Anja Jerčič. Paintings 2006/2007,
City gallery Nova Gorica, Nova Gorica 2007 [razst. kat.]
Essay by: Dr. Nadja Zgonik
The paintings of Anja Jerčič are becoming increasingly monumental. Their dimensions are growing larger and the plant depicted in them – recently black clover has begun to predominate among other kinds – occupies a central position, dominating the picture plain. This is a new, totally personal kind of monumental painting in which the human figure no longer prevails. These are no more images of kings, rulers, saints or presidents, not even farmers or factory workers. If the monumental format has traditionally been used to promote ideologies, then the new ideology that is being celebrated in the enormous paintings of Anja Jerčič – representative portraits of black clover in supernatural sizes – can only be ecological consciousness.
But Anja Jerčič is not interested in the message of her paintings. She does not want to be engaged, still less an activist. She does not want herself or her very special and distinctive paintings to be trotted out as social criticism as has happened to so many of her artist colleagues. Her paintings represent a kind of monumental intimacy, an idiosyncratic escape from reality, a retreat into the laboratory/workshop/studio space where she can create in isolation.
Anja Jerčič wants to share with us her excitement in the painterly craft, in technique itself. In the contemporary era of high technology, this enthusiasm is almost blasphemy. It is also deeply mysterious and attractive. It reminds us of the possibilities painting offers in the purely artisan sense: on the one hand, the rediscovery of old traditional techniques (for example, the preparation of egg tempera in the kitchen), and on the other hand, the discovery of new manual rather than automatic techniques (for example, putting various trowels and brushes to new use). Jerčič explains her enthusiasm for objects from the art supply shop in a refreshing and self-deprecating way: as the penetration of consumerism into her work. She is aware, after all, that in the contemporary world we are above all titillated by the range of choice, the wealth of possibilities that so many objects offer, even if we never end up using them.
Jerčič’s work creates the impression of a precise, deliberate and carefully reflected concept. They are unified compositions in which the figure – the plant – is centrally placed against the background as an isolated and therefore accentuated object. The space of the painting is defined as a stage for the presentation of the plant in the leading role and as such acquires the characteristic elements of the stage: the arch applied to the two-dimensional surface of the painting and functioning as a fragment of the vaulted space; the stairway that adds to the impression of a deepening space, a characteristic of an early illusionist spatial representation similar to those produced during the Renaissance. What is distinctive is the duality between the background for the figure and the figure that is glued on top of it, an effect that emphasizes the combined artistic approaches. The background is painted with an egg tempera that is thinned with water and creates a translucent or semi-transparent effect. The figure is painted with a thick, relief-like texture, with oil paint so that it emerges from the painting in a tactile way. The whole is visually unified with a coat of wax varnish. The artistic process is a mixture of control and experiment. For a certain time, the painter allows the spontaneous emergence of coincidence which she helps along with viscous color and the texture of the canvas. Shortly afterwards, however, she carefully controls the image and supervises its content as she precisely prepares the visual composition that will become the stage for the plant.
Even the titles of her new paintings – Stopnišče (Stairway), Veliko okno (Big Window), Pasaža (Passage), Črno okno (Black Window), Okna (Windows) as opposed to earlier works that were mostly Brez naslova (Untitled) – direct the viewer to comprehend the images as new dynamic settings. Events within them are condensed into the transgression of the gaze or physical transition. In this manner, the paintings acquire the identity of objects that reveal the rediscovery of the lost connection between modernist paintings and the reality on which they were based, but which they did not interpret. The stairway is a place of transition or ascent (to the sky) and similarly the paintings become spaces of transition between two worlds. They represent the quality of border transitions in the spatial sense, a meaning that can be transported to other transliminal conditions of change: from living to dead, for example, or from natural to artificial. The layering of paint strata also contributes to this illusion, already emphasized in the three-leafed structure of the clover. There is a play in meaning here as well, because a leaf (or folio) might not only be part of a plant, but it could also be a sheet of paper and as such represents the fundamental visual field. One can leaf through the layers of paper, and fall leaves can fall in a random rhythm forming a natural metaphor. Transition and layering show the in-between quality of the paintings that do not represent something else, but also are no longer autonomous objects that reveal only themselves.
Anja Jerčič takes the plants from her herbarium. She overcomes seriality – a frequent trope in contemporary art and one of the characteristics of her plant-base of dried black clover – with subjective choice when she selects which plant to paint, and later by the individualization of the depicted object which otherwise has no evident value. Black clover is an insignificant, tiny, almost invisible plant that will never attract the admiration of gardeners or flower lovers, nor is it particularly important in the field of botany. Yet in Anja Jerčič’s paintings, it undergoes a transformation. With the personification of the plant, its role changes and it becomes important, a glorified central object of a painting in search of its extraordinariness. And this in turn changes the other emphasis of other components; for example, the human figure, generally privileged in art, now strikes us as mere ornament. The magnified plant is ever present; it is both the pattern on the background and the subject being depicted. Its design in decorative patterns takes the subjectivity of created forms and de-individualizes it. By creating the visibility of differences, the tendency to dehumanize is transformed into its opposite. Anja Jerčič’s paintings become monuments to the ephemeral, the everyday unseen.