Boris Jesih, Connections

30. 11. 2017 - 11. 03. 2018
Boris Jesih: Evenly accelerated, 1973 (pencil, Indian ink),

The exhibition Connections curated by Breda Škrjanec, is focused on Jesih’s works on paper although we cannot ignore the fact that Boris Jesih is above all a painter. However, knowing Jesih’s visual world, painting cannot be strictly separated from other fine art modes of expression, in particular drawing and graphic art. Indeed, he excels in drawing whereby a line is never merely in the function of description and a colour never only an addition to the form. They are equivalent elements and the basis of his visual system.

Boris Jesih began his artistic practice in the late 1960's when the world and also our country faced a crisis. In the fine arts, this promoted the shifts which followed the principles of historical avant-gardes. At the time, in relation to the modernist tradition, the artists began to introduce in the fine arts various changes and different artistic practices as well as marginalised media such as photography, action, video, etc. New fine art genres emerged, including conceptualism, hyperrealism, landart, which brought new questions to art.

At the end of the 1960's, a new generation of artists began to exhibit in our country which the critics soon characterised as new figuralists and pointed to the elements of pop art in their works.

In 1968, the Belgrade Gallery of the Culture Centre hosted the exhibition Expressive Figurative Painting of the Young Ljubljana Circle of Slovenian artists, including Boris Jesih; i.e., the painters who had just completed or were in the process of completion of the Ljubljana Academy. What was characteristic of their works was the inclusion of images, adapted from the photographs, commercials, newspapers and television. The painting of the group which developed a Slovenian version of pop art combined with the influences of other neo-figurative genres was termed by Aleksander Bassin as expressive figurativism. The Group in a larger or smaller number held several group exhibitions in the former Yugoslavia, including Slovenia, the last in 1972. Afterwards their painting developed in different directions.

The young artists challenged the then dominant aestheticism of the Ljubljana Graphic School with strong, clean and saturated colours, large surfaces, template drawing, simplified, synthesized and enlarged forms of objects, simple compositions, dismissal of details, the principle of repetition, a multitude of images, and a larger format. The content of works also changed with the artists being interested in their reality, pointing to the increase of consumerism in the society. They began to replace oil with acrylic because it allowed unified, poster-like layers of paint while in the graphic art, following the episode of lithography in the late 1960's, screen printing came to the forefront in the 1970's.

From 1969 to 1972 Boris Jesih created in the spirit of the new so-called expressive figurativism. However, his formal concept was not homogeneous. He produced schematic geometrical reliefs of heads, made an attempt in the permutational combinatorics with computer structure, lived out in sculpture what interested him in pure abstraction, made some interesting experiments in the direction of the environment and produced paintings that were close to pop art. This idea is reflected in the motifs taken from pictures in magazines and transposed directly in his paintings.

In the acrylic paintings after 1970 he used strict silhouette depictions with a template effect. His picture space was two-dimensional and he depicted with cool colours a female figure in geometrically composed, equally cold imaginary spaces. The women he depicted were depersonalized, merely a sexual object. Geometrically abstract relief heads mainly in profile are substantially distant from optically relatively richer new figuralism and traverse in the field of conceptualism.  

In early 1970's he produced permutations initially in graphic art to later repeat and also varied them in drawing. With this permutated and ultimately stylised figure Jesih somewhat summarised his former research and made a shift towards greater plasticity. The paintings from 1971 feature an attempt at synthesis of distinctively plastic and distinctively two-dimensional elements whereby the figure still remains anonymous. A novelty is a definition of space with large rectangular surfaces, and some of these paintings already contain hyperrealistic elements.

Retrospectively, in Jesih's oeuvre 1974 can be regarded as somewhat of an individual breakthrough. This year is characterised by two important exhibitions of his latest works, in Mala Galerija (Ljubljana) and the Gallery of Contemporary Art (Zagreb). He displayed his latest works, foggy landscapes in the soft colours of a narrow colour spectrum, produced in a technically precise manner with fine lines which replace a strike of a brush and with which he lays colour by colour in order to obtain a blurred impression of the painting. So his images would not be perceived merely as landscapes or portraits, the artist put a barrier between the viewer and the image. His intention was not to paint idealised scenes or evoke sentimental thoughts. Graphic intervention on the surface of a painting – different graphic symbols and signs, dots, lines, triangles, crosses, later meshes and frames – became new elements of the image through which he wanted to redirect the viewer's attention from “romantically” attractive landscapes to the reflection on the actual message of the painting which is in pointing to the increasing gap between man and nature.

The duality in his works brought to attention by many authors who analysed Jesih's work and which originates from the artist's personal experience and relation t0 the world, has become his distinctive sign. Sections from the landscape that he collected in his photographic archive in the surroundings of his studio in Škofja Loka castle: isolated trees on the hillside, a solitary apple tree, a river, dirt roads that lead away, dirt roads with melting snow, repeat in his work so many times that they become his infallible signifier. More enigmatic are the signs – barriers that he puts in front of the viewer and the illusion of the landscape. From the graphic signs borrowed from the printing industry these transform into red drops (of blood), in the 80's in red expressive gestures or later in the symbols and signs on the membrane of the painting. He also separates nature from the viewer with simplified architectural elements such as doors, windows, meshes, or divides it into several fields. These are the artist's internal reactions to the social events, to all that which disturbs him when he looks through the window of his studio where nature awakens in silent mornings while someplace else in this world the individual's reality is completely different.

Jesih's artistic oeuvre went through gradual modifications and changes in terms of meaning. These changes are best observed on the visual membrane of his works which with years from two-dimensionality shifts to increasing organity and from graphisms to signs and symbols. The colour palette also changes until the 90's final emergence of large polyptychs of Ravines, abysses with a painful and universal symbolism. His works are witnesses and a document of the contemporary understanding of the world, the human's role in it, relation to the world. In this world, a contemporary man loses the primordial connection with nature because civilizational progress alienated him from the understanding, connection and possession of its secret powers. These were replaced with cultural experiences.

Jesih's graphic art, to which he became more intensively dedicated in the mid-70's, was produced, the same as drawing, parallel to his painting oeuvre. Although in the 1970's screen printing was favoured to lithography, Jesih practiced the latter. This best enables painting effects as well as photo procedures, which is a characteristic of his work. Graphic art also brought Jesih international fame and won him several international awards; his works were presented at exhibitions of the Slovenian graphic art and Ljubljana graphic school around the world. In 1985 his lithographs – as the works of the only artist from Eastern Europe – were included in the exhibition upon the 200th anniversary of the development of lithography in Vienna's Albertina, along with great masters such as Lautrec, Goya and Picasso.

Boris Jesih is an artist whose works emerge between the classic modernist and post-modernist tradition with a tendency to figuralism which he never directly copied but rather constantly developed and investigated in relation to topical artistic trends.

Curator: mag. Breda Škrjanec


Open Days

This Happy Day of Culture at MGLC
Sunday, 3 December at 12.00: About Noon
The first – opening – stroll through the exhibition and talk between the author of the exhibition mag. Breda Škrjanec and the artist Boris Jesih.

Slovenian Cultural Holiday at MGLC, Thursday, 8 February
at 11.00: guided tour for families, conducted by museum counsellor Lili Šturm
at 15.00: public guided tour with the author of the exhibition mag. Breda Škrjanec and the artist Boris Jesih

Public guided tours of the exhibition
Thursday, 18 January at 17.00: conducted by Nevenka Šivavec, Director of MGLC
Sunday, 11 March, at 12.00: concluding guided tour, conducted by mag. Breda Škrjanec

For children, youth and families
NEW YEAR AT TIVOLI MANSION – Festive workshop and performance, for children and families
Friday, 29 December, 11.00–13.00
Workshop and Kamišibaj gledališče (kamishibai theatre): The Boy on the Cloud and Other Stories. The stories in images and words are told by Irena Rajh.

Connections, art workshop
Bobri Festival (20 January–8 February 2018), for children over the age of 3
By prior arrangement.

Connections, animation workshop
Sunday, 28 January, 11.00–15.00, for children over the age of 9 (parents are also invited to join) In collaboration with the SLON Society.

Night at Tivoli Mansion
Friday–Saturday, 23 February–24 February 2018, for young people 13+
Midnight workshop, mansion dinner and and sleepover. In collaboration with the Young Dragons Public Institution.

Admission to all events is free of charge.

The accompanying programme was prepared by Lili Šturm, museum counsellor.