Jan Kolata: From the Ground Up. Weightless in Pictorial Space
By Bernd Finkeldey
In a remarkable essay written by the painter and photographer David Hockney, he sets out to prove that, starting with Brunelleschi, many important painters have made use of optical aids such as mirrors and lenses with the aim of capturing a glimpse of reflected or projected reality. And thanks to the central perspective found in images of the world since 1435, he further posits, we Europeans have grown accustomed to using both eyes to view images that were created in a wholly one-eyed manner.
According to Hockney, the great “shock of modern art” lay in dispensing with optical aids in favour of viewing the world through both eyes so as to establish a human perspective that was connected to the body and its movements. Furthermore, studies conducted on the topic of visual perception during the 20th century revealed that we only ever see a small excerpt of what is before us at any one moment in time. It is the movement of our eyes that then delivers an overall larger image, which is in turn compared with other images already stored in the mind. As these studies have shown, human sight relies both on optical information delivered in each given moment and on images already stored in our memory.
Nowadays, he goes on, due to TV, films and photography, this one-eyed – and limited – view of the world has again become firmly established, but still continues to insufficiently challenge the binocular viewer. One might therefore think that three-dimensional film would be the saving grace for our eyes. But 3D films do not challenge the way we see either; they instead require the viewer to wear a pair of glasses, a reading aid. So instead of meeting us halfway and challenging the way we see, adaptation is called for. Even the world itself, going by these images, is flat: façades, advertising hoardings, asphalt ribbons, lawns – but that’s a different story altogether. A truly exciting, new perspective of the world, as Hockney suggests – initially half-heartedly and then with real conviction – could be enabled by the innovation of digital film as a genre within the field of painting or perhaps by painting and sketching in the post-photographic age.
While Jan Kolata’s works do not offer a view of the world, they do let us experience and encounter sight and visual perception in a manner different to the way we are accustomed through the media of TV, film and photography. His paintings need to be seen with both eyes, they demand a wandering gaze, seeing in the moment and they need our memories to join up the individual excerpts to make them a whole. And more than that, they pose a challenge for the contemporary viewer, whose visual perception will not only have been influenced by paintings throughout the history of art, but also – and for quite some time now – by collages, montages or yet by image levels repeatedly Photoshopped over one another.
But let us begin with the basis that underlies his paintings. While the English language has two distinct terms to describe the notions of “colour” and “paint”, the German language seems to make do with but one: the word “Farbe”. As a result, the English language already offers a definitional differentiation between pigmented matter or material and colour or colour expression. It is therefore precisely with this dialectic of colour versus paint that painters have to come to terms, just as with the various substrates.
One of Jan Kolata’s groups of works is on canvas, which takes up colour, quasi soaks it up, becomes dyed with it. The artist himself claims his credo to be: “painting is like cleaning”. And he sticks to it, mixing the paint needed for his works himself. Initially oil with casein, then acrylic paint with casein and nowadays only acrylic paint that he dilutes and pours onto the substrate. In so doing, it is in his power to form pools of paint, create rivulets, make outlets, let fresh paint repeatedly rain over the substrate and the first layer of paint, to form parallel or even complementary runs. Pools and rivulets are then smeared, smudged or dabbed with a cloth to create surfaces within the painting and to combine the individual layers of paint.
What we finally get to see are organic-looking planes of colour that hover weightlessly in their given pictorial space. One might feel reminded of a deep-sea underwater world, but who has actually seen one to make the comparison? Let us therefore stick to a certain degree of realism and view his paintings for and as themselves. His works draw the eye to patches of homogeneous colour, to transparent layers of varnish that show other layers lying beneath, ultimately letting the viewer see into the depths of the painting without ever reaching the bottom. Imagery thus appears before our eyes that is not only fascinating, but also poses a challenge for both eyes as well as the entire active grey matter of the viewer.
This is also true of the new group of paintings that Jan Kolata has been creating on primed canvas or on polyester. The paint the artist pours onto the substrate and then removes using the sort of squeegee used for cleaning buildings initially leaves only a few traces and smears of colour on such a surface. It takes several repetitions before a certain degree of colour consolidation can be achieved.
Jan Kolata pours pools of colour, pulls them apart, lets them expand and grow. He wipes paint off to reduce the size of these pools, he over-paints them with broad brush strokes, only to partially remove them again with a sweep of the squeegee, ultimately creating planes of colour while uncovering other, transparent layers. He works in an intuitive manner, sometimes even unintentionally. But this technique lets him create paintings of complex colours, of complementary contrasts, of colours that blend and mix materially and visually, of surfaces and pictorial spaces, of designated and exposed layers of colour, all of which contribute to the overall appearance of his paintings and together let them shine. Jan Kolata creates paintings for binocular viewing and multidimensional visual perception. These are then, as Hockney might well agree, truly exciting perspectives and challenges for the human visual experience.