Olga Okuneva, the Contemplative and Musing Narrator.
In order to get access to possible meaning in a painting, one must try to understand the problems artists are faced with when translating subject matter into imagery .
Here we should have the philosophical subject/object discussion; but that is not my field; I just know man lacks the ability to see the object in its purity; humans cannot see or experience plain thing or unrelated matter.
My field is to see and understand art; experience art. And I have come to see that the experience of art begins with understanding the inevitable courtship between that what make me me / the observer / the viewer, and the work of art, 'the object'.
It is strangely peculiar to know an artist having to go through just as much an effort to develop a conceptual narrative "formula" to help us see what he represents as an entity in itself, as it takes us to be able to understand that what seems an entity is in fact a multi-complex matter.
Olga Okuneva s special skill is her ability to dissect the whole of what she sees into a series of beautifully detailed images and combine these as if effortlessly into a “whole” with immediate powerful impact. In this presented reassuring safety of an undisturbed entity she lures us into any depth with the seductive power of her imagery and guides us through the formula to go through detailed discovering of what she likes us to experience.
Guiding a spectator's vision is the work, called 'composing', as in organising sound, in structuring housing blocks in suburbs, till organising type-face, the result we call 'composition' in art and it very influential for men, for his understanding, for the way he looks at things; in general men's views, views that go beyond the incidental artwork.
To do this effectively requires mastery of skills in a number of visual art forms. Olga Okuneva has mastered those skills.
I was happy to see this for the first time in the 1994 publication of the new edition of the collection of novellas and stories, under the title 'Dark Avenues' by Ivan Bunin (1870-1953 ) asking Olga to be the artist could not have been a better choice. The impact of Olga's skill is immediately apparent when we see the framework she establishes with the interaction between the dust cover and the hardcover that she produced, together these make sumptuous stage curtains eloquently casting perspective onto the centre stage, of what is to come: the texts of master storyteller and poet Bunin. The illustrations are also made in classic monotype, a technique which can only be used effectively by artists who have exceptional visual control and a sound drawing talent. This technique requires a complete mastery of the craft itself, and in particular demands a mastership in the making fine shades of grey; this can only be reproduced using, to tonality very sympathised, lithography.
That mastery of tonality is her special strength as a draughtsman and a painter. Whereas tonality keeps the composition of the narrative colour-fields together, the actual use of colour within these fields tells the story within each field.
Olga s art is characterised by a delicate balancing of perspective between sharply defined images with iconographic elements and abstract patterns to create an atmospheric, even monumental, visionary landscape.
She works in series with a central a theme. Themes like "A Walk in the Park", "Circus has come" , "View through the Window" or "Sacred Grove" give her a classic theatrical backdrop against which, or amidst which, personal events in the lives of her characters are placed; each image carries with it an iconographical significance which assumes shades of meaning related to its positioning in the painting. Pains associated with a rose bush (positioned in a side-area) differ from pains associated with a rowing boat. Iconographical attribution to the rose, or to the rowboat make the pain more specific, and even more personal when the iconography is not traditional. Boats, like the plants, animals, and all things depicted, also add meaning to the story by the way they are situated as floating on water, being left on the beach, or being frozen in ice; they add to, and redefine, the parable.
An important part of Olga's work involves etching, these prints are to be looked at "in hand", even though they are in many respects emphatically monumental. The monumental aspect of these pictures is in the pictures themselves, allowing (carrying if you like) the 'written' parts, the narrative in the print. This is not a monumentality that shapes the walls to which it is hung; it's the kind of autonomous graphical art that creates its own world. These etchings challenge the spectator to appreciate the individuality, and indeed the vulnerability, that lies beneath the delicate craftsmanship.
Such apparent, sometimes vulnerable openness is part of an age old tradition, it is the opening move of the master storyteller, who can then rapidly proceed into psychological depth - Olga Okuneva knows her work to thrive on such tradition.
She has never allowed fashionable considerations to limit her stylistic approach.
This is the artistry with which the artist Olga Okuneva approaches each subject; here we find the skills that allow her, in freedom and in fact with full devotion, to breath in and absorb all around her when, for instance, she submits herself to the magical inspiration, as she so wholeheartedly did in India. There she created a cycle of illustrations to the epic poem "Mahabharata". Effacing herself entirely she entered the artistic worlds of the Indian temple sculptures and their architecture, in their natural environment, with the flowers and plants, the trees, the animals, and landscapes wherein the narrative is at home.
During a life-long development, we continuously see keen interest in trees, as in the series "Sacred Grove" and "Walled Garden". Trees are in her work from a coincidental 'encounter-and-draw' to the tree that leads her inner movements, the tree that guides and shapes the series that gave her a first stepping stone and foothold in the town of Amsterdam. Such trees go hand in hand with the regularly recurring gardens as a theme in her life: the walled park of lakes, the more open spaces in wilderness, or the more concealed botanical gardens.
Trees, her passion, see over her metaphors; they are in fact earthly creatures, narrative tool and vehicle, subject and sacred subject all in one. Her trees are filled, covered, burying, concealing, mourning and laughing, thoughtful and, more than anything, stretching out to support the artist's philosophical state reflected both in the actual trees themselves, their pictorial state and the artist's (well-) being when near to them, or indeed far away connected only by an invisible but ever so real thread: an umbilical cord.
The analysis of what is to her 'location' is expressed in the imagery, and only then to herself, even sooner of course than to us, the spectators.
This is what gives her a secure foothold, not so much in space as in the core of her being. She has mastered the narrative skill of allowing her images to guide us through the process of exploration, discovery and finally, and with her, understanding.
Joseph Johannes Visser
Speech for the book-preview in Amsterdam, 04-10-2014; 'Museum Geelvinck Hinlopen Huis' (Herengracht/Keizersgracht) :
Now was it about the trees singing with birds - a crazy full orchestra really bragging from the small canopy in that lane in Italy leading up to the train station in Arezzo when walking there, a young student, so many years ago?
Or rather the other thing: the 1950-something remains of the winter-weather-beaten boat on the shores of the Muiderslot; nearest thing to a boy for the 'Van Aemstel' castle - a romantic dream of outstanding chivalry, protecting the vulnerable from treason, hunger and loneliness; more importantly hiding it all away from the onslaughts of an unfair world.
- Oh yes!, and culture in such safe haven - this romantic dream had a mix-up of literary figures, scientists, musicians and painters in castles.
Amsterdam's painter and poet Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero amongst them.
Together with Joost van den Vondel they ingrained the Muiderslot and the Van Aemstel castle in my brain.
In this Muiderslot these men had met with so many of their piers; ladies and gentlemen.
About the latter Vondel had his 'Gijsbrecht', pretty much an Amsterdam legacy.
Not sure it was the castle as such. There was this poor boat though.
In Olga Okuneva's 2012 canvas surely it was the intreaguing boat - the former 'bird thing' would have been provoked by a May 1989 etching.
Our minds seems to happily work like that;
first and foremostly come the associations with earlier encounters with the outer world.
Rather than reflecting on new pictures, we have the reflexions of older pictures partly covering the new;
or indeed pictures made to fit our personal experiences.
It is a basic instinct: for as long as we would benefit from the practicalities of the slightly congruent being 'fair enough' we would not put ourselves to the trouble of 'the new'.
This may help to make acquaintances, but (as we ought to know, since we see basic instincts as fitting for the lower ranks in nature's creatures) this does not make mutual understanding and developement easier.
Such use of visual skills is way off the gentile order of things, an approach by which a deeper understanding for reality is made possible.
As for the 2012 'The Winter Boat' the reality here - or 'out there' as modern language prefers it - is (with or without any of us knowing it to be a painting by Olga) showing the artist's - and no way my - world.
I, meaning 'the likes of us', do not come into the equation as to where the actual painting comes from. If we do want to get to some sort of understanding of the painting we rather start looking at what is on it.
- Three boats, for sure, be it each of them of a very different nature, in a different state of being, and in a different place in the universe so to speak.
Ehm, and hang on: 'The Winter Boat' suggesting otherwise - one, rather than these three boats - we may assume the artist to have a purpose with such enigma.
Good: there's snow, ice, sheets of floating ice with snow on, and (almost reaching us) open water; that totally opposing the solemnity of the (near enough) untouched snow reflects rich in colour, be it dim in strength, urban lights when somewhat further away
- there's one boat almost mystically afloat in that light.
That boat is not the one that is part of the picture's world where it suggests to be depicting nature in the realistic state that we humans could participate in (be it whispering and keeping our breath).
An ever so slight exaggeration of the rules of perspective make the most 'obvious' boat, the 'snowy' boat at our feet, to lure us hither with the suggestion to fit us like a left shoe; elegant shape and all.
If ever there were a sound, it would be in some muffled background. Not the thumping sounds to be expected from frost-gone open water with this last boat colliding with the third boat - the one which is more of the dainty type of 'when weather is right we could go sailing alright again'.
Actually these two temporarily frozen-in boats together with a snow-covered and graciously over-reaching - or would that rather be 'leading away from the imminent' - (again urban) bridge make a safe keep, a suggestion of a pound for the troubled myth that would otherwise be lost in an insecure, and difficult-for-the-straight-and-narrow night.
Oh sure, this is all speculation, and worse: only just the first few steps into the world of only one painting (that may not even be here). Actually this speculation is not the same as 'hinein Interpretierung'
Such are the steps. From every three there are two in reverse, as more detailed viewing will change earlier dispositions.
The end of this process, at best, could very wel leave us in some similar state of mind the artist was in when in the first steps onto starting to paint: some feelings about oneselve reflected in the reality of everyday, as a metaphor.
For some part Olga lives in her metaphors, but then it is the bit she is willing to share with us rather more because she will show us the qualities of the details in the world we share (next to the paralel-story it may tell about her and us).
Painting, writing, etching etc. for the highly professional artist Olga Okuneva is not merely a far overstated 'self-expression' - nothing of the kind.
Olga is obviously a skilled draughts-woman, knowing all aspects of her trade - not just in the classical way, but even better since she is in more than one way able to use aspects of the classical crafts for different - even for opposing - purposes - purposes that were never there in former days, and are of her pure and most personal finding, unearthed during the digging process she is in her work so familiar with.
That is where the ratio of the classic trade encounters her intuition.
She dares to float on instinct; and ever so rightly so, being totally aware of all the risks she takes on board during that part of the undertaking that making a true work of art is - we should not forget that intuition and instinct comes with a long and intens experience that a creative mind is able to build from skilful practices plus unorthodox methods and half-calculated jumps where evidence is lamed by the powers that come to haunt the human understanding of values an artist like herself has to encounter when not shying away from the unknown but inner-true self.
Happily Olga has found herself in the leagues of narrators.
In her stories,or 'projects', she must no longer tell all and everything in the one picture - and in such picture in one time-frame: catch it in an instance.
Her work has shown from an early stage a multitude of perspectives; perspective of line, tone, colour, atmosphere, size, and all such, if not just newly to invent.
She every so often works on a central a theme in series.
The "A Walk in the Park", "Circus has come", "View through the Windo" and "Sacred Grove" give a theatrical backdrop against which - and in the different pictures there’s space created so that one can speak of 'amidst which' - personal events in the lives of her characters are placed. The images carry an iconographical significance assuming shades of a meaning related to the position in the composition of the individual picture. Furthermore is the meaning carried by the place the picture can have in the project as a whole - as musical themes in a symphony.
Boats, like plants, animals, and man, add meaning to the story by the way they are situated as floating on water, being left on the beach, or being frozen in ice; they add to, and redefine, the parable.
An important part of Olga's work involves etching. More than anything these prints are to be looked at, read, 'in hand', even though they are in many respects emphatically monumental.
Almost as on a second level these etchings challenge the spectator to appreciate having a glimpse into the private world, and as such view the vulnerability, that lies beneath the delicate craftsmanship.
Such apparent openness is part of an age old tradition; it makes the opening move of the master storyteller, who can then rapidly proceed into psychological depth - Olga Okuneva knows her work to thrive on such tradition.
Here we also find the skills that allow her, in all freedom and in fact with full devotion, to breath in and absorb all and everything around her when, for instance, she submits herself to magical inspiration, as she so wholeheartedly did in India.
During a life-long development, we continuously see her keen interest in trees, as in the series "Sacred Grove" and "Walled Garden".
Trees in her work trees are sometimes coincidental, 'encounter-and-draw', just as often as specific: 'tree leading inner movement'.
We know the tree that guided and shaped the series that gave her a first stepping stone and foothold in Amsterdam.
Such tree goes with the regularly recurring ‘gardens’ as a theme in her life: the walled park of lakes, the more open spaces in wilderness, or the more concealed botanical gardens.
Trees, her passion, see over her metaphors; they are in fact earthly creatures, narrative tool and vehicle, subject matter and sacred subject all in one.
The artist’s philosophical state is reflected both in the actual trees, their pictorial state and the artist’s (well-) being when near to them, or indeed far away connected only by an invisible but ever so real thread: an umbilical cord.
Oh sure, this is all speculation.
Joseph J. Visser, Friday, 4-10-2014.