A NEW SHADOW PAINTING

15 Sep

As painting Adrian Stojkovich’s “The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew” resembles an early 17th century oil in the tenebroso style established by Caravaggio. This might seem unremarkable as the work appropriates a painting of the same name by Jusepe de Ribera. Certain key elements are taken from Ribera’s work, recomposed and subjected to Photoshop draughtsmanship that renders it ‘expressionist’. But, remember, that is the drawing. A contemporary and convincing painting of that style , complete with glazing, is not something I’ve ever seen.

Still it’s obviously a modern painting. The old rules of the academic age have been violated precisely as the body of the saint has been violated. He is twisted in two from the groin, his back broken into a jagged upside down ‘V’. In the darkness that surrounds this visual crucifixion, eyeless faces and dirty demonic fingers move in a caliginous crude-oil syrup. The only eyes visible are those of Saint Bartholomew. They are calm. It is a picture of Hell transcended by…? Normally one would say ‘faith’. But this is the 21st century.

Stojkovich’s other work in his show “Golden Age” testifies to his youth. He’s 22, still in the grinder mill of quasi-academia that Australia relegates its artists to. The other paintings in the show also riff on the past but without quotation. There’s a portrait of a dig in the style of Da Vinci’s day. Small objects rendered enormous a la Neo-Expressionism. Other work brings to my mind Turner and Edgar Allen Poe. All of it polished work; all of it together testimony to a talented artist who hasn’t yet found his path.

Like a young man (or woman) in the first decades of the 17th century Stojkovich lives in a time of new technology, political corruption, spiritual disillusion and a future that frightens as it beckons. He lives in a century that follows one of breathtaking cultural strides. Stojkovich’s “Saint Bartholomew” deliberately recalls the era where the Modern Age – modern painting – begins. Here at the beginning of the 21st century we have the technology to redraw an old painting. But we’ve also lost the techniques with which de Ribera rendered his work. Almost.

Haven’t given much thought to what this painting means. What use is ‘thought’ for such things? I don’t imagine there are many people left in modern life whose imagination is occupied by the mystical lives of long-ago martyrs. Early-Baroque deep chiaroscuro in the Catholic style brings to my mind the halls and chambers of 17th century Medici who paid for so many of them. In this setting, the illumination of the flesh and the layers of darkness that surround it would be augmented by the candle-light and salacious power of such places. Quite scary to the summoned, I s’pose.

But in an age where surfaces are brightly lit, and minds as well what does Stojkovich’s martyr say to us? What does he mean? He means something but I can’t say what (apart from the usual: bodies, mortality). Whoever buys it might spend years passing by figuring it out. Isn’t that as it should be?

1 – 18 September
Pigment Gallery

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