Graffiti, Rap, and Skateboarding Give Abstraction an Update
Elena Mildner was born under the Northern Lights in Provideniya, a town on the Bering Sea. Her father was a doctor who followed nomads’ trails in an abandoned army tank while the young artist gathered an understanding of traces and impressions, sound and silence, action and color. Now based in Vienna, the painter, sculptor, photographer, and designer translates the aesthetic she learned in that isolated landscape to an urban context. “Live Drive,” a new series of paintings on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, use skateboarding, of all things, as a painting tool.
Mildner’s newest works are exuberant updates to Abstract Expressionism, combining performance and painting. Influenced by the cultures of graffiti, rap, and skateboarding, she has appropriated the aesthetic and action of the street. Along with assistants Daniel Maurer and Mischa Bartos, the studio becomes an imitation of a public urban space. Skateboards are run through paint to rhythmic music that combines rap with the structures of jazz vocalizations. (Mildner has a degree in the latter.) The resultant works have the feeling of powerfully physical, life-sized calligraphy.
Once stretched and hung on the wall, these messy paintings each take on a unique and distinct character. In certain highly colorful works, such as Labyrinth (2013) and Wurmloch (2013), tricks and twists make rhythmic sweeps in dense paint, giving the impression of a euphoric, centralized dance. In others, the slipping weight and directed track of the skateboard’s rider is more apparent, such as the monochromatic Wiener Kaiser Melange (2014). Others still seem to take a more controlled composition into consideration, spreading out strokes across the canvas, as in Yellow Calligrafie (2014) or Classic Marina (2014).
Mildner’s works recall her performative predecessors, both contemporary, such as Aaron Young’s motorcycle paintings, and more historical, such as Yves Klein’s “Anthropometries” and the Viennese ‘Aktion’ painters of the 1960s. The paintings in “Live Drive” each contain the traces of a specific moment in time, functioning as a record of an unseen performance and retaining its very spirit and liveliness.
“Elena Mildner | LIVE DRIVE” is on view at Odon Wagner Contemporary, Toronto, May 21–Jun. 13, 2015.