Aija Zarina

Aija Zarina born in 1954. In 1982 she graduated from the Latvian Academy of Art - painting. She has taken part in exhibitions from 1980, during which she has organized more than 20 solo exhibitions, and been a part of 100 or more group exhibitions in Latvia and abroad - USA, Germany, Sweden, Finland, France, Croatia and Canada. Areas of her works include painting, object art, installations, land art and set design. She has created sets for four Mara Kimele directed plays at the Jaunais Rigas Teatris (New Riga Theatre) - King Lear, Parventas Hetera, The Book of Ruth and Shakespeare loves me. A mother of three children, she was a sharp and extraordinary phenomenon in Latvian art in the 1980s. For a long time, she was considered outside the zone of respectable art and public favour. Always forging her own path, whose individual and bright talent still feeds on her own brilliant and consistently admired personality.

Aija. Notes on the Periphery of a Painted Space

by Antra Klavina

Perhaps more precisely, her (her arts) essence is read in her angular, tense but careful child-like signature with its naive j: Aija. That is the constant, which has remained unchanged as her work slowly evolved, and expresses a very important aspect: Aija has always taken the liberty to maintain a childs directness of perception and supposed naively as the purest view on lives given mysteries. She has always operated with the maximum simplicity, but at the same time with extremely deep meanings and conceptual symbols, for which the rational borders of intellectual art could be too narrow - but are free in Aijas sensually perceptive space.

In her time, she has been talked about excitedly, explicitly and emotionally. And perhaps, this argument and enthusiasm, has been exactly that, which made society accept her arts existence, and therefore reconciled itself with the fact that as an axiom, she wasnt understood. But to those, who have felt her extremely bright and intelligent artistic breath, it has meant a lot.

Aija appeared on the artistic scene at the beginning of the 1980s, in anticipation of the demise of the prevailing ideologies, which were on the verge of bankruptcy - together with a group of young and talented artists, who shared her views. At that time she was the strength of the free-thinking wave which splattered the face of puritanical society - and which society felt was a shocking slap in the face.

Firstly it fascinated some, and angered others, that Aija allowed herself to be herself - freely, publicly and provocatively. And with this example of personal freedom, she confirmed, not only its possibility but also its unaffected and natural manner. She simply chose not to be influenced by outside criticism, and not to be subjected to ignorant aesthetic expectations, faithful only to herself. She was free from everything, which was less important than art. From the viewpoint of society, from career, merely as an aim to secure a comfortable life. From money. And even from human relationships, in case they become too selfish. At times choosing to become an outsider even in her own free world.

During one of her first interviews she simply said I want to be brave, truthful and strong. And so she was, is. Consistently following this constant ethic - which seems so extreme and seemingly out of place, in this age of encompassing irony (skepticism, and a hypertrophyc fear of banality). And till now as yet an underestimated fact, that talent has determined Aijas art from the beginning, and also a clearly aware, peacefully implemented and strongly spiritual programme.

As a vertical, whose starting point remains constant even if the distance varies. And it is connected with an individuals inner-world rehabilitation opposing dictatorship - from the outside.

Aija began with the rehabilitation of the notion of an other beauty. Clearly saying that, arts goal or mission, isnt to foster trivial ideas about ethical values, to satisfy the publics need for an injection of visual enjoyment, but to make it see, that beauty is also outside imaginary criterion, and this territory is extremely vast and human. Aija believes that beauty is related to the ability to see - but it is possible only if it is free from prejudice.

At the beginning of the 1980s that idea was embodied in Aijas still life and landscapes, still comparatively peaceful and innocent, with overturned perspectives and decorative compositions, but with clearly visible qualities of pictorial style. Even then she took from the 20th century arsenal of artistic expression, the simplest ideas: pure saturated colour - an equivalent of raw emotion, graphic line - as concentrated energy, classical composition - a grid that restricts a fundamental chaos. She has never used nuance, but one of her artistic paradoxes is that mistakes always become more robust, aggressive and monumental, have never lost their sensibility. Aijas works are not bound by a particular style, direction, school or tendency on which we can see, if we want to, now - an influence of 16th century Byzantine mosaics, now - the Russian masters of iconography, now - the German classicist (Cranach), now - representatives of classical modernism (Miro, Bracque, Klee, Piccaso, Malevich), now - the metaphysical artists (Chirico, Rerich, OKeefe), now - leading Latvian artists (Pinnis, Pauluks, Berzins). All dissolved in modern-day expression.

Soon the initial games with a stylized object - the decorative and conceptual capacity of metaphors, changed to the individual and his painful, often tragic relationship with the outside world, with others and himself. Mostly it was viewed as a continuos and irrational conflict - a conflict between a man and woman, between sexuality and love, between the subconscious and the conscious, between life and death. This conflict is embodied in abstract images (in a women , men, animals, fish, disembodied torso) in willfully interpreted mythological plots, in relating to the history of civilization and religious allusions (variations of the Theft of Europe theme and Carmens theme). These images, drawn with such a foolish and grotesque look, so sensual with their exposed sexual attributes, were those which carried the greatest shock potential, seriously hurting and infuriating the art loving puritanical circles.

These figurative works, as if correlating their human pathos, began to expand to an ever-increasing size, and this rapid invasion of space emotionally marked the most tense, the most contradictory and the most painful period in Aijas art. It seemed that it was a fanatical devotion to art - above everything, excitement, necessity, like a wave of hot energy which must spill over, and which always needs more space. Which spilled out of one cardboard plane into the two-dimensional - as in her solo exhibition in 1989 at Arsenal where Aija painted a floor for the first time, so she could use the entire space, as in her successive exhibitions in New York (1989), Riga (1991), Stockholm (1991), Munster (1992) and Paris (1992) were the whole room was created in one striking three-dimensional work of art, which totally devoured the spectator. So she made the spectator deeply feel the boundless intensity of the painting and made one identify with it. In another interview Aija admits: Ive tried to paint in a relaxes manner, but then I realized that I see and feel art with tension, which means that Im balancing on the edge of a knife.

Yet at the beginning of the 1990s this tension slowly started to lose its strident tone, and in Aijas work showed a new relationship toward space: tolerance, a tendency to embrace not to subdue it. Her work becomes more transparent, lighter, softer, her forms - always minimalist. Her solo exhibition A centaur, a bird and an elephant (1993), clearly illustrated this new feeling. After that - at Pedvale Park Jura (The Sea) (1994), a work made from small birch branches nailed together. Later, she ploughed on a sloped field, the Head of the Virgin Mary(1996), which is followed by the sign of infinity, which was painted for the first time in the Baltic States exhibition My personal Time, in a gallery Zaheta, Warsaw, which had slowly crystallized intuitively.

The exhibition which took place in January this year, at the State Art museum had a double nuance - Aija is drawing. Aija in a symbol (Aija zime. Aija zime), witnessed that the artist had finished another stage, which had distanced itself from that which had been before. A new cycle had begun, in which Aijas consistency had acquired clearly even more contour lines, which she had drawn around herself, as if in a strict circle, a tight line, which doesnt allow anything near that is smaller (or more down to earth, more empty, more familiar) than art. Being enclosed in the rhythms and energetic vibrations of her symbols, in her intimate rituals, as if she was a Tibetan monk, having closed the door to chance acquaintances, to the chaos brought by information overload by the mass media, she measures her publicity carefully. Shes become like a circle, to a figure eight - 8 - to the sign of infinity. She has concentrated her attention only on the mysterious movements of spiritual life, and the variation of these connected forms. Not wanting to talk about anything else but art.

But she speaks and writes as she paints: seriously, words with naked simplicity, sometimes lapsing into long, silent intervals, where a sentence remains vibrating like an arrow which has found its mark, covered with concentric circles of a suddenly understood idea. She frequently says nice and pleasant. It is very pleasant to be allowed to live. If we venture to do it in reality.

Recently a documentary The Theft of Europe was screened, the title of which was an apt hint of what was inflicted on (on Latvian art?) namely the chance to travel to Europe - her Europe had been stolen; considering the fact that Aija had given exactly this title to her varied cycle in the 1980s. Also - if we overcome our provincial modesty - Europe was robbed of Aijas art. An essential and at the same time rhetorical message. Because Aijas art has always been European - self-evidently without stress or insistent pretensions like untouched ore. Simply allowing herself to be. Honestly.


  TopList   E=mc^2 -