The Joy of Painting
Some painters strive to capture shapes of the human body; others try to evoke the space and atmosphere of landscapes, and yet others employ painting as a form of social analysis and criticism. What Kateřina Štenclová is after is primarily the act of painting as such. She seeks to identify at which point something that has not been a painting becomes one. Her pictures do not depict anything of the visible world around us; instead they tell a story of their own making. This type of painting utilizes a language that initially refuses to give in to the spectator. Rather, one needs to learn it. Whether or not such investment is worth the effort is not obvious at first sight, even though appreciation of originality and the need for radical innovation is embedded in foundations of the entire Western culture.
Kateřina Štenclová ranks among the handful of Czech artists committed to abstract painting. Her prime means of expression are pure color, relationships of geometric and organic planes, brushstrokes, and shape of the picture plane. She attended the Academy of Fine Arts in years when academic studies constituted more of an obstacle standing in the way of free artistic expression rather than a vehicle to achieving it. At school it was mandatory to paint in the style of realism; beyond the school walls she searched for ways in which to release her emotions by expressive painting. She was one of the few women to have participated in the legendary „Confrontations“ and other unofficial exhibitions in the second half of the 1980s. Following the intensely expressive experiments towards the end of the 1980s, her way of painting relaxed. The brushstroke lost its drawing-like character, and starting from early 1990s, Štenclová worked predominantly with large planes of pure colors (which she occasionally prepared herself from powder pigments). The resulting color plane has a uniquely „dry“ but, at the same time, softly glazed character. Her pictures in the 1990s did not aspire to deal with spatial illusion; what was highlighted in them was the sheer existence of a painting as an object. The paintings lacked any symbolic program or narrative content, and this made their acceptance by the Czech artistic community, as well as by the critics, rather complicated. A breakthrough for Kateřina Štenclová was the exhibition at Nová síň in 1994. She introduced a series of canvases, each of them featuring merely two or three parallel stripes of color. The paintings were installed in an irregular sequence one next to another, collectively forming one installation responding to the architecture of the exhibition space. Experimentation with configuring several individual paintings into a single whole culminated in the cycles Event Horizon I and II of 1998–1999, which caught the attention of the international press (Artforum, Art in America). At the turn of the millennium Kateřina Štenclová abandoned austere geometry and started exploring relationships between circular brushstrokes and rectangular format of the picture plane, as well as mutual relationships of various layers of paint laid one over another. Since 2005 she has been using wider and more flexible brushes highlighting the calligraphic nature of color tracks in her new work. Thus, her work returns full circle to the expressive basis of the 1980s.
The work of Kateřina Štenclová is part of that modern painting tradition which focuses on the sheer essence of painting and its interpretation. Štenclová wants to know the rules of the game. Not in order to comprehend them for herself but to be able to enjoy the application of those rules whilst searching for exceptions, coincidences, unexpected solutions. Her temperament, however, prevents her from turning into a merely rational executor of pre-conceived paintings. She does not plan two steps ahead and she does not execute a pre-determined and predictable program. Her paintings are uncertain experiments, which may or may not succeed. Not until she goes ahead with the actual work with paint and scale does it become clear whether the experiment has succeeded and in what direction it can be taken yet further. Although it would be wrong to say that she relies on coincidence, a lot remains in her pictures for which she created the conditions, but which she originally did not intend to create. She builds on the historical situation of Western art whereby a picture is not an abstraction, i.e. a derivate of some reality, but a unique artifact which inherently contains a record of its creation and of the emotion connected with it.
The paintings of Kateřina Štenclová from 2007–2008 are pregnant with paradox. On the polythene which she uses in her studio as floor sheets on which she paints, color stains emerged as a direct result of her painting — not, however, as a result of conscious intentions to create art, but as a by-product of the “genuine” painting. What did make them art was the decision of the artist who later discovered artistic quality in them. They were created less by the painter’s hand (which was, at the moment of their birth, preoccupied with an entirely different action) and more as the result of retroactive consideration and pronouncement, on the basis of the qualities uncovered in them. Štenclová considered these qualities so conclusive that she spread the polythene sheets as canvases on frames, transforming them into unique semi-transparent images.
Random stains of color on polythene then became a baseline for further artistic interpretation. Based on what had appeared on the polythene unintentionally, Štenclová painted new pictures which reproduced some of the color and compositional situations from the polythene sheets, but with a large degree of freedom with regard to new solutions and improvisation. Štenclová sometimes exhibits the newly created paintings side by side with the original polythene sheets, whilst at other times the “master” and the newly created artifact become entirely independent. Is it at all possible to regard paintings created in such a manner as abstract? Do they not depict — and often precisely reproduce in every detail — mere stains that appeared on the polythene? We have peculiar pairs of paintings in front of us — a dialog between what was originally a piece of non-art, only later on to be elevated to the status of a painting, and a sort of “representational” abstraction. The capability of the visual arts to imitate (although never to strictly copy) the visible world is the subject of much research. These pairs of paintings created by Kateřina Štenclová actively involve the spectator, forcing him or her to willingly or unwillingly compare the artifact with the artifice and explore the nature of the relationship that was established between them. The same is true for subsequent diptychs of Kateřina Štenclová: Each diptych consists of an expressive abstract composition and a smaller monochromatic plane. An accord thus emerges between color multiplicity and color singularity which enables us to better perceive the features of the two opposed elements. Monochromes constitute the background against which the complicated neighboring conglomeration of colors is better reflected. Obviously as a by-product of the artist’s experience with observations of color stains on polythene, these paintings feature light background and a special kind of airiness.
Regarding the pairs of pictures born from random splashes of color on polythene and the conscious act of painting on canvas, we must ask questions such as: Where are the frontiers of art? Of what significance in art is a conscious human touch? What emerges as a coincidence versu swhat is a product of the artist’s style? What capacity of the human brain causes us to discern style, intent and beauty in something that was not created with such intentions? We need to transcend borders between what we see on the one hand and what we know about the picture on the other. We need to make decisions as to what to regard as a painting in the first place, and how to assess it. We need to formulate a theory of its genesis and measurements of its evaluation. Just as the splashed color on polythene becomes art only afterwards and solely by way of the artist’s decision, similarly in its relationship to the spectator it only gains weight gradually and not until we come to interpret it… Not until we make up our minds as to what significance it might hold and how it can enrich us. (Tomáš Pospiszyl)
2008 Kateřina Štenclová
What Kateřina Štenclová is after is primarily the act of painting as such. She seeks to identify at which point
something that has not been a painting becomes one. Her pictures do not depict anything of the visible
world around us; instead they tell a story of their own making. This type of painting utilizes a language
that initially refuses to give in to the spectators. Rather, one needs to learn it. Whether or not such
investment is worth the effort is not obvious at first sight, even though appreciation of originality and
the need for radical innovation is embedded in foundations of the entire Western culture. (Tomáš Pospiszyl)
2008 Kateřina Štenclová II
In her work, she systematically deals with the abstract possibilies of painting. Recently she has been using a wider, more flexible brush, which in her new work emphasises the calligraphic character of the paint tracks she makes. Using this technique, apictures cycle has emerged inspired by the colour stains found on the plastic sheets that cover the floor of her studio. These pictures are confronted with ´plastic sheet readymades´ stretched onto frames. (Tomáš Pospiszyl)
1991 International Symposium, Horn, Austria
- works on the subject of "Movement in Color"
1992 Artest program, Scuol, Switzerland - creation
of the cycle "Luminosity of Colors" on which I have,
in principle, continued working up until today, with new approximations
1994 Nová síň, Praha - works on the topic of
sheer presence of color, potentiality of space articulation and
attempts to transcend the limits of traditional minimalist painting
(the need for revitalization thereof)
1998 Dům umění, Brno - discourse on forms of
abstraction as a phenomenon; mutual interrelationship of various
idioms of abstraction
1998 National Gallery, Prague - "Event
1999 Galerie E. Filly, Ústí nad Labem - "Event
Horizon II" - search for syntactic prospects in composition
of paintings, exploration of three-dimensionality of paintings
(overlap of paintings in space, "flat reliefs")
2001 Czech Culture Center, New York - "As
Good As Monochromes I"
2001 Galerie Navrátil, Praha - "As Good
As Monochromes II" - efforts to accomplish simplicity
and to minimize sign references; experimentation with self-contained
finality of the ideal concept of a monochrome; emphasis upon non-aestheticized
painting gesture - kind of a negative calligraphy in exploring
the transparency of color surface
2001 Galerie Litera, Praha - "As Good As Paintings"
digital photography, blown-up and digitally remastered details
of cut-outs of still lifes, objects, spaces, "At the farthest
point of seeing or beyondř" - an analogy with painting, and
at the same time an analysis thereof