Iulia Nistor, Evidence E1 W4 A3, 2015, oil on wood, 15 3/4 × 19 5/8".

Iulia Nistor, Evidence E1 W4 A3, 2015, oil on wood, 15 3/4 × 19 5/8".

Iulia Nistor

plan b kunstraum

Iulia Nistor, Evidence E1 W4 A3, 2015, oil on wood, 15 3/4 × 19 5/8".

The work of Iulia Nistor focuses on the unseen and the hidden rather than the obvious or the representational. It suggests that omissions in visual availability can evoke a sense of the real. Considering the proliferation of digital imagery in recent years and the daily flood of representations, the medium of painting enables a different take on what matters. The main body of Nistor’s exhibition “canary in a coal mine” was formed by eleven small panels, each titled Evidence and no bigger than about twenty by sixteen inches, creating a modest and intimate space. The most expressive actor in the paintings was probably color, which was festive, bold, and explicit. But in terms of content, of motifs, the works were introverted, alluding to the unseen and undefined.

What we saw were layers, sometimes dense, sometimes very thin and translucent. Parts of the paintings had been scraped or sanded back, sometimes so much that the physical structure of the wooden support was part of the composition. Occasionally there was a fragment of representation, a form like a mouth, maybe a wall, part of an animal, a tribal sign, a celestial body. But it never developed into a narrative or a fully defined scene. Rather, these vague indications of form floated or rested calmly in a space. This turned the paintings’ atmospheres, whether of restraint, tension, or fluidity, into their primary content. The works’ materiality—the many things to discover on and in the surface—merged with their mental content. These aspects supported and reinforced each other, became the inseparable body and soul, so to speak, of the paintings—at least in the best instances. It didn’t work every time; in fact, some paintings looked more like attempts or efforts at such union than embodiments of it.

Here, painting did not depict external reality, or it did so only faintly; rather, representation seemed to take place almost inadvertently, as a by-product of the absorption of layers of time, experience, and thought. The paintings were collections and subtractions on wood, you could say, making memory part of their essence. For the artist, what is taken away in the process of making might be more important, but for the viewer the focus is on what is left and the differences in touch and sensibility that differentiate the works, or areas within a work.

In a separate room hung three big paintings, connected through their green-grayish palette and pensive mood, variations on a natural theme. Some wavelike forms suggested water, the colors pointing to landscape, some drawn shapes evoking human presence. These paintings were sewn together out of multiple pieces of fabric. Again, there was the absorption of paint, but the works were much looser in production method, with less time invested, compared with the smaller panels. These three paintings might have been bigger, but they were less specific, possessed less presence, and tended to the decorative. The small panels felt more autonomous. Although one could find in them echoes of early modernism, and especially of the theosophically inspired painting that was so widespread then—symbolic abstractions that invite us to float through higher spheres—Nistor doesn’t really seem to be looking for higher spheres. Rather, she is looking for earth, for soil, for a grounding of experience through painting. Hers is an act of reconnecting, of touching base, rather than of representing.

––Jurriaan Benschop