THE CYCLE VIRTUES (2012-2014)
In the 1980s, Vizjak established herself as a painter with large format canvases covered with spirited applications of paint and other visual art techniques. The main motifs, painted with dynamic brush strokes or drawn quickly and directly as monumental compositions, were expressive shapes of the human figure as well as symbolic and associative shapes. The painter, however, immersed herself in exploring the expressive scope of abstract visual art. Even though the paintings seem to have been brought to life vehemently and eruptively, Vizjak maintained focus and discipline during every stage of the process and focused on finding a substantial relationship between all of them. The inner balance of the texture of the paintings and drawings and the link between the two visual art disciplines show that the painter excels at her métier.
Vizjak began her studies at the Arts Academy in Düsseldorf under professor Gotthard Graubner (1930–2013), one of the most prominent German modernist painters after World War II, which saw a complete turnabout in her artistic expression. She no longer used gestural painting and gestural drawing, and the colours she used shed their blandness and materiality. The emphatic materiality was replaced by non-materially perceived colours. At first glance, it seemed that with the new, relaxed colours, a period of composure and sensibility had arrived in her content and formulation, even though Vizjak entered the world of demanding colourist painting which left her with no shortcuts or bypaths.
The main shape-forming factors in Vizjak’s paintings were now colour, light, shape, space, and brush strokes, the two most important ones being colour and light. Usually in painting, the shape is emphasised by colour, and colour is emphasised by light; but Vizjak’s paintings show a close connection – a harmony – between both image-forming factors.
Unlike the abstract Gotthard Graubner, Vizjak combined her newly-acquired painting techniques with objects as the main motifs. The themes that Vizjak has been using since the beginning of her painting career further solidify this: the human form, still life and landscape. Vizjak began painting her cycle of self-portraits while she was preparing to enrol in the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana, and even more intensely from her time in Düsseldorf onwards. The same goes for a motif that Vizjak has been painting from her Academy years onwards – the image of Christ appears in her drawings as early as 1977.
Vizjak understands the self-portrait as a mirror to explore one’s own self. She thus painted herself in many moods and states of mind; some self-portraits were painted in homage to her painter role models (Gabrijel Stupica, Rembrandt, Velázquez). The portraits that Vizjak was ordered to paint as well as those painted of her own volition are not impersonal, stiff images of an individual’s physiognomy as if captured by a camera lens. The painter succeeds in capturing her model’s character with a harmony of colours and tones. She transposes her models onto the canvas in colour so as to emphasise the expressive power of colour. She especially places portraits of children in an ideal, clear blue colour palette which is never fully defined, though the interior can be sensed. In addition to the portraits of cultural figures (Dane Zajc, 1991, Matjazh Gruden, 1998, Lojze Gostisha, 2005, Milchek Komelj, 2007, Niko Grafenauer, 2013), portraits of Vizjak’s relatives predominate in her portrait collection.
She was inspired to paint the ten personifications of virtues when she visited the Oratory of Saint Lawrence in Palermo. The Oratory was built in 1570 and is adorned with baroque personification sculptures of the virtues made by sculptor Giacomo Serpotta in stucco in 1699. When confronted with the range of baroque iconography, the painter asked herself how she could depict virtues whose motifs had originated in the past with her own, modern painting expression.
The cycle Virtues is comprised of twelve small canvasses and ten large canvasses, adjusted to the size of the human body. Large oil paintings on linen canvas depict ten virtues: Obedientia (obedience), Elemosina (mercy), Misericordia (compassion), Charitas (charity), Paenitentia (penance), Constantia (constancy), Humilitas (humility), Fides (faith), Veritas (truthfulness) in Gloria (glory). But the cycle was not yet complete. The painter continued it with a depiction of the Canticle of the Sun by Saint Francis of Assisi (2015–2017).
The virtues are depicted by female characters from the Christian tradition, and they could also be seen as ancient Roman Vestals. The women don sacred white clothing with ribbons displaying their names and are portrayed with attributes which the painter chose based on her own understanding of individual human virtues, for example patience is depicted with a drum, mercy with a rose, obedience with a fish. As is usually the case with liturgical motifs, the origins of the depictions of Mary, Jesus, the Stations of the Cross, saints and Bible legends that can also be found in Vizjak’s painting opus are in the spiritual rather than in the physical world.
An insight into the creative process of painting compositions reveals that the painter’s focus is directed into creating a comprehensive painting. The female figures depicting the virtues are the semantic and visual centre of each composition. The painter painted them in different body poses, but she always – similar to the entire painting – shaped them with premeditated applications of azure oil paints. The colour provides the shape. The personification of all the virtues is delivered by a blend of colourful bases and wide brush strokes that cover the entire canvas, and it returns to this colour space and floats in it. The painter tends to de-materialise the motifs in her works.
Vizjak does not regard colour as a material substance – she chose the issue of light in a painting as one of her essential starting points. Her paintings catch the light, with light and dark contrast being replaced with a warm and cool colour contrast. The paintings are an intense chromatic experience. Everything is based on colour; Vizjak paints with vibrant, light colours that bring joviality. The colour is modified by the sunlight pouring down on Vizjak’s painted images.
Translated from Slovenian by: Amidas d. o. o.
»Misericordia«, 2012–2014, oil on linen canvas, 180 x 85 cm
»Draft for a virtuous woman«, 2008, oil on linen canvas, 70 x 30 cm