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Süden - The Villa Romana at the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle
It’s Only a Step from a Miracle to a Disaster - Visiting the 55th Biennale di Venezia
Pictures of the End of the American Dream - Philip-Lorca diCorcia in the Schirn Kunsthalle
Enchanted Geography - Sarnath Banerjee: Forays through Berlin
The Subversive Potential of Hermès Scarves - Shirin Aliabadi discloses the desires of young Iranian women
MACHT KUNST - The Prize-Winners: Keep painting - Lovro Artukovic
MACHT KUNST - The Prize-Winners: Gray Zones - Radoslava Markova´s Emotional Landscapes
Theaster Gates: Inner City Blues
Violence and Creation: Imran Qureshi in the Deutsche Bank KunstHalle


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MACHT KUNST – The Prize-Winners:
Gray Zones: Radoslava Markova’s Emotional Landscapes

Her paintings were awarded the Audience Prize in the Alte Münze: Bulgarian artist Radoslava Markova’s works create psychologically charged snapshots of physical and emotional relationships.

“To you it looks like a goodbye,” says Radoslava Markova, “but it was meant to be a reunion.” It’s one of the first really hot summer days in Berlin, one of those mornings when you’d rather go to the pool than to work. Outside, beyond the wide-open windows, the sky over Neukoelln is a deep blue. In the factory courtyard, the blinding sun renders each detail almost overly clear: the dust on the car roofs, glistening bicycle bars, the bricks in the building’s façade. It’s still shady here in the studio. Standing in the midst of the 35-year-old Bulgarian painter’s works, you can feel like you’re in an entirely different world. On these paintings—or to put it more precisely, in them—the light has an almost contradictory effect. It does not illuminate details, but rather models hazy, distant, abstract landscapes from which the representational element has nearly disappeared. As though it would only detract from the essential thing, which is human existence.
She has taken the figures out of a concrete situation, says Markova: “Only their relationship to one another is in focus. Everything else is superfluous.” A reduction to color, light, and horizon lend these pictorial spaces something vast. The protagonists in her paintings, the couples, passersby, and single figures, often seem almost lost in this expanse, thrown back on themselves. This is also true for Landstrasse (Country Road) of 2013, the painting chosen by viewers as the best of 1,790 exhibited works in the second MACHT KUNST (Make Art) exhibition in the Alte Münze. The work portrays two indistinct figures embracing on a dusky plain. The sex and age of the people portrayed remains vague; so does the question of whether it’s a reunion or a goodbye. Like the landscape, the bodies hover on the border to abstraction, appear washed out and blurry, like a photograph taken in motion. But it’s this very blurriness that constitutes the precision of Markova’s painting: each painterly gesture, each brushstroke and nuance in the interplay between color and light becomes part of her psychologically charged snapshots of physical and emotional relationships. Indeed, Markova’s works are reminiscent of stills from a film that plays out in the mind of the viewer.
She uses media like film not as a point of departure for her painting, but solely for inner inspiration, says the artist. The impulse for Landstrasse came from the 2005 Israeli film Live and Become, which she saw by chance one night on TV: “It was about a young African boy who travels to Israel. The film begins in a refugee camp in Sudan, during the famine of 1984. Thousands of Ethiopian Jews are under threat of starvation there, and their children are evacuated to Israel in the framework of Operation Moses, where they will live in foster families. To assure he will survive, a Christian mother gives her son to the Israelis, although he is not Jewish. After a yearlong odyssey, he finally finds her again. It was the setup of this final scene that was the actual inspiration. The image was determined purely by the emotion, not the story the film told. But I also derive this kind of inspiration from life, from my friends and relatives—feelings that someone has felt, that I have felt, or that I imagine someone has felt.”

Even as a child, she only ever wanted to paint people, says the 35-year-old, and this is what still occupies her today. That is why she insisted her mother send her to an arts-based high school. After studying art education in Sofia, Markova went to study at the art academy in Muenster, where she received her Meisterschueler degree in 2006. In response to the question whether the Socialist Realist-influenced painting style taught at the academies in Bulgaria left any mark on her work, she answers in the emphatic negative: “I actually try to forget some of the things I learned previously. Ridiculous, rigid notions of composition, for instance; the Golden Section, a bunch of kids’ rules. You try to establish these rules early on with kids so they have something to go by. The problem is that most of them are never able to let go. But painting is something you have to reinvent again and again, and you often have to question things you’ve done before.”

She experimented with installation during her time at art school, but always returned to painting. And her painting has changed over the course of the past several years. In the mid-2000s, her pictorial spaces were more defined, richer in detail; there was a sense of place. Here is the title of a painting from 2004 that portrays a mass of people backlit on a plaza. In works such as Early or Ascent from 2005, one can discern urban architecture, underpasses, and residential blocks; gradually, however, these disappear, give way to hazy landscapes only alluded to. Even the people seem increasingly isolated in their relationships, referring only to themselves or a few others. They seem as though they were always traveling, in transit. It’s hard not to connect the feeling of placelessness that Markova’s paintings give off with migration, the loss of homeland, relationships, and natural culture. The older couple gazing into the fog in Station (2011) is dressed in a clearly old-fashioned way; the style of the woman’s shoes and hair suggest that they come from the former Eastern Bloc. They seem to be looking into an uncertain future, but arm in arm they have resolve.
Markova is especially interested in the feeling of hope, of potential community and encounter. Just as she refuses to be labeled a “naturalistic” painter, she also doesn’t want to be understood as a painter from the Eastern Bloc or be told that her paintings are “melancholic.” She repeatedly asserts that a comparison with other artists in the scene or the constant need to network keeps her from the important thing, which is painting. Her most important partner for dialogue is her husband, the South Korean painter Kwang Sik Im, whom she met during her studies in Muenster. They have two children together, work in the same studio, and to a certain extent their approach to painting is similar. At closer look, you can also see that they are the models for some of the couples in Markova’s paintings, that the works address various different stages or moments in their own relationship.
Radoslava is a petite woman who exudes discipline and seriousness—and a dry sort of humor. Even when she talks about the financial struggles the painter couple has to face to carry out their profession, the lack of opportunities for exhibiting, the all-too-everyday struggle for survival, she always remains unpretentious. You sense that the isolation in her paintings is also her own, that she consciously avoids too much contact with the busy Berlin art scene.

Even her participation in MACHT KUNST was more of an accident: “The whole thing was very spontaneous. A colleague we know from Muenster called and told us that Deutsche Bank was sponsoring an event. We’ve never shown in Berlin before, although we’ve been living here for five years. And so we said, OK, let’s do it. And if you do something like this, then you want to show a representative painting. So we rented a truck with other artists. That was the reason we stayed and waited, even though it was so full. We were at the very end of the line and waited the entire day. And it was very cold. We thought, are we stupid, are we so poor that we have to sit here? The people from the bank brought us coffee and tried to be nice. It could have all been much worse.”
She never would have expected her painting to win, she says, and for her it’s a “compliment.” Despite her modesty, Radoslava Markova seems determined to follow her path. The figures, she says, could soon disappear from her paintings, she might move entirely into abstraction, and she doesn’t know what the results will be. Then her husband peeks in, cautiously, almost too politely. It feels strange to suddenly be standing opposite one of the figures from her paintings. All of a sudden, the entire room is bathed in this gray from Markova’s paintings, which isn’t a gray at all, but is interspersed with a variety of different colors: dark blues and greens, magenta. For a brief moment, it feels as though I were standing in one of her paintings, another figure in these indistinct spaces of light and color.

Oliver Koerner von Gustorf

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