Oksana Mas

Die Gestalt
19.10.2012 – 30.10.2012, Triumph Gallery

Should we interpret the name of the new exhibition by the Odessian artist Oksana Mas at the Triumph Gallery, literally, as a translation of the German word, indicating form, look or shape; or should we plunge into the depths of Gestalt psychology, where the term denotes wholeness, something that can’t be reduced to lesser parts (which is to say that the whole here is always clearly delineated and far more important than the elements from which it is created)? In any event, what we are dealing with here is a revealed, indisputable, enclosed, albeit subjective, picture of the world.

In order to make this clearer, we can recall Oskana Mas’s most striking project, presented as part of the 54th Venice Biennale, the Altar of Nations, which on the one hand was a reproduction of a Northern Renaissance work of genius, created by the brothers Hubert and Jan van Eyck in 1432; on the other, it represents a giant “canvas” comprised of an infinite number of decorated eggs, painted by thousands of people from around the world. On each egg there is a human sin. As well as the traditional sins, such as pride, gluttony and adultery, there are modern sins such as a pernicious passion for foreign-made cars, the covering of the body in devilish tattoos or the addiction to Facebook. Leaving out of this text an analysis of the project’s conceptual components, it is important here that from afar all these biblical and non-biblical themes are a unified, multicoloured, indivisible “canvas,” the artist’s holistic picture of the world.

There is a physical aspect in all of this. Mas is first and foremost a painter, although she has a very broad scope and range of technologies and graphic techniques. As with any master in this genre, the picture is a logical continuation of the brush, the brush is directly linked to the fingers, the fingers with the forearm, and so on, until the entire complex of paint-muscle forces reaches the key element – the head, which again, according to gestalt, is a guarantee of the enclosed nature of the procedure.

At the exhibition at the Triumph Gallery, several colored series are presented: the Drive series features paintings constructed with the above-mentioned egg principle, not without the application of Gestalt psychology, the basic principles of which are: (1) a precise delineation of the contours, in this case the frame; (2) the similarity of the elements – the picture is filled with pedantic, even, broad daubs that are very much alike one another, only differing in color; (3) proximity – this is where the elements placed next to one another have a propensity to be perceived together. It is particularly pleasing that Mas does not overload her works with additional meanings. Acting on the level of psychology, we see and receive precisely what the artist wants to depict: “Drive” is the night view through a windscreen of a driver hurtling at speed, and there is no more to it than this.

“Biomorphic Realism” is a series with people and city landscapes where, as it is clear from the title, the representation consists of abstractions that, in turn, combine to create images that are comprehensible for the eye and for the brain. The barely perceptible, light pencil outlines or the barely noticeable profiles bring individual people and objects out into the foreground, stressing their thematic and figurative importance in this seemingly abstract jumble. The concept of “importance” is also a fundamental term for Gestalt. The figure is always more important than the basis, with rare exceptions, where we are dealing with ornamentation, as is the case with “Drive”.

The next series, “Expression”, divided by color into red, blue, yellow and white, has external links with both the preceding series. It appears to have been created with reference to Georges Seurat or to Anton Webern, or at least under the influence of the pulsating magic of the Pointillists, and not without a European expressionism that reveals itself in an entirely neural coloring and in a sharp circular turning, as it were, of the palette knife or spatula. Here, as in “Biomorphic Realism”, it is the figures that are important, the contours of which are drawn in a fine, precise colored line that sharply contrasts against the background. And, as in the “Drive” series, we can clearly see the ornamentalism that is conveyed in the precise, pointed movements of the brush.

Thus, the Gestalt exhibition focuses the viewer’s attention, first and foremost, on the processes of painting “here and now” without geography, ethnology, evaluation, judgment or an obvious narrative. It focuses the attention on the way that a thought or a life philosophy can be enveloped in color and shape. And also on the fact that painting a picture is, on the one hand, a precise, almost mathematical calculation, whilst on the other it is an organic function of the artist, a way of receiving a personal, almost physiological satisfaction.

The Gestalt therapy has been correctly carried out, and Mas’s pictures are undoubtedly exercises in this field. They do not engender any resistance. Viewers easily and simply submit to this existential influence, allowing the philosophical and physical thrust to pass through them and, like the artist herself, momentarily adapting to the surrounding environment, beginning to see and sense within themselves the borders and contours of their own worlds in their wholeness and in their enclosed natures.

Alexandra Rudyk