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Irises in Spring | Interlude of Ambiguity | Irises and Pears | Thumbnail Gallery
Art of Maria Kazanskaya
What makes ambiguity work? Often one will read an essay which rhapsodises of the ambiguity of a particular writer's work, or of a plot, or of an object in a painting. Sometimes the essayist is even correct, but often it seems as if the original painter merely did not finish, or that the writer did not make the character individual enough.
Ambiguous - comes from a dual nature, not merely obscure, unsketched in, nor merely unfinished. Duality. If I take the letters loveisnowhere - it is ambiguous because there are two ways for the letters to be broken into words, with different meanings for each. Unintentionally ambiguity is occurs often enough, but ambiguity is artistic when the transition between different ways of interpreting an object are clearly intentional and clearly part of the artistic effect of the painting. For myself, I find the best ambiguity is the kind which does not call attention to itself - but is part of the whole effect.
Look at the wall behind the flowers: if you look at the edge next to the mirror, it seems flush with the table. The table turns its corner - but there is no articulating corner in the wall. The wall just behind the jar seems to go off into space along its own course. Yet behind the left most edge of the table, the wall seems to meet the table again. Looked at from this angle the wall seems to curve around the back so that both edges can meet the wall, without their being a corner. And yet when the eye shifts to look at this apparent curve near the top of the painting, that section seems flat.
Near the corner on the left of the table, there seems to be a clear separation between the table and the wall to make room for the unseen light source and its shadows. The wall seems again to curve away from the table.
This effect is like an Escher drawing - at any individual point the connection between the wall and the table seems normal, but at each point contradicts the clues given in other places. This effect is created and not accidental, this is shown by how the brush and scoring work and use of light, in each case heightening the effect. Nor does the painter shout her skill, the effect is one of the many effects in the painting. It fits with the nature of seeing in the set of paintings as a whole - looking at a Kazanskaya still life is a mirroring of how we see the world - there is that which we focus upon which seems to be the norm against which everything else is filled in to meet. This nature of seeing is here used to create an unreal space and an unreal wall.
This alone is technical virtuosity - but notice that the effect of ambiguity is used to focus attention on a particular part of the painting - one which under normal circumstances you would not linger over - to draw the eye away from the bright read centrally located roses, away from the large central light area of the mirror - and towards other regions of the painting. This creates a tension in the eye - no matter where it focuses - there seem to be other colours and shapes which are strong enough to make you want to look at them. It is in this way that we normally come to some sense of rest in a space - we look at one point and then look at everything which seems not to fit with it, casting our eye about, resolving the differences, until we have a mental picture of a scene which can be used to fill in all of the details. Occasionally a bit of shadow and convergence of shapes jumps out - or a motion peripheral to the centre of our focus. The eye jumps to this new place to determine what it is.
This effect that Kazanskaya presents us with then, forces us to scan the whole of the painting, and prevents us from coming to an exact determination of the shape. It is this tension between the contradictory images which creates the powerful effect of a painting which could be described as a jar with roses in it on table in front of a mirror...
The reason this ambiguity works is that the texture of the wall and the light and the table are rich enough so that it does not jump out at once to us. In other words, the subtly of its presentation is part of the effect. If it were too obvious, we would feel that the painter is merely playing with the eye, attempting to run us through a visual maze for the purpose of proving that as long as the eye rests upon the painting, the painter has power over the person gazing upon it. Instead the subtly constructed web of references which contradict, are based on the underlying the nature of seeing: that what we look at makes sense - and everything else is made to make sense, allowing us to accept the impossible.
In the modern age evocation is all. One has one word titles such as "Time" which evoke a powerful set of images, a powerful ambiguity of emotion in the reader, viewer or listener and then creates a single almost illustrative piercing of the evoked notion by the work of art. This was the process of the 20th century - moving from an agrarian, traditional, organic, and lineal society, to one that was based on orders, functions, motions and gestures. By reversing this basic dichotomy, where the artist is the creator of ambiguity in a public which has sought ever greater sureness and ever greater closure of ideas and discussion, Kazanskaya has left behind a main idea of 20th century art and has started making art which partakes from its basic ideas of a philosophy which is not post-modern, because she does not collage discrete units of existing work, nor is the conflict between whole self-sufficient structures the way we find in Schnittke's music for example, but instead is in the nature of being human itself. Nor is there anxiety attached to this humanness - the inherent irresolvability of sight is a source of beauty, interest and tension rather than of fear, angst or dissipation.
This is the most revolutionary of the paintings that are available. It seems best to next look at another work, which because it does not reach as far, shows other virtues of the painter more clearly: Irises and Pears.
Art of Maria Kazanskaya