The bright glow emitting from this vacuum-sealed environment that sit’s just below ground level invites an immediate attack on the senses. A feeling of warmth radiates through the space encouraging the viewer into its cocoon. The clever addition by the artist of an orange film over the windows of the gallery mean the filtered daylight not only changes the space but also the perception of time itself.
In her first Austrian and Institutional show the Czech born painter who now resides in Dusseldorf has reimagined this bunkered lair as a “Grotto” filled with recent works that “create dreamlike, bizarre scenarios inhabited by human and animal characters who operate outside of social norms.”
“Grotto” is also the title of the show and takes its name from the artificial space at the Los Angeles mansion of Hugh Hefner, former editor-in-chief of Playboy. After his death, reports emerged about sexual abuse and drug excesses at his parties there. These themes and narratives form the basis of those touched upon and questioned in the work on show.
With deep admiration and respect, Kovalcikova draws on the classical canon of art history. She takes inspiration and elements from Old master’s such as Titian, Giorgione and Goya. Post impressionists such as Renoir, Van Gogh, or Manet and even modern masters like her mentor Peter Doig. These “ingredients” combine to produce highly relevant paintings that have a consistent contemporary take the burning issues raging in our society and world current events.
As Stella Rollig, General Director of the Belvedere and curator of the exhibition, said: “Stanislava Kovalcikova’s paintings exude a powerful presence and urgency. Kovalcikova’s position is notable in the context of current neo-figurative painting, which she charges with bold notions of a non- identitarian society.
The works themselves the artist explains “start with ‘pseudo’ representational painting/portraiture which dissolves into an inner still-life/mental landscape of those being portrayed. As a painter, I do not have a pressing concept or agenda, I let my ideas evolve and see where they take me. This is why I am glad to be able to show the evolution of my work over the last six years.”
This long form thinking and meticulous planning of her practice, equates to a working method that is extremely lengthy and meditative. Kovalcikova’s paintings can each take several years to create. Forming and coagulating with repeated overpainting and reworking of the surface itself. Surfaces which can range from standard primed and stretched canvas to a range of more obscure surfaces such as the soles of men’s shoes as are on display here.
The resultant collection of images in Grotto bathe in their own space, they are often enveloped and perforated with violent red hues and when viewed up close it is only then that the scratches, fissures and even hair that, lies ingrained within the slick matte oil paint start to tell their own story about the work and intentions of the artist. Expanding the narrative of the paintings, the show as a whole and the landscape and history of the “Grotto” in Los Angeles these collected beautiful works take their title from.