EJTI SHTIH'S HUMAN CARNIVAL
Ejti Shtih’s artistic work includes an extensive opus of paintings but she is also an illustrator, a successful costume and stage designer, and has created installation art and puppets. Ejti Shtih is the daughter of the intellectual Bojan Shtih and the painter Melita Vovk and in the early 1980s she became known as a painter and stage designer (she received the student’s Presheren Award for lithography and the Borshtnik Award for best stage design). In 1982 she moved to Bolivia. The new cultural and geographical environment brought about very obvious changes in her artistic expression. The intimistic, meditative nature of Slovenian painting, the lyrical emphases, pessimism, world-weariness, restraint, precision, strictness in choice of colours which are most often earthy, in short everything which Ejti learnt while studying at the art academies in Ljubljana and Zagreb was replaced by openness regarding content, warm colours and an expressive way of transposing motifs into stories told by paintings. The ice was broken by the artist’s decision to use lively and intense colours, which we associate with the temperament of Latin America, and to be more expressive and connect with social and political life in the new environment.
In all her paintings of various subject matters Ejti Shtih uses the human figure in a metaphorical sense. In the forefront is the figural depiction which conveys how the painter sees and feels her surroundings and time, and which generally transforms into dialogue and polemic with universally human faults and failings, social injustice, violence, greed, provincialism, passions and desires, perversity, destructive tendencies, traumas and human excesses. – »… I mostly paint interior spaces, closed spaces and human relations which are more interesting when they are intriguing, base, ambitious, envious and so on; the sun and palms have nothing much to do with all of this. My school of painting was the Academy in Ljubljana, renaissance painting, harmonious compositions, correct proportions, black and white, no liberties, creativity or fauvist colours. But at home they taught me other 'sins'.« (from an interview with the painter: »I paint, therefore I am«, Ampak, January 2003)
In Ejti Shtih’s paintings we can also see a form of resistance against the indifference, passiveness and smallness of contemporary man. The critical interpretation is full of a compassionate, personally affected view of human misery. The artist is interested in people and their stories, even those who bring to mind the vanity of the human condition more than anything else. The depicted figural characters become actors in a human comedy, carnival and ode to madness.
The human physiognomies reflect the characters of the carriers of particular social roles, the lines of force which direct their actions and the chaotic circumstances in which they find themselves. The portraits of individual types become the portraits of characters. Individual truth has been replaced by the personification of social groups. Elegant and harmonious proportions of the human body are rare; all figures are generally grotesquely transformed, deformed and caricatured. In this way the painter accentuates the narrative and socially critical foundation of the figural compositions. In the case of humorous or ironic interpretations or the emphasising of erotic notes, typical human forms can also come alive as benevolent apparitions. Small sins and life’s pleasures are allowed. There are many mythological and biblical references, allusions to famous masters of figural painting and the use of political symbolism.
Despite the universal themes and their rhetorical power, Ejti Shtih’s paintings possess an intimate nature – »…you must paint that which you carry within yourself and what you see around you.« Ejti draws the feeling for what is human from personal experience, i.e. from both environments (Slovenian and Bolivian), which she is best acquainted with, but the depicted events, people and phenomena gain universal significance. The sensitive artist is a chronicler of the spirit of the time and the environment. Through her artistic opus she enters into a deliberate, engaged and critical dialogue with both of them.
Regardless of the focus on human vice, the artistic world of Ejti Shtih is aesthetically pleasing. The playful mastery of the flat canvas is founded on the careful and deliberate arrangement of flowing brushstrokes. The brushstrokes of radiant colours, which enhance the narrative’s emotional charge, are sometimes particularly broad. The painter is not afraid of large surfaces and a nice example of this is the Stations of the Cross for the cathedral in Riberalta, Bolivia. Human figures generally make up the core of the paintings. For those parts of the canvas that are covered by a medley of brushstrokes and overflowing with colours it seems that the painter has taken them directly from abstract pictures. On the other hand when painting figural motifs, she comes closer to illustration and stage design which also bears witness to the wish for comprehensive expression and declaration. – »I believe that theatre (if I ignore music, which is abstract) is one of the most comprehensive of arts. There is a story, there are actors, there is movement, light, music, sound and voices, the stage and costumes, white and coloured floodlights, the audience, the mystique of silence and communication. In short, all of us other artists can only envy theatre. Especially we painters who are solitary and hermit-like.« (from an interview with the painter: »I paint, therefore I am«, Ampak, January 2003)