Dina Podolsky’s art harks to the past; from the Old Masters’ quality of her paintings to the subject matter focused entirely on still life. And although these two aspects of her production remain, something completely new has taken hold of her painterly expression, and the changes manifested in her latest works are, if not dramatic, in the very least pictorially significant.
Courage and honesty are the hallmarks of this artist, and the backbone of her creative process. They help assuage the insidious doubt that is the lot of any artist, but particularly so in the case of Podolsky, as she perseveres against a tide of constantly fluctuating contemporary expressions and a barrage of new media whose vocabulary is far removed from hers. The Moscow Diary that was the aegis under which the Russian-born artist’s work evolved, and that served as the title of her many series, seems to be opening onto a completely new chapter, and as she says:“There is no Moscow anymore.” Instead of childhood memories encapsulated in objects from the her past: antique clothing mannequins, rusty kettles, Victorian dolls and grandfather clocks, Podolsky’s recent paintings and works on paper are very much anchored in the present, alive and shape-shifting. While before, the background in her canvases played a lesser role, with the central object carrying most of the narrative and compositional weight of the painting, in her latest work it has unexpectedly usurped its place. It has done so at the expense of some of the objects that formed Podolsky’s symbolic pantheon, as if their shape and designation no longer fit into the evolving visual landscape. The ones that remain are, as it happens, mostly vessels and containers, their symbolism in human, and art history, of particular poignancy. From the beginning of time they served as repositories of all that is of value to us: from nutrition, to wealth, to ashes of the departed, and holy blood, and, as in the case of canopic jars from ancient Egypt, the viscera of mummified pharaohs. The musty bottles and dented copper pots in Podolsky’s paintings still hold the memories of her childhood with all its emotional heritage, and as such remain powerful, and yes, visceral symbols of both her past and her identity. But in her latest paintings their forms are slowly being subverted, their designation altered, their very presence on canvas questioned and reconfigured. And as much as Podolsky’s mixed media technique and her mastery of it was what always added weight to her art, here it becomes the very vehicle that carries each work. Her engagement with the material, particularly in her works on paper, and the complex process by which she achieves her layered, textured surfaces, is the driving force behind the latest production. The subject matter is now but a starting point for a journey across the canvas and back, with the artist returning to the same piece over and over, scratching out, and rebuilding fragments, uncovering, then forsaking anew. And as she wages this creative battle with herself and her craft, something beyond the control of either, master or tool, is taking place. The once tightly assembled bottles have now shifted almost imperceptibly, and as if freed from gravity, have melded into the textured background. An invisible energy has seeped in, guiding the artist’s hand with an unfamiliar, yet deeply felt urgency, as if she was catching up with herself, with something that had been slowly growing and rumbling beneath her creativity. It has taken her precious, patina-coated kettles, and shuffled them around, leaving space in between that is as pictorially and compositionally valid as the objects. It is in those paint-splattered fragments that Podolsky’s true talent comes to the foreground, in those moments where she focuses entirely on the material, on the very process of applying pigment to canvas, of an alchemic rendering of as-yet-invisible expression. This dance of matter and form, movement and light that is the painterly process, in Podolsky’s work is accompanied by a rich palette, marked by her signature turquoise. But even here, the colours have seen a subtle transformation; there is quiet predominance of greys and pinks, a smudging of edges and overlapping of planes. Something unseen is playing on the viewer’s subconscious, as we enter this living realm of still life. It portends a continuation, a future denouement.
Galerie Lydia Monaro, Montréal
November 26—December 8, 2014