Optical Energy 2001: review by art critic Alise Tifentale

Young Latvian artist Ritums Ivanovs’ large-scale paintings remind us - a particular moment is more significant than anything else that surrounds it. These separate moments have the greatest value, they compose the rich and colourful collage that we are used to call our lives. Sometimes years go by and they seem like erased from this collage - no bright splash, no spectacular highlight, no particular moment to remember. Just like French philosopher Gilles Deleuze once has said in an interview about himself, “Conditions of catalepsy or somnambulism taking away several years - most lives contain such periods” 

In Search of the Lost Time. Ritums’ paintings show us moments that are elusive and imperceptible in their visual metaphors, romantic and a little sentimental, bittersweet and beautiful - because these moments are already gone (or existed only in artist’s fantasies). These momentary visions silently witness the fragile and unbearable lightness of an instant.

In exhibition “To be and to see” (1999, Riga) Ritums presented paintings created in a similar technique - they were portraits. Art critic Inga Steimane wrote in exhibition’s catalogue: “These are confusingly realistic faces. Our analytical senses are a little angered because they cannot touch the material in the portraits. Even after looking intensely at the paintings we are not sure if the depiction will not just evaporate.” Later Ritums has moved away from the specific towards general. Photographs Ritums is using as a basis of his paintings leave the most part of the story untold, outside the borders of the painting. 

Now we can feel the presence of a woman (or more like presence of an image of a woman) in photo-realistic layer of the painting, but then - “suddenly we understand that the artist has painted light, and the deceptive look in the woman’s eyes is part of this game” (Inga Steimane). Art critic Ieva Kalnina wrote in an essay for catalogue of Ritums Ivanovs’ exhibition “The Girl” (Riga, 2000): “With the help of fragmentation, the artist deliberately leads the viewer away from a specific person to a generalisation. This connection is surprising. It too embodies the attempt to cross over the border.” Maybe over the imagined border that separates illusions and reality, real memories and daydreamer’s fantasies. 

The moments we see/feel in Ritums’ paintings doesn’t belong to anyone, but we all bring within ourselves blurred remembrance of an ideal beauty - of a single moment. Moment is the most imperceptible unit of measurement used when talking about time - it can mean half of second or long forever - time doesn’t function adequately the walk of a mechanic clock when a person has got into his own, individual and intimate time loop. We can define such moments only when they are gone, and that’s why they are so beautiful - they are lost. They just leave that sweet and a little sad feeling like Marcel Proust's “À la recherche du temps perdu” (In Search of Lost Time).

Ritums Ivanovs’ paintings can make a viewer dizzy - you see what doesn’t exist, and what exists you cannot grasp. They are momentary impressions and visions that can appear without any reason and do not depend on your will. It is just like sitting in a nightclub where air is blue from cigarette smoke, and for a single instant people having a good time at a table across the dancefloor position themselves in a precise copy of “Holy Communion”, having cigarettes and cocktail glasses in their hands instead of bread and wine, and the apostles and Jesus are substituted by office workers dressed up for Saturday night. It is just like walking down the street and seeing somebody you know so well and in the next moment you realize that the person you just saw in a stranger passing by is dead. Similarly the blurred border real/unreal feels in Ritums’ paintings. Like Ieva Kalnina wrote, “In losing the specific we gain the general. It is like a path that leads the viewer from one world to another. Like a gentle probing into the person, then withdrawing, trying to find one’s necessary distance.”

The artist in search of the ultimate, untouchable and ideal beauty - that’s how one can imagine the progress of Ritums’ painting. Couple of years ago Ritums decorated with his painting one of the most popular café’s of Riga, it featured a dreamy, beautiful girl’s face. When this café recently added more space at the second floor Ritums was invited to decorate it as well. The photo-realistic layer of one painting features Elvis - like the symbol of the real and absolute beauty that is immortal, while girls come and go.

Text by Alise Tifentale

Review of Riga Gallery 2000 exhibition "A Girl"
Heroes 2001