Solo show / Contemplating Portraiture

Ritums Ivanovs. Portrait of Mētra Saberova, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 340 cm x 400 cm.

In November 2021 Latvian artist Ritums Ivanovs opened a large solo exhibition at the Art Station Dubulti in Jurmala, Latvia. The painter is behind two state-commissioned portraits of Latvian presidents. At the exhibition, ten monumental portraits portray female Latvian artists of different generations. On the second floor are ten self-portraits drawn in charcoal. "People tend to have an 'inner flame' and I am its observer," says Ritums Ivanovs. All the works are exhibited for the first time.

Similarity is one of the fundamental challenges of fine art. Historically, it has served to define excellence and drive the development of art; studies of nature have long served as the basis of art education. Likeness has been overshadowed by abstraction and concepts of modern and contemporary art. However, likeness still retains its influence, and the portrait is clear proof of that.

Portraiture has been in the centre of Ivanovs' oeuvre for more than twenty years. He is among those contemporary artists who focus on the human face, its plasticity and texture, as well as its psychological and symbolic implications. This has been visible since the artist's solo exhibitions "To Be and to See" (1999), "A Girl" (2000), "Heroes" (2001), "Erotic Movie" (2002), "Dreamers" (2008), "Stars. Lights On” (2010), and “White Light” (2018). Commissioned by the state, Ivanovs has painted portraits of Presidents Valdis Zatlers (2012) and Andris Bērziņš (2018). Along with Latvian painter Miervaldis Polis, Ivanovs is a widely popular and consistently contemporary Latvian portraitist.

Maija Tabaka, Inta Ruka, Aija Zariņa, Ieva Iltnere, Džemma Skulme, Vija Celmins, Mētra Saberova, Dace Lielā, Helēna Heinrihsone and Ieva Epnere − ten Latvian artists and their works have served as Ivanovs’ long-term contemplation partners. Although the painter is interested in portraits and painting per se (“Painting is quite sophisticated,” he often emphasizes the importance of professionalism), there is also a social and political context to the exhibition "Contemplating Portraiture". "Women have not been valued," Ivanovs justifies his position, yet an important additional remark is the artist's interest in the mythical layers of femininity and masculinity in culture, personality constructs, and expectations (Ivanovs refers to Jung). In the portraits of Ivanovs, the mythical and the hidden are always bound together with social and representative aspects.

“Contemplating Portraiture” also includes the symbolism of master and apprentice, which enhances the exhibition’s feminist dimension. Ivanovs emphasizes that he has learned the most from the practice of art and the works of specific masters but has not glorified anyone. The ten artists portrayed in the exhibition have been the masters in some stages of Ivanovs' creative biography or contemplations. Maija Tabaka, Ieva Iltnere, Dace Lielā and Helēna Heinrihsone in the 1990s, Vija Celmins between 2000 and 2010, Džemma Skulme with her “live color” visions, Inta Ruka and Ieva Epnere as portraitists in photography and video, and Mētra Saberova as an artist whose body, including her face, is both a material for art and a political message - a synthesis between the realities of life and art.

The portraits by Ivanovs aim towards harmony and optical illusion; they have been created based on photography. In “Contemplating Portraiture”, two different images (paused video stills) are put together to shape one portrait, leaving a visible connection line and some asymmetry in place. This is the first time Ivanovs has employed this double-image technique. Moreover, the spatial features of Art Station Dubulti determine the monumental dimensions of the paintings. It is the pictorial illusion that reveals something important about a person? Photorealism, pop art, and op-art are modern art phenomena that have influenced Ivanovs’ paintings, but classics are also essential (Rembrandt, for example). The doubling and asymmetry of the painted portraits resonate with the experiments of other contemporary painters. How can one tell anything particular about a person? Although the approaches are very different, the principle is to look for a new composition of portraiture. One can recall the portraits by Julian Schnabel on fragments of pottery and with a line instead of the eyes, or the comic-like stylizations by Alex Katz, the famous portraits by Chuck Close using the structure from photography as a conceptual painting unit, Michaël Borremans’ gothic moonlights, Glenn Brown’s multi-layered portraits (deemed 'schizophrenic' by the artist himself), or Marlene Dumas’ expressive watercolours. From the Latvian art scene – the eccentric four-eyed portraits by Juris Utāns, aging bohemians by Miķelis Fišers, the series of portraits from the ''new reality" by Jānis Mitrēvics, Kristians Brekte’s portraits of deceased John Does from police archives, and Ieva Jurjāne's painted portraits, conceptually manifested as “normal”.

The face as a shape revealed by light justifies the light and dark areas of Ivanovs’ paintings. This formalism by light is like a reliable boundary that the artist respects; his purpose is not to reach some psychological conclusion. However, Ivanovs does not exclude any subjective reading, which distinguishes him from the classic and much more placid photorealism. In the portraits based on photos, Ivanovs injects the light in a person's face with a certain symbolism. In “Contemplating Portraiture”, like in his other projects, the light symbolizes a secret. The secret of personality, of fascination, which the author first perceives intuitively, but then, during his long painting sessions, processes and formulates in a concrete facial expression. "Complexity and simplicity are not opposites. As clarity emerges, the number of means of expression increases rather than decreases. The portrait is the central question of my painting and, as such, the most difficult to answer. There is a "flame" in a person, and I am its observer. In this exhibition, I set the portrait in motion, by using two images,” says Ivanovs.

The role of light in highlighting humaneness is a substantial theme in Ivanovs’ work, both in this solo show and previous ones. Light seems to elevate the characters of "Contemplating Portraiture" across the profane space of the mythical expanses of art. "To achieve excellent clarity without being ambitious is the greatest mastery," says Ivanovs, affirming his connection to the mysterious aesthetic and mastery criteria of classical art, which is a mixture of intuition and rationality.

Balancing his role as an observer and the observed, Ivanovs draws his self-portraits (charcoal dust on paper), by turning himself into an optical illusion. Relationships form between the self-portraits and painted portraits. The self-portraits play a separate role in the drama of the exhibition. They emphasize the importance of the human gaze and demonstrate more clearly than the paintings that the portraiture created by Ivanovs is at the crossroads of at least six gazes. There is the first gaze (the person depicted) and two interpretations of it; there is the gaze of the creator of the photo (or video), and that of the artist, and finally the gaze of the viewers when looking at the work. In the exhibition, the gaze of the person being portrayed is represented as a double interpretation, but the gaze of both interpreters (the person with the camera and the painter) is manifested as an image of the person being portrayed. So, the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth gaze all are embodied in one picture, in one representation, summed up by the artist. The viewer's gaze is the notional goal for which the artist has chosen, summed up, and interpreted all of the above. Without any special conceptual framing, “Contemplating Portraiture” implements the principles of postmodern reflection – images, and images of the images.

For this exhibition, Ivanovs chose to paint with acrylic on canvas, using a foam roller. Following the likeness and optical illusion, the artist has created a unique author technique that encompasses a knowledge of drawing, complementary colours (coloured, warm primers), and methods of applying paint (e.g. in the light, the colour is painty and the shadows are transparent). It includes making countless observations during the painting process, which the artist is able to connect in meaningful and subjective ways. Professional experience in painting when creating an individual language and understanding painting historically, is intuitive as well as cognitive in equal proportions.

In Ivanovs’ art, the visual language and the storyline are not separated, yet tension can be felt between them, thus proving the strong positions of formalism in the method of the artist. It is important to note the socio-political background of Ivanovs’ artistic biography. He belongs to a generation that did not have to be anti-socialist when first starting to practice their independent art. In the first half of the 1990s, when painters Ritums Ivanovs, Sigita Daugule, Vineta Kaulača, Māris Upzars, Madara Gulbis, Ieva Jurjāne, Ieva Baklāne, Katrīna Avotiņa, Barbara Gaile, later conceptualists Gints Gabrāns, Miķelis Fišers, Arturs Virtmanis and others of this generation finished their studies at the Art Academy, the ambitions of political independence in Latvia became institutionalized and global criticism of the existing political system was not relevant. Typical tasks of early post-socialism come to the forefront, which can be summed up in one word − the West. Moreover, the postmodern situation removes chronological prejudices, and the topical events manifest themselves in a wide, free spectrum. In the context of such circumstances, the optically illusory and harmonious portraiture of Ivanovs emerges with a silent presence of sexuality, which is one of the brightest phenomena of new painting driven by the Riga Gallery during its existence (1992 - 2013), creating a purposeful platform for local authors.

Ivanovs was born in 1968 in Cēsis. He graduated from the Janis Rozentāls School of Art (1980 – 1987), the Art Academy of Latvia (1987 – 1994, Indulis Zariņš Monumental Painting Workshop, M.A. 1996) and Humboldt University in the USA (1994 – 1995).

Art Station Dubulti is the only professional exhibition hall in Europe located in a functioning railway station and demonstrates the cross-functionality of public space. Art Station Dubulti produces solo exhibitions and conceptual projects from the best Latvian artists, accentuating the exhibition as a dialogue between a work of art and the spectator. The founder and head of Art Station Dubulti is art critic Inga Šteimane .

Art Station “Dubulti” is the only professional exhibition hall in Europe, located in a functioning railway station in Jurmala, Latvia. The project implements the cross-functionality of the public space. Art station “Dubulti” creates solo exhibitions and conceptual projects of the best Latvian artists, accentuating the exhibition as a dialogue between a work of art and the spectator. The program is implemented with the support of the Jurmala City Council. The founder and head of the Art Station “Dubulti” is art critic Inga Šteimane.

Public events:

17.11. from 2 p.m to 8 p.m. - the first day of the exhibition, possibility to meet the artist Ritums Ivanovs in the exhibition hall;
21.11. at 2 p.m. - an opportunity to walk through the exhibition together with the artist Ritums Ivanovs and the curator Inga Šteimane;
12.12. at 2 p.m. - an opportunity to walk through the exhibition together with the artist Ritums Ivanovs and the curator Inga Šteimane
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Ritums Ivanovs' solo exhibition "Contemplating a Portraiture" is open from November 17th 2021 to February 28, 2022 every day from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Free admission. Contacts: dubulti.art.station@gmail.com.

The exhibition is supported by Jurmala City Council, State Culture Capital Foundation, Groglass.

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