a bend, such that it is in the same shape as a leaf would have been in the same place, note that the blue in the lower right above the stem has scoring around it that bends like the folding of leaves. Note that the lower right shading mimics the shading on the top leaf, and so on. Clearly there is a pattern, that pattern is self consistent and visible. The pattern is one that should be familiar to any one who has looked at a fractal - it is the pattern of self- similarity, of regions which emanate out from the centre of the fractal, shaped like the underlying thing and yet different from it, not mere blurings of it, or merely contours.

It is in this way that the visual phantoms that haunt our every look, which we live with so constantly as to forget their existence until dark or illusion call them forth, are represented. It is in this way that the experience of seeing is created. As the mind fills in the details of what we look at with a texture drawn from memory and its own fractal patterns - so are the details of these paintings created by self-similar brushwork and scoring. Thus these paintings exist in the shimmering world of our actual perception - not what we think we see, not what we could see if we could see all at once, not what we remember we see, or imagine we see - but instead a single frame of existence - the exact effect which creates the distance that we feel between ourselves and the outside world. This distance effect is why we go to see movies, they are more real than real, closer than close. It is the illusion that the paparazzi create around stars - a world sharper than sharp, the effect that creates the larger than life impression of glamour in magazines and in commercials. They banish the banshees of our perception with light and focus which the real living eye is in capable of.

It is for this reason that the hyper-real pushes at the world of perception - because we the world we experience is like fairie - it is the co-existence of the material as it is manifest - and of the hidden patterns which are represented as the creatures in the mists - in every folk culture in every society of the world. This co-existence rests uneasily in our minds because both worlds can be dangerous. The world of what is external is the world of bullets and walls and boundaries - the pattern world the one of madness, miscalculation, anxiety, uncertainty. It consists of the parts of ourselves which function without our leave -and beyond our ability to command at each instant, and yet are vital to our existence. It is the same angst felt by the city dweller who realises during a garbage strike just how much of the urban mechanism functions without his knowing of it...

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Art of Maria Kazanskaya

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