Interview with Jette Abildgård, artistic director at Dronninglund Kunstcenter/Denmark.

J. A. I would like to restrict the discussion, as far as it is possible, to the works at the Dronninglund Kunstcenter show. I feel excited by the work but there are a few aspects about which I am uneasy.
LUDMILA There are a few things I feel uneasy about, too.

J. A. For instance, are the works painting or sculpture for You?
LUDMILA I think of them as three dimension paintings. I know they are reliefs in many ways. They are basically pictorial reliefs. I see them more as paintings-sculpture because they are really meant to be seen as such, and then they work best. They have relief elements. They work as paintings except that they are made up of discrete parts rather than a flat surface. Some are probably more like collage than reliefs. It seems like the way I want to work. Also by using wood panel you´ve got endless opportunities of scraping of, form the painting in different shapes or create openings….. But I think also that wood has such character of its own. In a piece of wood with grain, particularly a piece of plywood you get this beautiful wave patterns and things like that which I don´t use specifically, but there is already something to work with – either with or against. It has an identity already.
My paint application is also enormously more lavish and varied. Brush loads, direct squeezing from the tube, stuccoing, dollops, palette-knife spreads and pastry cream curls of color interweave and overlap until a ground of paint is built up, some parts more than a few cm thick, with, inevitably, many stalagmites and wisps of paint projecting beyond the edge of the wood panel. Extending as they do in the third dimension, many of the works might qualify as relief sculpture in the medium of paint.

J. A. You have spent a great part of Your creative life in Sweden. Have you found really that that has liberated or constricted your work?
LUDMILA This is a question I never ask myself. I believe that the arts, like science, like any other ideological development, have their own law of growth. It is human capacity. They are influenced to a certain extent from outside, by other social situations. But in themselves they have their own way of development. My art can be traced very clearly to both Russia and the West. Because Russian art was always influenced from outside. Byzantium gave them the art of the icon, Byzantium gave them the religion. Then Byzantium and the icon worked itself out. So there came a new generation by the end of the last century and a man by the name Vrubel who brings into his Byzantime spirit a modern trend, quite new. So here comes the history of art, where the East and West have come to the same conclusion.

J. A. Do you feel that the full potential of your art has been realized in western society?
LUDMILA Not yet; I´m hoping. Even now I am full of all kinds of ideas. These ideas are there, they congregate and in the end they begin to give one piece or two or three…

J. A. You´re living with your family in a small village Tidan, in the west part of Sweden. Are you still getting impetus from living on the country side?
LUDMILA Yes I do. To stay at home and work at my studio is my comfort zone – I can create art and it helps me to find a simple and truth life. The visual culture is a small part of the culture to begin with, and the basic culture’s a real small part of the society at large.

J. A. I realize that, but if that´s how you feel.
LUDMILA That´s reality. I feel I know basically what I would like and then I try to do that as well as I can.

J. A. Are you concerned about your audience?
LUDMILA Not any more. The public drifts away. The public doesn´t do me any good when I have to go to work, they´re not very helpful. When I need them, where are they? I also don´t have a conscious concept of an audience.

J. A. Who do you paint for, then?
LUDMILA I make art because I can´t live without it. Art doesn´t have a clear goal or aim. The painting for me is the principal, connecting link between concrete world and the illusory one. The painting reflects not only the splashes of emotions like despair, suffering, delight, beauty, recklessness but it does the movement of time, a view of it is being modified through mentality and imagine of the artist. The play of blots, colour, brilliance, lines, chaos of movements doesn´t restrict the sphere of activity of artist and it converts space into united independent whole which links a person and time.
I put so much of myself into my work, it feels natural, relevant. I have the notion that if I want something, I have to work very hard to get it – during those periods I´m a workaholic. When I´m not working with paintings I´m preparing next work, it´s a working process – always working. I work on five or more paintings at once. Each piece suggests another piece or how to finish a previous piece. There is a constant dialogue between the paintings as the body of work moves towards resolution. During the process of painting, I keep myself open and receptive to what the work suggests. Each piece starts with a question. I try never to force or come up with an answer but wait until the solution comes to me. I follow where my energy pulls me. The work moves at its own pace and some paintings may rest for six months or so while other paintings come into being and from which the answer to an unresolved question may suddenly take form. I like the process of painting to a form of prayer/meditation because it is a constant process of surrendering the ego, all one’s preconceptions, likes, dislikes, judgments, goals, so that one is in a state of complete receptivity and openness. One develops faith in the process.
I begin a painting from a quiet place. It´s easy to start but it´s hard to go on and it´s difficult to finish.
The painting process develops a spatial relationship that I am intrigued to see on wood panel. I like to have a number of works in progress so that a dialog exists between them. Elements are added and subtracted as suggested through the process of painting. Sensuous surfaces, subtle, unexpected uses of color, and a variety of techniques evolve. Often three-dimensional elements are added to create a tension with illusory painted spaces. Breaking the rectangle format helps to give each piece a unique and particular presence. The paintings are to function as a retreat from the speed and brashness of contemporary life.
I find that painting is a matter of listening and keeping the mind receptive and fully in the present moment. Each piece has a voice of its own suggesting things I hadn’t anticipated. It is the unexpected and incongruous elements that excite and fascinate me in the work. A painting is successful for me when it attains harmony simultaneously with that element of surprise. The finished piece makes clear to me the intrigue I had at the beginning.
One could say the title summarizes the piece, and the irregular shapes or “frames” give the viewer a foothold in the painting. I also use as many techniques, additives, and ways of applying acrylic/oil paint as possible so as to create a surface that entices the viewer and accentuates the process of looking.

J. A. When you cover the images with colour or random objects – is that kind of attempt to destroy the illusion of realism?
LUDMILA The elements are never random, they´re a device – they all have a metaphorical reading and are used to make the illusion more apparent.
Light – which comes from insight with its shadow of movements
Color – the colors bleed into each other and suddenly You feel they are taking over and starting breathing
Drawing – in a drawings of lines like a labyrinth you are captured to

J. A. Are there any autobiographical references in your work?
LUDMILA In one sense all art is autobiographical – obviously one´s experiences enable one to produce; I have many memories from my childhood in Karaganda which influenced me as artist. But if you´re asking me, are my works autobiographic, the answer is no – I´m certainly not interested in private mythology or presenting narrative instances from life.
The title of this show is “Made in Scandinavia”. I have been working during last few years, trying to answer the question: how is it to live in Scandinavia today and live in two worlds. The exhibition shows my own experience, thoughts and views through landscapes, portraits and “writings”. It makes the exhibition subjective and personal – which meant to be; it shows an insight in a live of unusual usual Scandinavians´ world. It’s one of many pictures of Sweden, Norway and Denmark from my point of view. In an age when we are bombarded with flawless images of youthful beauty it is no wonder that I as artist is seeking to portray the face/identity in new ways. Replacing clarity with blur, the split-second with the elastic moment, question the notion of a fixed identity, of your eyes as ‘the window to the soul’, of what constitutes beauty, of faith in absolute truth. My new exciting portraiture with just one or two eyes focus on what is revealed rather than what is concealed. Scandinavian landscapes, portraits are mixed with “writings”; a composition of a letter to a person on wood panel. There is an interplay where ”a talk is going on….” In a series of paintings called “Your face I am looking for…” I try to see, to discover, to explore, to understand, to believe – but also to be seen. Just to know, someone sees you, someone accepts you, someone loves you
Our culture relies so much on conceptual thought, text messages, and the soundbyte, it is important to remember to open ourselves to what we see before we name, describe, compare, define, categorize, and analyze. We need to develop a clear insight into that world that is prior to words. In this show, some of the paintings incorporate kind of letters, memories or the gestures of writing, all representing language as pattern and rhythm before meaning has been assigned. Although the text is in English, Swedish and Russian it has been reassembled to be suggestive of other languages from different times and places.
Using geometric form like square, rectangular, oval, trapeze, a limited palette, and qualities inherent to the properties of paint, the paintings become a form of concrete figuration. Harmonic orders are created from balanced fields of tension across the surface of the wood panel, which always include a relief. A purely abstract order may develop into an arrangement that identifies with the objective world.
Art become a frozen time….

J. A. You were saying things about the sources of your own imaginary and the nature of your own imagery with relationship to the unconscious. There are particular kinds of imaginary which you have returned to are there not? How do you understand them?
LUDMILA That is more difficult to answer. I think one would have to set up many parts to talk about. For example, one would set up the part of the sacred and the secular. I would say that my inspiration from traditional icons is to deal with the sacred. With me it is in a certain works, maybe my more important works..….. In another of my theme exhibitions “Icons in transformation” I try to answer the question: How am I inspired by almost 1000 years of tradition and what the icon stands for?  What fascinates me most in the art of icons is the deep sensitivity they radiate.  When I am looking at an icon I am irresistibly attracted.  Looking into the eyes of Maria’s icon feels like an encounter with the unknown and boundless deep.   Something awakens inside me – I can just be quiet, just lose myself in it’s depth, just listen……….. an unexpected insight can flow through me – an impulse, a god’s presence is there.  Quiet but present.
I am a member of an orthodox church where the icon has a central place in liturgy. Faith is an integral part of my being. For me it means a link with my culture, my heritage and a guide to a new direction in my creative process. My work starts with a process by painting layer upon layer on a wooden panel.  This is a technique which is similar to a thousand years of traditional icon painting.  In my art I also use the icon symbolism of colours  – especially:
Blue, as the colour of the sky – the mystery of divine life.
Red is firstly the symbol of life – the life that Christ gave humanity through the shedding of his blood. Sometimes red can also have the opposite meaning and symbolize evil.
Gold, the divine light – not regarded as a color but as a form of light.
Today we dare to approach holiness in a completely different way; religion is more open to personal interpretation.  Even though the motive, form and composition in my work departs from (or violates) tradition, it is the point from which I beginning to push the boundaries.  The icon has a spiritual power which comes from the icon itself, a kind of light.  To create and capture a light has always been the most difficult and greatest challenge to artists through the centuries.

If you take the secular side, then I would say that Bacon is wholly secular, and a lot of my works are secular.

J. A. Can you see anyone in Scandinavia, young artist whose work begins to show a way through, or even a hint or trace of one, whose work even interests you?
LUDMILA Not really. Although I´m not that well informed, I go and see exhibitions/art fairs. I believe that if somebody´s doing something, somehow you get to hear of it. But it´s too glib just to expect that a couple of people are going to start producing something. Probably, it´s even more difficult than I think; then you might not recognize it straightaway.

J. A. But don´t you think that the real problem is that, at present, the state believes it should support artists, but nobody knows what they should be doing, or is prepared to tell them what to do. This creates artists in which artists produce blank canvases.
LUDMILA I have said how I became less and less interested in being involved in contemporary art movement. But I´ll say this. People want meaning in life. That´s desperate need, and images can help. It enriches life. To me, that seems a perfectly good reason for making the pictures. Of course, I´d like also that my art works influence the viewers.

J. A. Do you ever paint things that you see around you?
LUDMILA I might make a little notation but I don´t make paintings as a sort of compulsion.

J. A. Might this be a limitation on your vision?
LUDMILA After a while you have the feeling of inclusiveness. I think as you get older you get a little more exclusive simple because you have less energy and less time. I mean, time runs out and you are forced to be a little bit more economical with your resources and your time. When you are young you feel as if you have a lot more time to try out a lot more things, but when you are forty years old you can´t indulge your fantasy.

J. A. We´ve talked about art being shut in on itself. One way of working towards a solution might be to choose subjects that relate to the lives of a greater number of people.
LUDMILA I agree, of course. That´s why I am always trying to paint the figure/human eyes. You can interest people who don´t know much about painting , the figure is the most important thing in people´s lives. They get more interested in paintings of the figure/eyes as your own identity. They are essential, highly evocative and accurate and inspired by an inner hearing which is absolutely not melancholy, nostalgic or based on past illusions. My imaginary world relies heavily on processes of developing memories, of evocative and emotional transcription in a chromatic context which gives emphasis to matter, suitable for giving an effective perception of a space beyond time, where one can find the conjunction between past and present, can refeel the deep identity on which it is possible to reinforce today´s experience. Plan a future and imagine a fate.

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