The current exhibition by the academy-trained painter Robert Lozar addresses the issue of the viewer’s visual perception, one of the fundamental subjects in fine art, which opens up the reflection on the role of painting. For Lozar, this is not just a surface plane with applications of paint, but a field that seemingly creates a space. The space in the pictorial field is the connecting point of Lozar’s oeuvre, stretched between the abstract and the mimetic. For this exhibition, he painted completely new works, which are interconnected by the common motif of the Krško Gallery exhibition. He has depicted the latter as the background or the main motif of his paintings, creating the illusion of duplicating the space. By including sculptural and painterly works, as well as blank canvases in the pictorial composition, he has transferred one of the postulates of the painting tradition, i.e. the painting in the painting, into contemporary artistic interpretation. Through the duplication of the space and the mimetic painting approach, he has drawn close to the trompe l'oeil effect, especially in those paintings where the format equals life-size and where the set-up of the paintings has also been aligned with the gallery space. It should be noted that formally he does not cross the line between realism and naturalism or rather hyperrealism, which is characteristic for trompe l'oeil, but retains a picturesque quality since brush strokes and the applications of the paint layers remain evident.
The motif of space represents a continuity in Lozar’s oeuvre. If he built up the space in his early fantastically interpreted landscapes by including references to the real world, and in his abstract paintings with details or pictorial elements that established spatial relations in the compositions and gave the impression of depth and expansion, then the Euclidean space has become the reference point of his painting with the transition to mimetic painting. Initially he captured this in landscape sections of bends in the road which began to be produced in 2008, then in the details of interiors with television sets that he began painting in 2011, and in the interiors of exhibition spaces of the recent six or seven years. A common feature in depicting the space is the use of cut-out sections, as the painter captures the outer space in a wider section, and the inner space in a narrower section, without restricting and closing off the depicted space, but offering an exit beyond the painting, which can be seen both in the paintings of the bends, whose circular forms or segments are indicative of the latter, extending beyond the edges of the painting, as they disappear into the background on one side and reach to the viewer on the other; and in the paintings of the TV sets and gallery interiors, where the space is sparsely sectioned like a kind of big or small “frame” to the televisions and artworks, with the suggestion of the space expanding beyond the edges being immanent to these compositions.
The continuous depiction of space in the painter’s oeuvre can be understood as the artist’s response and counter-argument to the notion of the painting as a two-dimensional surface onto which paint is applied, which can be traced to post-impressionism and the avant-garde painting trends. For Lozar, the illusion of space is a constitutive part of the painting, which in his opinion is “better to exploit than to try to persecute”, in which an observance of the classical laws of painting can be noted that have never died out and were revived over and over again, especially in the reactions of those artistic currents that denied the illusion of space. One of the artists who drew attention to the importance of space in painting and to its opening outwards was Frank Stella, whose thinking has been a source of inspiration to Lozar. Stella pointed out that painting should include both the viewer’s and the artist’s space and should achieve the effect that the pictorial space expands into the viewer’s space, without giving the impression that the spatial experience of the painting ends at its edges, it is rather enclosed by it. He concludes his thought with the words that the necessity of creating a pictorial space capable of dissolving the edge and surface of the plane is the burden with which modern painting was born. What Stella calls “burden” has found its primacy in Lozar’s painting and was already noticeable in his abstract works, especially in the later ones, in which the mimetic approach, which he first cultivated only in detail, and later in the composition as a whole, fully enabled the realisation of the idea of the illusion of the three-dimensional within the painting.
The motif of the painting in the painting, which Lozar connects with the transfer of the gallery space into the painting, has been present in his painting for the last seven years, its predecessor being the depictions of TV screens. He upgrades it by including imaginary abstract paintings and sculptures as well as blank canvases, sometimes even his own self-portrait, into such compositions. The fictional sculptural works could be described as objects of a painterly nature, as they are formed by the compositions of contrasting colours and strokes, evoking associations to the works of Frank Stella. The impetus for them came from the painter’s past dream when he dreamed that he was squeezing paint out of a tube into space and this solidified into a statue. This motif coincides with the beginning of his depictions of the gallery space in his oeuvre. The motif of blank canvases in painting contrasts with the other works, since a blank canvas can represent a painting in its original state awaiting its realisation as an empty surface, or may mean that it will never become a painting and is in itself sufficiently testimonial. The artist has also included real unpainted canvases and paintings with abstract subject matter in the exhibition, and further stimulated the viewer’s perception as he toyed with the transition between real and imaginary space.
The latest paintings have been created with the dynamic Baroque interior of Krško Gallery in mind. The artist has depicted the former sacral space with pilasters, cornices, curved walls, stone floor and soft light in two ways: as an independent motif, when he transferred a detail of the architectural ambience into the painting, or as a background in front of which he placed the artworks, the unpainted canvases. In this way, he has created a unique site-specific piece that rounds off, in terms of content with the motif of the gallery space in which the paintings are displayed, and in terms of form, with the placement of the paintings in those spots in the gallery that correspond to their depictions, albeit allowing for a certain degree of freedom, since it was not the painter’s intention to create perfect shots of reality that may appear dull, but he aimed at the lively response of the viewer’s gaze as well as the effect of surprising the viewer. By transferring the motif of the exhibition to the imaginary level of the painting, the space in the painting has been doubled or extended into the real space by the painter. The latter can be tied to the well-known visual effect, which fascinated the painter in his youth, i.e. the image within the image that multiplies and continues to infinity and awakens the feeling that it will suck us inwards. Even though this kind of effect is alleviated in Lozar’s works, the key to reading is the same, as the viewer’s perception of the painting is essential. The latter displays a distinctly dual character in this case. On the one hand, if we consider Stella’s dissolving of the edges of the painting and merging of the space of the painting with that of the viewer, it is possible to get the feeling of entering the painting not only with the gaze but with the entire body and we perceive its space and everything placed in it in an all-encompassing dimension. We enter another, parallel reality, in which the possibility of realisation is infinite, which is a liberating and inspiring insight. On the other hand, however, if we consider Milan Butina’s conception of the pictorial space as a purely visual category, “a membrane between the real and the possible, between the actual and the potential”, we can perceive distance in such an interpreted painting within a painting: our attention is attracted by the artwork that is painted and not that which is exhibited since the latter acts more as an interface between the viewer and the painted artwork than as the goal of the viewer’s viewing. Because of the painted space, we get the feeling that we are looking at the object of depiction, i.e. the depicted painting or sculptural work indirectly, as if it were far removed from us. A paradoxical situation arises when a parallel exhibition in parallel reality takes place in front of the viewer in the paintings, and instead of directly experiencing the artwork, this experience seems to be taken away from him.
In transferring the exhibition into the pictorial space, we can also recognise a hint of humour with which the painter accompanies us on the path of testing our perception, when, on the one hand, he invites us to enter the painting, and on the other, moves it away from us into the realm of the promise of something possible. Thus, he accentuates the importance of perception in a sophisticated manner, as he leaves how the exhibition is experienced up to the viewer and his ability to empathise with the painting.
Text by: Andreja Rakovec, curator
Sources and literature: interview with Robert Lozar; Frank Stella: Working Space, Cambridge, London, 1986; Tomaž Brejc: Likovna zbirka Factor banke, Ljubljana 2000; Jožef Muhovič: Leksikon likovne teorije, Celje, Ljubljana 2015; Robert Lozar. Slike, pregledna razstava. Galerija Kambič, 29. september–31. december 2017, Metlika 2017 (interview with the artist written by Iztok Premrov).
Robert Lozar (1967, Novo mesto) graduated in the class of prof. Metka Krašovec at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana in 1993. He was editor-in-chief of Likovne besede (Art Words) magazine from 1995 to 2000. He has held the status of a self-employed professional in culture since 1994. He lives and works in Butoraj in Bela Krajina. He has taken part in many solo and group exhibitions at home and abroad. He is a member of DLUD and ZDSLU.
Mag. Andreja Rakovec (1980, Kranj) completed her postgraduate studies in the field of art of the Modern Period in the Department of Art History at the Faculty of Arts in Ljubljana in 2008. She worked as a curator at the Maribor Art Gallery and has been working independently as a self-employed professional in culture – curator since 2014. She is employed at ZRC SAZU. She organises exhibitions of contemporary art and photography. Her research interests include Florentine Renaissance painting, sculpture in the public space, the study of sacral art heritage as well as 20th- and 21st-century art. She is the author of several scientific and expert publications.