Arjan Pregl presents his new cycle of paintings, began last autumn. The exhibition is titled Images to come. The title is at once meant to convey that this is a prelude to a larger exhibition, planned for next year at a larger exhibition space, while also referring to a group of images and mental representations that invade our consciousness daily, especially during the past couple of months.
The paintings are a playful hodgepodge of extremely explicit images of violence, sexuality, social upheaval, blood, and teargas on one side, with an emphasis on form, colour, and the painter’s treatment of the surface on the other. They represent a crossroads between pure art and questioning the possibilities of engaged painting.
One of the paintings is titled Post-factual Abstraction, which is a nod to post-painterly abstraction, a movement in painting that excised any and all references to social reality from the painting.
Talk in the studio of Arjan Pregl (May 5th 2022)
Participants: Viktor Bernik (VB), Vasja Cenčič (VC), Žiga Kariž (ŽK), Arjan Pregl (AP)
ŽK: So, in a way, this series remains unfinished?
AP: In a way it does. I’m still feeling it, the images keep on coming. I started working on the paintings last September. The war in Ukraine broke out soon after our talk; all of a sudden, these paintings could be seen in a whole new, current political context, something I wanted to avoid. I think it would be wrong to read these things into it.
ŽK: I’m used to a certain level of rationality in your work when it comes to structuring the image. It is quite clear what the source of a particular detail of the image is. And yet, looking at this work, the structure of the image is less clear and I love that. I remember you had the same opinion, Victor. There’s a sort of intangibility. The images are playful, the form has a specific role, so it’s far from easy to just assume the paintings offer a commentary of current social, political events.
VB: Yes, that was what drew me, convinced me the first time I saw the paintings. They create a feeling of discomfort, a synthesis of violence, beauty, and humour; there is a feeling of something uncanny, something that obviously served as a kind of spring board for your work.
VC: It really works in different sizes; either as a giant mural or a bubble-gum wrapper. The motif itself reminds you of Guernica, right, but just the motif.
ŽK: These smaller images also don’t have an inherently clear, direct message; even less so when placed next to the giant ones.
AP: The series is called Collateral Paintings, which I find interesting when you associate it with this violence. That’s because they are made “on the fly”, usually by using paint residue. In one paintings, the colours are quite stretched, they’re transparent, in another they’re more flat, and seemingly printed in a third, etc. These are the sort of meta painting matters I delved into. They seem slightly ambiguous and are not conceived as a serious study of a scopic field.
VB: I’m looking at the sketches in your sketch book... I think you can already see the different approach you decided to take with this work. You usually prepare and sketch in Photoshop, but not this time.
AP: No, not this time.
VB: You have actual drawings and a kind of spontaneity. How did they come about? This kind of spontaneity is not something we’re used to seeing in your work; did you make up the likenesses as you went along? Did you have any templates? They seem a bit... You know when you just start drawing without really thinking it through beforehand and the drawing veers into different directions a bit?
AP: Yes, absolutely. The process was quite different than with other projects. And if something seemed off to me, I just erased the thing until it felt right again.
VC: These violent ones are made very carefully, obsessively carefully.
AP: You mean I painted them carefully?
VC: I mean you didn't just make them all in one gone and you didn’t work while you had a headache, but you took your time, got into the right rhythm. Conscientiously.
VB: Yes, there is a weird kind of tension between the content and the your chosen approach. But when you think of violence, like the one expressed by Bacon, you have a whole different principle here. Perhaps there really is an interesting relationship between form, content, and the approach to work.
ŽK: That’s true.
VC: And then there’s the question of attitude towards patriotism.
AP: How’s that? Go on. What do you mean, patriotism?
VC: I’m talking about the ruling patriots that attack certain other patriots by not recognising their patriotism, then draping himself in patriotism. That’s Arjan Pregl. (laughter)
ŽK: This kind of patriotism demands a certain level of violence, but it’s executed carefully.
VC: It’s very humane, not physical.
AP: The painting is titled Post-factual Abstraction; what I find interesting is the association to post-painterly abstraction. Ever since Trump, we are living in a kind of post-factual and post-political age. But even before that, there were signs of what was to come...
AP: Yes. Playing on emotions, fear. As Trump’s great ideologue, Steve Bannon, already explained in interviews. He said he had advised the media not to publish facts, but rather stir up outrage as much as possible. He also says that in no point in history was there a time when people talked about politics to the extent they do now. I think that’s something to introduce into the work, seemingly political situations, but in a way that questions political engagement.
VB: Political engagement actually comes about as a result of the different, speculative, even problematic reporting on politics and the information presented by politicians and the media. It targets emotions, fear, hatred, and so on. This in turn makes people talk about it more, because it goes straight for the jugular. We’ve just had a case study of such a phenomenon.
AP: This link is key, this very emotional response, since the way we perceive politics becomes entangled with how we often perceive art. You don’t study it, rationalise it, you plop yourself in front of a painting and just let it wash over you, have a direct, visceral effect.
VB: Just like in your new paintings, you have this kind of fragmentation, conflict. There are several viewpoints, you don’t really know where you’re at, what to think. I think that’s a key element today. What you get through the media in a given serious, fringe, confusing situation; it seems like they’re searching for conspiracy theories. This in turn leads to a complete lack of clarity and then emotions go into overdrive. If you ask me, even if these images don’t show any concrete situation, they actually speak to us about what’s happening in our heads during this bizarre situation at a whole different level.
AP: The painting with the mount and teeth reminded me of a Rabelais-inspired human comedy. I find laughter interesting. In the animal kingdom, it’s often the case that showing teeth is perceived as a threat. With the eyes, it’s something along the lines of “there’s nothing left to do but watch”. Although, I have to say I don’t interpret them that literally; they all first transpired through the medium of drawing, through the image, I only later started rationalising them.
VB: Which is actually the way to go. Your work as a painter was at one moment or other influenced by the war, wholly unexpectedly, and then came these two paintings. The fact that they came about spontaneously is much better than simply deciding: okay, now I’ll make a pair of eyes.
VC: I think they might be optimistic because of your grandmother’s past, I think that makes these difficult motifs so optimistic.
AP: Wait, why would they be optimistic?
VC: Perhaps because of your grandmother...
ŽK: The Partisan fighter.
VC: ...Because of a certain belief in her experience, because you have to grab onto something, otherwise it's hard to remain an optimist.
ŽK: That’s true. Whoever joined the Partisan Movement during Word War II was an optimist by default.
VB: Why does one character wear a mask in this painting?
AP: Actually, that mask was the last thing I decided on.
VB: When you were making the drawings or when painting?
AP: No, the drawing didn’t have it, but then something just didn’t click, I thought it was not ambiguous enough, that the erotic scene was too simple. I gave it the title Razbiti inceli – Free Incel(l). A play on “in a cell” and “incels”, those guys that hang around on the internet, watch porn and rave about not having a girlfriend. And no one on the painting has eyes. The one with the mask is the only one to have them. We watch them, but they don't return our gaze.
VB: They are totally committed, it’s so funny, I don’t know how to express it, they act like idiots, but in a way, they're serious, calm.
ŽK: That’s great.
VB: And that one character that is in the process of cutting his head, with all the seriousness of cutting carrots or making dinner, there’s a weirdness about it, it’s really interesting.
AP: That’s what I was going for. It’s not at all easy to make a hard-to-read, contradictory image nowadays.
ŽK: That isn’t just straight-to-the-point.