Posted on 25.11.2016
Finer Side of Pop – Visual Art of Irena Kazazić
If, as an art historian, I were to try and summarize the significance of Andy Warhol’s legacy to some fictitious public that by some freak of chance remained unaware of it over past fifty years, here’s what I’d say – with his re-invented pop art, Warhol finally accomplished what all of the avant-garde movements from the very beginning of 20th century up until his days were trying to: he took the privilege of being taken seriously as an artist from the academic elite, thus blurring the line between ‘fine’ and popular art once and for all.
And in many ways, this would be a correct thing to say.
But then again, there are points of view which render the above statement doubtable, in spite of it being in absolute accordance with what seems to be the consensus in the academic world regarding the subject.
First of all, pop art did not vitally jeopardize elite culture in any other sense than market-wise. Though all-permeating meritocracy of our time would certainly demand this of us, we still can’t put a sign of absolute equality between overall value of art and its value on market – between art as it is and art as a commodity. An artist who creates outside academic structures and outside any art market defined or at least heavily informed by one in America (which got its final formative touch, let’s not forget, during Reagan-Thatcher era – and on the ashes of indie Lower East Side galleries and in the very dawn of new, yuppie-styled art dealer, equally far from Theo van Gogh and Leo Castelli) is bound to deal with more or less the same degree of marginalization that was there for outsider artists before the concept of ‘fifteen minutes of fame’.
In other words – if there is no corporate-minded peddler of art behind him or her, non-academic artist has no chance of big time recognition; and even if there is, the most one might achieve is to be a Mary Boone-defined ‘artist star’, which means mostly some cash, boosted presence in popular media and a limited lifespan, as with all other ‘stars’. It also means being almost universally rejected by academic circles and ‘elite culture’, which is where we come to realize that they still exist and are very much in power today. So, what remains is some money and a time-limited ‘stardom’ within wider populus. But even this is off the table for most – artists coming from East Europe and Balkan area certainly do not need to be reminded of this.
Secondly, this shift was always a matter of class struggle, far more than a zealous battle for the future of art undertaken by envelope pushers of human spirit of any kind. This means it was always a matter of identifying the lesser of two evils: domination (some would go and call it ‘fascist’) of the ‘elite’ culture over art world, whereupon academic elite holds all the criteria of what is or isn’t art – or a cacophony of previously deprivileged artists, wannabes and academic artists alike – and with no definable criteria at all, just an endless, loud pluralism of mutually conflicting theories. Although the latter certainly is a truer reflection of how world really is, it just doesn’t seem likely to be a better scenario for art or the artist. After the shift brought about by American pop art, balance undoubtedly tipped over to that side, and now it’s Alle gegen Alle, isn’t it?
So what are the options, one might ask, that are still available to an aspiring artist?
It seems to be a matter of simple, binary choice: on one hand, we have academic life, artist guilds, mostly insufficiently active, biased or completely failed state institutions of support and possible active involvement in politics; on the other, there is a certain fate of marginalization, self-management in circumstances often appalling to an intellectual and again, a pressing demand to politicize one’s art to get in with one of countless sides to social ‘dialogue’, thus becoming an asset of this or that activist agenda at expense of rudimentary artistic freedom, which once was a sacred thing. Non-academic artist who nurtures a desire to minimize own political engagement to that inherent one – of an artist being interested in art and not necessarily interested in society and it’s daily political realities, is faced with even poorer choice than one described above: reduce your art practice to a mere trade – or starve.
This simplified and in no way complete analysis of the grim and complex problematic of art world today and fate of an artist within it is only intended here as a setting to a proper consideration of Serb-Slovenian artist Irena Kazazić, who chose to live and create as an independent, non-academic artist, even though she is academically trained in visual arts, which makes her kind of resurgent from supposedly more secure option described above. In the light of everything written above, it is clear that such choice demands either enviable courage, or strong awareness of one’s calling as an artist – or maybe both. And both may lead to what her art arguably is all about.
Though undoubtedly leaning on tradition of pop art, both British and American version, her art essentially is an intimist revision of both, which at times transcends dialogue with historical predecessors and shows clear features of authentic worldview and well articulated pictorial expression of it. At the same time – and this possibly is a strongest point of her art – it eludes tedious preachiness and blue collar sentimentalism / megalomaniac obsession with class warfare which tend to plague works of contemporary artists who draw from the same historical influences. Instead, it tends to highlight microscopic points within human condition as experienced by the artist herself, which might give us something to hold on to in face of austerity of post-everything world. Unlike the most of pop art influenced contemporary art which tends to concentrate on what a human of today lacks, or is given instead by rudderless consumer culture we’re stuck with – or develops a fetish for, because of being stripped of any ability to feel anything beyond pleasure of owning things, instigated by that same consumerism – Kazazić’s art seems to focus on what a human of today still has and what might just be it’s way to salvation.
Therefore, instead of obsessing over dystopian neon bleakness of existence, chrome coloured bunnies, zircon-coated skulls, endless repetitive imagery of supermarket articles (which went from merciless to boring with long history of talentless plagiarism) and corporate logos or nude Instagram selfies, what we have here is pieces of familiar faces, action stills of loved ones, snippets of familiar movie scenes or references to music that never fails to elevate spirit – each of these in its own right a remedy for the consumer gothic that suffocates our souls daily.
Pop art and popular culture references on Kazazić’s drawings and watercolors are treated with an unusual degree of humane warmth, just as well as glimpses of familiar faces are retouched with undiluted colours which flare up with significance and inception of artist’s intimate mythologies. Personal encounters clearly make up for the important part of her materia prima – it is quite possible to read them through the two-dimensional visual display and maintain the feeling that one is experiencing a personal point of view of the artist herself – if even we know that this is one of art’s most fundamental illusions.
In some ways, larger points of pop art are present here, only not cast into bleakness or instilled with neon trauma of choked, mundane urban existence; instead, here we find a hospitable, warm whiteness which engulfs innumerable sights and fragments of our minds. And this might very well be – however unintentional – the most recognizable technical feature of Kazazić’s work: countered with colours that give off the synthesis of artist’s own emotional spectrum re-touching the present figuration, this whiteness of intact paper inevitably adopts the look and feel of that light within us which preserves the fondest of our memories and uncovers them for us when we need them the most – when all other light seems to go scarce around us. In her watercolor series, this white light is shed upon multiple female figures engaged in BDSM play and patches of colour that simply defy the path of least resistance in our associative apparatus, informed by our culture to bend towards more violent and grim readings, and instead present us with concoction of empathy and unspoiled erotomania – which clearly are among the most important driving forces of this artists inner life. This vast white light her inner being secretes is also found in her work as the basis for the visions (nothing short of psychedelic and animist) of worlds co-existent with this seemingly anthropocentric one, but sharing no more than bare roots with it – be it ‘literal’ roots as in Secret life of Trees series, vaguely biological as in her series of wildlife portrayals or completely psychological, as in her more abstract work.
This doppelganger to our reality is brimming with pop-sourced fragments of our psyche: pink flamingos, TV tigers, screen shots and movie stills repainted into Kazazić’s memories of pictures arrested in movement and instilled with personal symbolism… And it’s worth noting that her pop sources are those with more subversive agenda: John Waters, Kenneth Anger, ready-made elements such as pages from Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, inscriptions from holy books of Thelema scrawled over intimate portraits, unconventional sexuality, Eastern sensuality, nouvelle vague-like urban leisure and decadence, music and list goes on and on – all this informs her art, keeping the vital fact upfront: artist herself is of the same makings as her spectators – one of us.
One possible conclusion to this brief analysis of the work of this Serb-Slovenian contemporary artist might arise from the above mentioned fact.
If we take into consideration widely known fact that human thought globally and therefore the trends in theory that inform and shape art world are organized in shifting waves, it just might be that half a century after Roland Bart’s Death of the Author (without which Warhol’s final nail in art’s coffin would be far less definitive), art world is again ready for the figure of the artist. It would not be unprecedented. Jean-Michel Basquiat for one, has had such a dramatic shift in his criminally short and yet so important for understanding of how art of today works, career. Started off as a self-proclaimed ‘child of American vacuum’, delighted by pop-art’s invitation to fame, he soon realized that it simply won’t do. He felt that he belonged with the greats – and after realizing this there was no going back for him. Post-pop Reaganite art-world, having no need for greats of that magnitude, turned its back on him, and fifteen minutes of Rolling Stone fame were well over – but in the process he achieved a place in the art history where Mary Boone finally can’t come for her eighth painting a-week.
And maybe, just maybe, it was the first lonesome shot that will one day echo in next important shift in the art world.
It just might be that today’s art, bludgeoned to a coma by hegemony of theory (worthy of Georges Bataille’s worst nightmare) with all its glossolalia and completely not at home in a global society rampant with greed, conflicting interests, ideologies and dogmas, is in need of – a human face, again.
And in her locally active, unassuming and enlightened way, Irena Kazazić is there to offer her own, for starters.