Jan Valik creates loose, colourful abstractions that evoke powerful feelings and tend to suggest something otherworldly. Valik plays with intuition, experiments with different gestures, shapes, compositions and forms to create spatial ambiguity and a unique visual language. Valik often contemplates scientific topics such as Quantum Theory and Anti-gravity while working, which resonates in the process, leaving a mysterious and suspenseful energy to the pieces.
Kelly Foster – Have you been thinking about new things since the last show that we did?
Jan Valik – The larger pieces have a spatial ambiguity which is one of the most important things visually, metaphorically and sensually. It’s important to be looking at something that shape-shifts in a way. The longer you look at the work, the more pieces of information conflict with each other. There is a feeling of something flowing, while at the same time another part might be very anchored. I play with spatial ideas in a metaphorical sense that goes beyond the first impression. I want to evoke a powerful feeling through shape, colour and other relations that can suggest something weird from another realm or otherworldly fantasy. These imaginative forces play a very important role.
KF – I was thinking a lot about the idea of the psychological landscape, abstraction and figuration. Does your work fluctuate in that space between abstraction and landscape painting?
JV – To be honest, I have an issue with defining something concrete. I am after flexibility and also enjoy surprises of the creative process. I want the work to clash in a meaningful way, which interests me. There is a lot about the visual journey and the discovery between many different coordinates. Landscape is a very heavy subject in art history. I’m aware of it, but at the same time I’m never trying to depict some sort of landscape.
Like Throwing a Semi Sacred Stone, 2022, Oil on linen, 80 x 66 cm, © The Artist
KF – When you’re making this work, what is your thought process when starting a new piece?
JV – During the later phase of my process, once I have something going I start to sniff out some potential of how to open another space. I play with my intuition and I don’t just rely on my visual perception. I need to create some foggy pool of options, something ambiguous. I try things and slowly narrow down the options and get more specific, while keeping that ambiguity.
There are two polarities: specificity and ambiguity. I try to find a balance between the two. I start with an idea of an atmosphere in my mind, which is made up of loose, colourful abstract brush strokes. Slowly something emerges, and I start to listen to the piece. It’s never a logical decision and it’s a very intuitive process with a lot of experimentation. There is a continuation of the works, since I carry information from earlier work over into new pieces, but I want to be surprised at the direction it’s going in.
I’m also sceptical about only relying on my intuition, so I always need a push and pull. Occasionally I apply a strict contract on the process, since I don’t want the works to be completely abstract. Immersion and displacement are also important aspects of my work.
KF – It seems like you’ve built up your own visual language. One work builds upon the other which has led to a system or a visual identity that you can carry throughout the work.
JV – There is always something contradictory where something doesn’t fit or align with the other elements in the painting, but it doesn’t refer to a specific thing. This creates a gap in between the meanings and possibilities of the work. I like the feeling when you can sense that something is a bit off or different. It’s like the principle that is used in narrative fiction or detective stories, when there is a mystery and weirdness.
KF – Is your painting process controlled and are you making conscious decisions when you paint?
JV – I’m not trying to construct a puzzle or anything external to solve, nor am I trying to depict or create work based on my biography. I listen to specific podcasts about science, social, and anthropological issues. There is a lot happening with quantum theory. Some ideas I don’t scientifically understand, but I like the potential of those ideas and where they can lead to in relation to our perception. There are these ambiguous scientific ideas that are visually very interesting for me to play with. I started to think about the idea of anti-gravity, and how I could hint at or suggest that idea in my work. I’m not trying to illustrate it, but instead I play with shade, shadow and calligraphic lines that suggest a different space.
KF – Now that you mentioned quantum physics, gravity and space – I feel like I can see more of a scientific influence in your work.
JV – These “small” narratives are important, but I don’t want them to be stated as a direct or the only influence in my work. They are just examples of ideas that circulate and small shifts in my work.
KF – So is your interest in science, technology and space not important to mention?
JV – Don’t get me wrong, it’s important, but I’m aware that my knowledge is quite limited so I can’t decide how relevant it is to the outside world. It’s definitely something that I’m excited about, but it’s not everything. Another idea I’m interested in is the ambiguity of perception.
KF – You mentioned that painting is an archaic way of communicating these super high tech ideas. How do the inherent qualities of paintings play with our perceptions differently than other mediums or other technologies?
JV – There are some principles in painting that I love. You start with a blank canvas, with nothing. You have to jump into this void and are left to your own devices to build something over time. The bodily production of it and the sensations that come through mixing colour and working in layers is interesting when thinking about anti-gravity and parallel worlds. In my head it feels like I’m working in a different dimension. It reminds me of when you observe memory, it’s always a refreshed narrative. There is never stable information that is stored forever, we always reinvent memories.
KF – Even though painting could be considered an “old” medium, it still feels like it’s always relevant because it’s so diverse in the way it can be manipulated.
JV – I think it will be forever relevant because we can’t erase all of the archetypes that we have been defined by throughout evolution. I’m also interested in the sensation of being in the presence of an inanimate object like a painting. There is an open-ended quality to the experience of standing in front of something that doesn’t move. The movement is suggested between the viewer and the object.
KF – That reminds me of Quantum physics that you mentioned. We’re all just created out of atoms that only exist through our perception. It could be a similar concept to the energy that is activated through a viewer’s experience in front of a painting. That brings to mind some questions around exhibiting paintings online or even NFTs in the Metaverse. Is there a certain aura or energy field surrounding physical paintings that cannot be translated onto a screen?
JV – It’s more of a philosophical question, but I would say, yes. We’re aware that it’s not the same, but there is still some relevancy. As a curator, you’ve probably seen thousands of paintings giving you a rich visual archive. That imagery then has to be pulled out of your experienced memory.
KF – That relates to what you were saying about memory activation in your process. Since you can’t completely detach from your previous experiences, it ultimately informs the current work you’re making. It’s almost like you’re activating your subconscious memory of what you end up painting. I’ve become more familiar with your work and I’ve seen it in different contexts, whether online, in person, in print, on Instagram, in the studio and in the gallery. In a way, I feel like I intuitively understand it better after having more associations with the work in different contexts.
JV – We know that art and painting is an artificial thing. Even in the case of great artists, ultimately we know that it is staged. When we use different platforms to exhibit art, whether that’s online or in a gallery, we try to create the best conditions possible. Now, in the digital age, we have more platforms. It’s not the same, but it’s necessary. Touching on the idea of the stage and the artificiality of painting, I know that I need to give my paintings more of a conventional space to allow something weird to happen. I have to suggest classical spatial ideas, like playing with shadow.
One idea that resonated with me that I heard from a podcast about quantum theory was that they are researching semi-classical spaces. He (the scientist whose name I forgot) was explaining that we have conventional physics like gravity and three dimensions, what we can perceive. We also have the quantum level, which doesn’t make sense for the point of our experience. They have evidence for it now. So, we have two theories that both work, but we are missing the link to bridge the gap between the two. That’s what I want to do with my painting. I want to move between these strange areas; One coming from the history and old language of painting, but at the same time, shaking things up a bit and challenging our contemporary awareness.