Danilo Cardone: Your artworks are made of lights and shadows that often embrace an almost monochrome spectrum. This dramatic tension mystify who looks at your artworks, causing first of all a sort of calm anxiety. Is it what you try to communicate? Which is the function that you hope your artworks have?
Maya Kulenovic: You can probably tell that I don't generally shy away from unpleasant or disturbing feelings in my work, however, my own attitude towards these feelings as I paint is that of a certain detachment and calm reflection. I think that this is what you're detecting.
I don't aim at painting 'anxiety' in particular; however, my paintings possess a certain uneasy ambiguity: they often contain many strong ideas and feelings, some of which contradict each other. Things which may seem familiar at first glance are never a stereotype; they are always reconsidered from a slightly different perspective, and so there is an alien aspect to them. Binary oppositions are questioned: light is not necessarily a metaphor for 'good', and shadow is not necessarily malevolent. This ambiguity can be seen as anxiety by some, but it's an inherent and very important part of my work.
I would like my paintings to initiate a direct and forceful relationship to the viewer, to make them consider places and feelings they have not considered before, and to invite them to project something of themselves onto the work. I'd like my paintings to be experienced with intensity and with some personal investment by the viewer. That being said, I don't think of a viewer's reaction while I paint, but instead focus on creating something that speaks of an essential truth of some kind and has a life of it's own: rooted in the familiar, yet independent, open, unpredictable and uncategorizable.
DC: It's difficult to trace back your art to some univocal precedents, and this is a big quality of your art. Nevertheless some reminiscence persists. Rembrandt is the name that most of all is mentioned. In your most recent artworks i think you've moved closer even to some other old masters of the past. In Whisper i think we could see a root in Caravaggio's Madonna Of The Pilgrims, but most of all in Restoration the reference is clearly Leonardo. How have you changed from a model like Lucien Freud in your earlier artworks to a model like the Italian Renaissance?
MK: As a child I was particularly attracted to classical art, from Greek and Roman sculptures through Renaissance to about the 18th century. I spent hours on end surrounded by these images, studying and copying them, so to me they feel like home and my relationship to them is intensely personal. This early fascination with art history provided me with an intuitive sense of a certain set of proportions and expectations as a sort of a baseline. However, as my work and my own personality developed, I became interested in deviations from these expectations. At university, I moved on in time in my studies of art history, towards 20th century art, and found that the work of British artists such as Freud and Bacon resonated with me, especially the materiality of the medium and the psychological quality of strange, chaotic and/or undefined space. This was a period of exploration and learning.
In time, as I was developing my own approach, these various influences started coming together in new ways, and not in an entirely conscious manner. It's as if the things I learned and experienced - and not only in art, but in every other field as well as in life - belonged to a realm with no sense of chronology, from which they can be freely recombined and altered. The paintings such as Whisper and Restoration, and their being reminiscent of the works you mentioned, are good examples of that. But it's important to note that both were not based on old paintings, but on a mix of imagination and a series of photos, some found, and some taken by me. Their similarity to Caravaggio and Leonardo appeared spontaneously, first influencing my choice of references, and afterwards during initial sketching. I decided to allow some of that in.
DC: Your artworks have an intimate sacred soul that analyse the deepness of the human being that you paint. What does "the sacred" mean for you?
MK: Perhaps in the context of my paintings, a better word might be 'transcendent' rather than 'sacred'. I think that the ability to feel the 'transcendent' is an essential and universal human capacity which, for those who are religious, is attached to a system of belief, but it doesn't have to be. Transcendence can be revealed in those moments when an experience moves us to the core, on every level of our being; what we witness is too magnificent to comprehend yet we feel a part of it. For a split second we are able to have a glimpse of infinity, and not only in the physical sense. For me, this happens most often in nature and in my work, but also in breakthrough moments of discovery, in meditation, or when I least expect it: when some unseen truth about existence and/or the human condition reveals itself suddenly and with clarity. Transcendence is difficult to explain or to capture, as one has to experience it, and art is probably one of the best ways of communicating that experience.
DC: Photography and cinema, two aspects that i think permeate your art. In photography the pictorial elements of Cuvelier fuse with the silent glimpse of Atget, just as an example. What about cinema? Is it for you an inspiration? Which are the movies and/or the directors that you feel near to your art?
MK: Of course. Firstly, I think that there is a sense of time in my paintings which bears a relation to cinematography. I would describe this as a sequence of moments not following each other in a linear fashion but overlapping, so that they reflect a particular long term state: of mind, of being etc. I think that for this reason I'm also attracted to early photography, in which exposures were much longer and so the final image represented an average of many short but distinct moments. There is also something cinematic in my process as well - I use many references: found imagery, series of photos of the same subject but from different angles and with different lighting. Music (and silence) is also something I usually consider while I paint, as a personal guide. The sense of movement, past or anticipated is also an important element here.
If I had to point out only a few of my favourite things in cinema, it would be Bergman's close-ups on faces, Terrence Malick's landscapes, Ridley Scott's sets and the feeling of 2001: A Space Odyssey. To list the some of the films that have made long-lasting impressions on me: THX1138 (George Lucas), The Killing Fields (Roland Joffe), Blade Runner (Ridley Scott), The Third Man (Carol Reed), Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean), Altered States (Ken Russel), Jacob's Ladder (Adrian Lyne), The Thin Red Line (Terrence Malick), Ran (Akira Kurosawa), and a couple of films by Peter Weir that I saw when I was very young: Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Last Wave.
DC: Your landscapes have a very powerful evocative force. They seems like vivid and elusive oneiric visions. How much the dream counts for your art?
MK: I don't paint my dreams, and I don't find them particularly useful as ideas in any literal way, but I like exploring and learning from them. Much of my artistic content comes from the same place as dreams, and I've noticed that my paintings of places, such as landscapes and buildings, and my lucid dreams have a similar quality, especially that of space and light. I find such dreams peaceful and comforting. A good way of generating ideas for me are near-sleep states and meditation in which one can observe the free flow of thoughts and unrestricted spontaneous associations while still having an awareness of the present.