At Gallery Elena Shchukina in London, “Surreal Universe” marks the UK debut of Danish painter Ida Kvetny, and what an introduction it is. Her dense, haunting paintings feel right out of a dystopian fairy tale or horror movie.
These psychedelic works are warped and fantastical, dripping with saturated colors. There’s a dark, Dalí-esque feel to Heat Wave (2015), a composition thick with amoebic monsters and horned creatures, their innards exposed, the landscape strange and threatening. Meanwhile, the floating forms and deep blues of Pompeii (2015) call to mind Chagall.
It may come as little surprise that Kvetny was also inspired by the teachings of Freud, self-described “archaeologist of the mind.” Like an archaeologist conducting a careful excavation, Freud worked to uncover buried thoughts and feelings, to place them in context, to try to understand the relationships between them.
Kvetny’s works look something like an archaeologist’s lab turned upside down, with strange, unidentifiable organisms and artifacts left and right. In fact, Kvetny takes the archaeology metaphor one step further. Displayed alongside her paintings are tiny figurines she calls “fossils”—sculptural relics of the strange universe she’s created.
Using what she calls an “ancient language that transcends time, place, and culture,” her nightmarish landscapes provoke thought and wonder and dread. Philosophical and artistic influences aside, this dark world is all her own.
PLANET KVETNY by Alberte Winding 2014
If we were inhabitants on planet Kvetny, we would each day pass by the little gloomy towers before urban chaos and the body’s erotic hunger would swallow us up in a Bruegel-esque inferno. Ida Kvetny’s aquarium-blue landscapes are generous, overwhelming, sexy, childish and adventurous. They simultaneously quench a thirst with their cool tone, scare us half to death and cuddle us, because there is always a solution, a small way out from the otherwise dramatic conditions; either very tangibly in the form of a super heroine or an amazon or simply a face with mild eyes. The enemy takes the shape of humans in white coats, ever so smug, in a future scenario, devoid of warmthand beauty. Just as with Bruegel the beauty appears in what is dangerous, yet is everywhere in Ida Kvetny’s art. Here our wish for the adventure, the eagerness to dare, to fight against, to surrender, is met constantly. It would be possible to live inside Ida’s installations for days on end, the painted as well as the physical. – And to emerge on the other side, pieced together by a new awareness. Our longing is dangerous, great and wonderful.
A TSUNAMI OF IMAGES by Lisbeth Bonde 2014
Politics is the art of the possible. Art is the politics of the impossible.
You have to have someone to deal with the impossible. Otherwise it decays and becomes possible.
Per Højholt in the periodical MAK # 3, 1969
Ida Kvetny (b. 1980) is a visual artist, who creates on the basis of exuberant energy and with undeniable, highly original talent. She expresses herself in both two and three dimensions, but sometimes she also brings her subjects to life with the assistance of animations and musical accompanyiment. This allows us to experience the paintings from the inside – as constructed 3D universes. Her pictures are complex and multifocal and are nourished by a stream of internal impulses, dreams and visions, which come to her unannounced from her subconscious. Her work takes shape like one long food chain of ideas, ceaselessly budding and leading her to new places. It is as if she senses the picture’s own internal logic and will, and gives visual form to these subconscious images, which are mixed with crystal clear sensations in a unique, sampled pictorial universe. Just like a tsunami of images, it transmits a cascade of symbols and figures and meanings to us. Although the pictures are full of intense energy, the compositions miraculously manage to retain balance without capsizing. Like abstract, American, All-Over painting, which, as we know, say, from Jackson Pollock, could in principle continue far beyond the picture frame and spread into space, Kvetny’s subjects are infinite. In fact, people prefer to regard them as interior decoration: for example, in the legendary exhibition, On the Wall at Charlottenborg in 2009, in which artists painted temporary murals directly on the walls, and in which Ida Kvetny shone with her high-energy, and extremely expressive painting in powerful colors. Ida Kvetny works in the wake of the stream of consciousness tradition, dating back to the first three decades of the 20th cen turn, and of the 1960s’ automatic writing and art, in which all pallidpremeditations and conscious, editing interventions were overridden in favor of a moreintuitive approach to the subject. Artists shut out their inner arbiter of taste, letting internal, emotional “truth” control the battle on the surface. She puts a canvas on the wall and starts to paint with no prior planning. When the picture lets her know that it is finished, she fixes it to a stretcher. The subject provides this format. From a distance, the paintings come across as abstract, but when you zoom in, they open up a range of narratives, which you, the observer, are free to interpret. Ida Kvetny does not want to influence us in a particular direction, but leaves it to the audience to make sense of her visual messages. One notices that Ida Kvetny’s iconography is reminiscent of a porto-human language,which transcends times, places and cultures, and which, in pictorial terms, crosses swords with various traditions and practices: Mexican folk art, comic strips (Robert Crumb is one of her role models), graffiti and street art and Indians tribal art – not to mention the patterns and ornamentations, which we know from oriental arts and crafts, and Pop Art and Abstract Expressionism. It is truly art created of our globalised age with its patchwork of different sources of inspiration, which Kvetny, like a sort of DJ sampler, invests with a fragmented appearance. At the same time, though, this entirely personal, collage-like universe has a great sense of unity. The multitudinous throng on the surface corresponds very convincingly to life in all its diversity and abundant chaos. In her recent works, she has experimented a lot with colours, ranging from the clearest and strongest primary colours to a more black-and-white universe with cool metallic colours in copper, gold and silver. She also works with a great variety of surface texture and detail. This also applies to her striking works on paper. Our eyes work hard, when we look at Ida Kvetny’s paintings and graphic works. They lead us into, and around an infinite number of simultaneous incidents and situations and micro-universes. Ida Kvetny works at the interface of what painting candy in her distinctive iconography, where she tells us about the good and bad aspects of human life and about nature,which suffers under the selfish, short sighted ravages of human beings. There is a camp atmosphere, tree trunks, which are down for the count in rivers, cafés populated by young fathers, women who yearn, bodies, which are amputated, things both pleasant and less pleasant, and marvelous dreamlike, irrational events which open up a world beyond what is familiar. The plaster sculptures, which for the exhibition, Large Flesh Coloured Containers in Galleri Christoffer Egelund she has organised as a sculpture cabinet, consist of figures in varying degrees of stylisation, who seem to have landed on their metal platform like aliens from outer space. At the same time, they appear somewhat familiar, because they look like some of the characters that we see in her paintings. They are modeled in clay, and then coated with latex, so that she can cast them in multiple series. But they emerge with different traits, since latex gives so much. She then rubs them in graphite powder, which makes them resemble fossils dug up by archaeologists. They are also unique and profoundly original. After two years of study at the Funen Art Academy, Ida Kvetny moved to Edinburgh and in 2006 graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting from Edinburgh College of Art. She completed her studies in 2007 with an MA in Fine Arts from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in London. This equipped her with another, more international platform and a large network, at the same time she learned tradition from scratch, because in England basic craftsmanship is still a fundamental and mandatory part of artistic education. So Ida Kvetny is a complete master, when it comes to the naturalistic/realistic portrayal of the world around us. This means she can consolidate her ideas and visions precisely in the way she considers most appropriate without any limitations in her idiom.
Lisbeth Bonde is an art critic, based in Copenhagen. She has written several books on contemporary art and is a regular critic on www.kunsten.nu. She also writes features on art for the lifestyle magazine, Bo Bedre.
Gallery Elena Shchukina to present first UK exhibition for Danish artist Ida Kvetny
As society con0nues to seek an understanding of the digital age by ra0onal means, Ida Kvetny’s work offers a dark alterna0ve: a Surrealist aesthe0c united with dystopian visions of the modern world.
“Monstrous machines drill towards the centre of the earth looking for shale gas, fluorescent logs are knocked out, and the ground beneath us is peopled by headless humans in lab coats.”
Drawing on fantas0cal imagery and a psychedelic visual vocabulary, Kvetny tackles the digital age with what she refers to as an “ancient language that transcends 0me, place and culture”. In this engagement with the irra0onal mind, the pain0ngs and sculpture of Surreal Universe are inspired by Freud, who compared himself to an archaeologist, digging away at layers of the psyche to reveal our deepest thoughts. Freud’s theories underpinned the work of the original Surrealists, and the way in which they sought to make visual sense of the irra0onality of war, but Kvetny’s prac0ce has a visceral contemporaneity, drawing on other influences such as comic books, pop art, and Abstract Expressionism.
Kvetny also engages with the way in which we receive informa0on in the 21st-century, building up a vibrant schema of Surrealist symbols in order to echo the frene0c visuality of cyberspace. We are drawn into a virtual world where imaginary ci0es unfold before our eyes, populated by vast structures, plants, and otherworldly creatures; “a flood of images and ornaments interlaced with potent and socio-poli0cal statements”. The ar0st wants us to be absorbed in these details, geRng lost in the combina0ons of rich paSern and colour, branching from deep purple and blue, to bursts of scarlet and forest green.
The pain0ngs recall the night-0me dreamscapes and violent fauna of Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, and Leonora Carrington (the subject of a groundbreaking retrospec0ve at Tate Liverpool in 2015). Alongside the pain0ngs will be small figurines, which Kvetny refers to as ‘fossils’, excavated from her pain0ngs as physical embodiments of the universe that she has created – a unique universe of contemporary surrealism for the Internet age.
About the work by Birgitte Kirkhoff 2006
In Ida Kvetny’s installations, juxtaposed paintings, drawings, animations and sculptures all contribute to the same investigation of the limitations of painting. Her cut-out drawings mirror the stencils that her paintings have been spray painted through. Only they are negations: the cut-out removes what the spraypaint adds. The figurative elements in the paintings have been cast to sculptures whose shadows are thrown onto the projection of animated drawings. The sculptures rest on a base of braided canvases. Tiles, spray painted through stencils, become sculptural drawings as they cover floors or form walls.The paintings themselves are an explosion of vibrant colours. Twisting and interlacing lines. Spaces that overlap. Techniques that succeed one another. Acrylic, marker, spraypaint, water, metallic and neon colours. Layered or side by side. Like one big chain reaction. Elements that lead to something else. Unhierarchic processes like the forces of nature, represented here by roots, trees and intestines. The surreal and grotesque figures, the mix of figuration and abstraction and the working process itself is that of the automatic drawing that allows subconscious ideas to develop. Human, organic and geometric shapes are intertwined in Ida Kvetny’s paintings. With compositional superiority they blur the starting point of the abstract and figurative elements. Plane and object create complex spatialities that resemble more a kind of non-hierarchical mapping than a traditional perspective space. A subtle, almost invisible detail spreads seeds, sprouts and ramifies along unpredictable traces and fragmentary connections arise. The overload of information destabilizes the sense of direction and logical reading of the image. Simultaneously with this dynamic, psychedelic, dense and intense colour explosion, the lines are also strongly controlled and the structure tightly composed. The gestured, imaginative paintings spring from diverse sources such as the surrealists’ automatic drawings, action painting, spontaneous abstract painting, pop culture, comics and simple computer graphics. Kvetny expands the paintings in combination with her sculptures. The two- and three-dimensional works operate on the same terms with repetitive motivic ornamentation. Objects bought on the net, found on flea markets or in second hand shops are part of the works and contain an echo of former life and bring a story, a drama or a memory into the sculpture or painting. The shiny sculptures are situated on coloured tubes of plastic that work as synthetic plinths. At first glance the sculptures look like solid abstract masses but at a closer look plastic figures turn up. The sculptural automatic drawings function as a trunk, a root, a key to the painting where the figurative elements become a starting point for the viewer to freely navigate in the paintings. There is something straightforward and surprising is at work in the blazing universe of Kvetny that possesses a peculiar drive and a crystallizing force.