Seeing and Knowing: A Drawing as Logos in the Art of Herman Gvardjančič

Marko Košan

Seeing and Knowing: A Drawing as Logos in the Art of Herman Gvardjančič

Herman Gvardjančič is one of the most prominent representatives of expressive figuralism in Slovenia. In his work he is always direct and impetuous using only partially controlled strokes with a brush or pencil regardless of the media he uses. In meditative reflection of existential experience of the world he derives from landscape in which states of human psychic reflect symbolically and metaphorically. Two incentives are equally important to his creation: tradition of gestural abstraction of high modernism and the tradition of expressionist expression of emotions, which both found harmony in the works of renowned protagonists of American abstract expressionism in years after World War II. While original expressionism by artists from Die Brucke and Blaue Reiter groups portrayed figural and landscape motives in order to express intensive, direct feelings, abstract gestural painting became empty and chaotic during the course of 20th century, it strived to become autonomous and so it freed itself from the structural bases of nature and copying. The art of painting tried to get away from the dictatorship of conceptualistic practices that appeared as a reaction to radical minimalism and therefore needed a turn, which was generated by neo-expressionist courses of new figuralism at the end of 1970s and beginning of 1980s. In its own organic way within his opus at the time Herman Gvardjančič also followed these courses when he used wide wavy brush strokes to cut into the monochromatic texture of landscapes in paintings from the second half of 1970s. His brush left a direct, raw trace which created new and different complementary colour relations. Emphasized gestural elements became exposed fragments of structure and a focused expressions of direct emotions, that is why they for ever changed the psychic effect of images and ever since they have been established as spread-out screens of the view towards the depths of the creator’s experience of the world in relation to the objective environment inasmuch the subjective has been transformed. In the case of Herman Gvardjančič this environment is Sorško Polje, a place where he grew up, where he lives and creates. This is his world, a world that gains artistic reality by intertwining the everyday relationship towards his ambient and a priori nostalgic memory that grows out of a blurry meta reality of a past experience and transforms into an “archaic” fantasy. Disturbing view towards a suicidal woman’s house, which is a very repetitive and obsessive motif, rises above the feelings of the scene’s physical presence and transforms itself into a painting excess in a strong psychological sensation. This way Gvardjančič additionally mythologizes the motif of Škofjeloško polje, which as such had already become a part of Slovene art history. With exclusive and subjective experience he repeatedly lifts the landscape into metaphysic spheres when he extracts and obtains its essence. He transforms the recognisable forms of trees and houses into elements of archetypal “genius loci” that are equally anxious and forceful also as mere writings on marginal pieces of torn off paper since each of them is like a stone in a mosaic of auto-reflexive landscape allegory unparalleled in Slovene modern art.

A demiurgic artist like Gvardjančič is able to create a distance towards the painted and realised contents in an instant. When he “tosses” explosive elements of drawing drafts onto the canvass, he cannot run away from it, not only because he still lives in his birth village but also because he cannot run away from the deep emotional connection and affiliation with this countryside that keeps generating new visual incentives. Complex emotions are transformed into creative power that is produced with primal brush strokes, always strong and never reserved … it is rigid and chromatically intensive at the same time, is seems like a mixture of blood and soil … it sends a message of the power of survival as a delicate strength of lyric spinning into the oneiric glimpse of life’s mystery. The power of Gvardjančič’s brush strokes is raw yet numb, it contradicts the usual manners of abstract gestural painting that relies on rhythm, harmony and inner dynamics of individual elements of an image, contracted in an unstable form that ruthlessly makes a cut, a wound into the painting’s space.  Colours on canvass are like sediments that are like ulcers, shadows on one’s soul which are silenced by Mračenje  – Darkening (title of a cycle of newer paintings created after 2006) of hollow blackness … as if colour was too real and therefore limiting since it does not allow oneiric descending into the intimate abyss of personal truth realisation. Musicality, which nevertheless serves as an undertone to Gvardjančič’s paintings, is merely a sonorous sounding of pagan dithyrambs, which found an ideal counterpart in the gloomy voice of “velvet underworld” of a charismatic singer named Nico (in the series of paintings as hommage from years 1977-1999). Her voice on Gvardjančič’s painted screens seems like a hymn of life’s tragedy, like an attempt of cathartic depiction of distress before the incomprehensive ultimate.

Although Gvardjančič is closely connected to the environment he portrays, his art paradoxically seems to lack the exterior   …  it is like a depiction of interior whereby the exterior as such vanishes. This way the relation towards the global context is loosened, although nowadays such a context represents an obligatory paradigm. Without any compromise Gvardjančič insists on feeling the world outside ideology, politics or economy. Rather than trying to comprehend general truths he uses his art to try to understand himself. When he paints he gradually fulfils himself with infinite vitality, he realises all his fears and traumas, and also the joy of absorbing life’s juices, depicted by (dark) blood. When he paints he observes himself in the mirror of his own existential sensitivity and masochistically searches for causative sequence in reality of time and place, which echoes loudly in his sub conscience, from which the images of altered reality come out into the canvass.

Storage rooms in the sub conscience, where the most hidden ideas and feelings of every individual reside. Gvardjančič fills his storage rooms with an infinite range of drawings and sketches of large, medium, small and the smallest formats as well as casual outlines on edges of ephemeral pieces of paper. All these pieces of art present real logos, a word of his art. His drawings are not mediums for simple reproductions of recognisable reality, they open different bases for the effects of visual elements of indirect inner strength and expressiveness. The narration of these drawings is broken into fragments, remains, in which the “seeing” and the “knowing” intertwine. The visual impulse that directs the writing is momentary nevertheless it hides the awakened past when it carries the sounds and the remains that bring certain “knowledge” (of discomfort, mystery or even latent horror) into the environment. The power of these notes is in the delusion of sight. Although eyes are everywhere, we must be aware of the sight and with “eyes wide open” we must submerge deep into our heart so it can be filled with joy or tears. An artist in not merely a voyeur who observes the world, his real world is inside of him where it is much bigger from the outside world. It is like a well that never dries up, a spring of continuous stream of world’s and life’s reflections.  “I do not paint nature, I am nature!” said Jackson Pollock, and in order to approach Gvardjančič’s painting we must also use intuition and feelings and not theoretical and structural views. Gvardjančič’s drawings in his typical grasping style, when the thought of impression overtakes the skilled hand, suggest an essential feeling of the object. Although they are fast, they are not thoughtless. Although they are automatic, they are sensual. Each drawn line speaks for itself, it contains power and energy that give it sovereignty of visual art presence. The motif with its objective presence is not important however in this earliest, cerebral stage of drawing it is felt and translated into combined visual art sensation, where sharp moves emphasise tension and the thick texture of lines gradually increases dramatic feelings. The motif he sees in the landscape does not represent a phenomenalistic  category for Gvardjančič, since his obsessive drawing distances him from Mereleau-Ponty’s idea of perceptive experience and understanding the world through one’s body.  Gvardjančič does not strive to catch the world’s truth, only himself in the world, while being aware of the fragile human existence that is marked with trauma of one’s own being with relation to finitude and eternity. Thereby he preserves the separation of body and spirit, the subject and the world that surrounds him or her, and distinguishes between individual and collective history, between freedom and destiny, between the realistic and the unrealistic, between perception and imagination.

Gvardjančič’s painting contests and rejects prejudice of modern period as well as postmodern historical relativism. His creative discourse is just eclectic enough to use the artistic and expressive power of painting in its modernistic manner.  Gvardjančič’s images are heterogeneous and ecstatic and with their imaginary illustrativity they convert the (modernist) order, separate the postmodern forms and try to catch them in their own visual paradigm, which is a kind of psychic auto portrait. The paintings are organic and irrational as life itself.

Gvardjančič seems to believe in the magic and redemptive power of painting. He has adopted painting, particularly continuous drawing of tiny fragments of passing cityscape impressions or associatively triggered thoughts, as perpetual state of mind that in moments of accumulated critical mass of creative energy turns into an adventure on canvass that shows the fighting with fundamental forces of nature. In a relaxed, raw and wildly disturbed action the allegorical and accidental symbolic connotations sooner or later submit to the cosmic forces that transform spiritual energy into visual, whereby it appears that the distinction between the figural and the abstract expression is no longer important. Psychically relived experience of the world captured in a realistic ambience of the living environment is realised without dictation of a consistent depiction as intuitive interpretation in a physical and sensual painter’s touch, and with the painting’s body and with direct dialogue it demiurgically “cuts” into its flesh, arranges the colour masses and sensitively responds to their tectonic movements. Idiomatically comprehended figuralism surrenders to the chromatic load of self-referential layers of colour that more or less cover the descriptive or narrative potential of the image.

Perhaps Gvardjančič’s painting really stands in the opposition to indefinable and intangible structure of an aesthetic canon, namely the new media and socially engaged neo-conceptualistic tendencies in the art of the moment.  Nevertheless it would be difficult to describe his works as traditional regression in the sense of sampling the modernist paradigm, since he derives from a sort of post-historical feeling, when the inevitable destiny of our own always and everywhere present physical ephemerality is not opposed by the timelessness of an eternal story of archetypal constants in the transformation of the world but by a very personal and intimate dialogue about the exposed experience of the  world, which is laid onto the bearer of the picture’s image as “materia prima”. Because he is straightforward and honest, he can represent a story in various symbolic layers of collective memory in different periods of cultural history but sooner or later he completely turns towards himself and into himself in a specific time and space. With direct artistic language he embodies a consistent humanist interpretation of an existential living situation where each and every one of us is trapped in the destiny of experience and realisation in our relationship towards the world, people near us and ourselves. He has imprinted very loquacious  components of psychological observation of himself into his almost endless drawing opus and a slightly less extensive painting opus which both represent an intimate dialogue with his desires, feelings as well as intriguing and almost unsolvable moments of discomfort with which he tries to approach the final truths of human vanity on Earth.