Painter Veronika Pausova draws on figurative imagery to tell diagrammatic short stories – hands grasping, noses sniffing, fruit flies teeming – that mine the territory between animation and stasis. These figurations form a cast of recurrent characters that evolve within and between compositions with a logic unique to the artist. Spiders with pearl-like bodies appear to be dancers in one painting, earrings in another. In Flaneuse, these spider legs devolve into a frieze of walking boots, each of which is punctuated with a single, photo-realistic big toe. A nail-bitten finger parts an unseen curtain, or emerges from a garden hose. Sunburnt legs pace across a painting, or rest against the edges of the canvas beneath a gushing shower head. The elements of Pausova’s visual vocabulary are in perpetual transformation, existing across a continuum of possible states, places, and times.
Her paintings deftly intertwine these figurative elements with surreal abstraction and graphic surface detail. The many disembodied hands in Partly Cloudy pull on slatted shades to block the light from a fast moving sun. Several hands have dropped to the bottom of the frame, grasping at nothing. Pausova’s use of repetition warps our sense of time – is this the same hand, grabbing incessantly at different moments? The shades and sun are both abstracted with geometric surface detail so as to meld into one another; architecture and atmosphere becoming one. The alchemy of these combinations destabilizes the spatial and temporal logic of Pausova’s paintings and complicates the relationship between seeing and knowing.
Pausova’s paintings are the result of a process of slow observation, experimentation, and problem-solving. In her newest work, oil- and turpentine-soaked fabric is pressed onto the canvas to create a residual surface texture – a strategy akin to surreal decalcomania, a transfer technique employed by early 20th century surrealist artists such as Max Ernst as a means of introducing an element of chance to a composition. The idiosyncrasies of the resulting surface detail inform the compositional structure of the painting and the selection and choreography of Pausova’s figurative elements – each additive layer serves as a response to the last and informs the next.
Her vocabulary of recurrent figurative characters emerges from periods of intense, prolonged looking. Objects, images, or fragments are selected intuitively for their formal qualities and kinetic potential. A shoe might appeal for how it interacts with light and shadow, an ear for the way its edges and contours lend it a resemblance to a seashell or a mouth, a hand for its capacity to imply movement, anxious energy, or a tender gesture. After plotting out their placement by hand with cut-out maquettes, Pausova’s photo-realistic renditions of these objects or fragments then animate the abstracted portions of the painting, lending narrative logic to the abstracted ground. Cumulatively, each painterly layer directs the action of the story, “character” and “set” serving as mutually constitutive parts of a theatrical whole. In this sense, each painting is both a formal challenge for the artist to resolve, and a visual manifestation of conversations between figure and ground, abstraction and figuration, improvisation and control.
In keeping with Pausova’s process, her paintings demand slow and sustained viewing. Her work eludes a straightforward interpretation – our reading shimmers between her surreal short stories and her adept manipulation of colour and form. At the same time, the movement implied within each painting serves as an invitation for the viewer. We can feel the anxious impulse that leads to endless grasping within our own bodies, or the sensorial result of sniffing a flower or grabbing an orange at the bottom of a bag. While the body is never represented earnestly or in full, its many quirks and mannerisms, gestures and senses, desires and fetishes are a continual anchor point across Pausova’s painterly universe.
This exhibition is part of Exposure Photography Festival 2022.
Works are courtesy of the artist; Bradley Ertaskiran, Montreal; Simone Subal Gallery, New York and various private collections.