Lines driven by movement and energy: the captivating contemporary paintings of London artist Maya Brodzinska, By James Brewer
Some of the most exciting contemporary artists are all the more intriguing because they are so hard to classify. Among them is Maya Brodzinska: her outstanding works straddle the boundary of abstract formulation and a reinvention of images of familiar objects: fields, leaves, ribbons, even the Atlantic Ocean. Objects seem to tumble out from the picture towards the viewer, adding to his or her engagement with the piece.
Polish-born Maya has won increasing attention for her memorable personal style since she devoted herself full-time to painting. Her early life gave her the right background – she was awarded a Master of Arts degree at Warsaw University, although when she moved to London, she concentrated on other fields including teaching and writing a weekly column for a Polish newspaper. She could not resist returning to the easel, and signed up for courses at the University of the Arts, London, where she graduated in Fine Arts, Painting.
Some of her canvases are large, at 150 cm sq or more. She paints on cotton and occasionally linen, and above all enjoys the richness that simple brush strokes can produce on very even surfaces. Maya is attracted to abstract painting because it is “about ideas, processes, texture, physicality of materials, ” but it would be wrong to define her simply as a practitioner of the abstract. “In today’s world, ” she says, “present practice is so diverse that you cannot put artists in groups or even trends. The era of Impressionists or Structuralists or Cubists is over. The same idea persisting in each person – that is something that no longer exists.”
It is thus no surprise to hear that she is an admirer of the German modernist Paul Klee (1879-1940), who is said to have influenced Rothko, Miró and others, and is the subject of a Tate Modern: exhibition which runs until March 9 2014.
“I have always liked his work, ” said Maya. “He was unique: his language, his aesthetic, and his interests. His output was not like the development of stages as you see for example in [his Bauhaus contemporary] Wassily Kandinsky. Klee does different things in the same period. There is no continuity in his practice.” Exhibiting Klee chronologically “is really important, because you can see his line.”
Her analysis calls to mind a statement by Matthew Gale, curator of the Tate exhibition, that “although Klee saw his art as a process of spontaneous creativity and natural growth, exemplified by his famous description of drawing as ‘taking a line for a walk’, he actually worked with great rigour.”
That summing up of Klee’s contribution might serve too as a handy guide to what Maya seeks to achieve, although one would have to factor in her interest in the American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) who would randomly splash paint onto a canvas laid on the floor.
Maya muses: “In the simple forms, you can refer to practices like those of Jackson Pollock. His paintings were about the energy and the movement.” Maya seeks to express movement and energy too, and with spontaneity. She is “present with my lines, but which are more controlled than Pollock’s.”
She continues: “You can do so much with the most basic forms, with the brush stroke. You have a huge potential of interpretation, manipulation, rendering. My idea was very spontaneous movement, with my hand drawing or painting lines. They do not need to be straight. I like these simple forms, and I can organise them in so many ways. I tend to favour minimalism, pureness, as opposed to paintings that are too ‘busy.’”
“What I like is my intervention into something that was defined, breaking these forms or changing the meaning, and playing with what the viewers see.” In fact, “as titles are secondary in my practice, sometimes I ask people to give titles to the works, and say what they see.”
Further, “with this technique, I am at different stages retrieving and discovering things. Underneath I am trying to find ‘something behind something.’ It is the curiosity of finding something that is deeper, and deeper and deeper. Thus the painting is a discovery about your interests, your sensibility.”
Such is the experience with her leaf paintings. In one of these, the leaves take on a ghostly appearance, as in the eeriness of seeing car headlights or other artificial light at night reflected on the leaves,
Her inspiration is what she sees around her, such as the natural shapes of leaves, but she is not necessarily concerned to make representations of real leaves. In her work in progress, she in effect poses the question: “Where is the border between the made-up thing and the natural?” as she plays with the idea of what the painting is… in this instance a painting of a bed of leaves within a painting.
There is one certainty at least: that Maya’s audiences will continue to relish the interpretive challenges posed by her oeuvre.