Beti Bricelj is a young painter with her own distinct and clear style. In the present selection of works, placed in the set of exhibitions entitled Novi ateljeji (New Studios), where we present emerging and ground-breaking artistic exploration, Beti Bricelj is distinguished by her uncluttered concept and superlative painting skills, which derive from her committed and intensive work in the field of artistic possibility.
She has convincingly formulated her own style based on an original merging of technical perfection and a sense of exploring the laws of colour and their dynamic values, which stems from both a masterful precision and a feeling for spatial organisation and composition. This has enabled her to develop, with extraordinary diversity, approaches and possibilities that take the painting from its basic rational, mathematical geometric organisation to surprising, attractive and fascinating fractally organised compositions, which owing to merely apparent harmonisation have a very enlivening effect, since they extend out in ever new planes and their emerging patterns.
Until now the painter has already discovered and tested out the way in which basic straight lines and planes can create varyingly revolving movement, which spreads according to its own algorithm from a specific central point out of the painted canvas into infinite patterns. It is precisely in the way the structure of the composition and its dynamic effect develop, that we may observe the development in her work.
In her cycles to date she has presented extraordinary energetically effective structures, which despite their centrifugal force do not lose any clarity on the physical edges of the canvas, while at the same time they succeed in capturing very well and focusing the viewer’s gaze, which can wander with enjoyment and interest through the visibly accessible yet quite complex field of planes and colours. The effective properties of colour and the mysteriously well-arranged shapes lend the painting field a special attractiveness, which also directs the gaze inside, to the selected or imagined beginning, the source or illusionist interior or what is called the primary depth of the planar picture surface, where we may observe the basis of the pattern and the convergence of colour-vibrating planes.
The painter’s carefully selected fundamental artistic elements, the considered composition and carefully judged colour combinations for each painting keep indicating in a special way her artistic variation, which in the cycles can be seen as a wealth in an endless diversity of possible invention. The construction of continually new and fresh visual possibilities, which differ in their “key” and rhythm of composition, enable her to develop and shape her own path through exploration of modular principles of altering the selected basis.
We can sense the genuine vitality of the compositions, which is reflected in the dynamic sense of order, a primary principle of fine art and a major distinction of internal insight into the relationships of fine art. Beti Bricelj’s paintings now make up a sizeable opus, and we may address it in terms of various emphases aimed at exploring the inspiring and infinite possibilities of altering the well-ordered artistic basis. In this light we may sense how the carefully considered gradation of colour and the contrast create various feelings of undulation, rising and falling, spatial illusions as well as spiral twisting, or various movements on the surface and in the depths. She achieves all of this by merging thoughts and feelings regarding the operation of various rhythmic properties, which she transfers with exceptional imagination and persistence to the primary web of the plane, something we may perceive only if we take into account what kind of insight into the artistic structure the painter has created through her dedicated work and through numerous preparatory sketches and drawings prior to the emergence of the individual work of art.
Her decision to investigate and build the painting field with the simplest basic artistic means, links her work to the challenges of abstract thinking and geometric laws. Far from being rigid or static, her painting fields of straight lines are like an ideal symbol for the conceived, untwisted physical field of space and time, weightless, which especially in the cycle presented now emphasises various levels and apparent shifting paths. We could say that the cycle Space in Forma returns us to an understanding, that an awareness of space forms and creates the space, that is, it places this in our view, makes it visible, just as we are served by the abstract and concrete realisation that it is only the matter or density of the mass that alters topologically, shapes and twists the spatial or geometric measurability.
Controlled forms of specific compositions emerge through a carefully selected modular rhythm of the pattern on the basis of an awareness of universal beauty in conceptualising a fascinating relationship known as the golden section. We probably cannot entirely grasp the ideal importance and presence or measurability of this relationship, which is often also evident in nature, both in the organic and inorganic worlds. In this connection it is therefore especially interesting to note the painter’s idea that in her paintings there is as much nature as there is mathematics in nature, which is nicely confirmed by the admirers of her paintings, when they say that such abstract painting of numerous straight lines and planes reminds them of a flower, a luxurious and fragrant bloom that has just opened.
The impression of infinity, of circling and also of being folded, of being twisted, can thus be gained when we realise that it just seems that way, just as details reveal only part of the bigger and more extensive structure. We know that ancient wisdom, especially the Pythagorean school, saw in geometric order the cosmic foundation of beauty and strength, intelligible through clarity, order and harmony in the world. To many people today, the establishing of such categories in art seems more a Sisyphean than usefull task, so it is right for us to ask ourselves how the painter’s actions can be placed in the wider artistic context of the present time.
Beti Bricelj’s decision to create images in what is today the slightly rarefied historical and traditional form of easel painting on canvas, of pure lines and margins, in the practically utilitarian and simple format of a square or rectangle, through exceptionally attentive, precise and masterful use or application of acrylic paint, is linked to the principles of modernism that were established in the art of the 20th century. Yet this needs to be more precisely explained, since today modernism, as an important developmental level of artistic change, often gets lost in postmodern history or in the overly superficial treatment and impotent acquiescence with an anything goes kind of means of expression involving a generally uncritical mentality.
The reception and criticism of art offer several reasons for the average lack of interest in and avoidance of any deeper understanding of modernism, and these undoubtedly include the enduring and overly narrow and one-sided hegemonic and elitist dominance of Greenberg’s interpretation of high art, which sought to resist the flood of kitsch, of cheap and shallow mass art, with which we are all willy-nilly inundated. Another interesting, almost contradictory historical fact, is that the first Op Art exhibition was enthusiastically received by the public, while the critics rejected it owing to the obvious use of trompe l'oeil, since this was supposedly the main feature of illusionist (historical) painting; modernist painting at that time sought chiefly to be self-referential. That artistic creation and formation of the illusion of movement and the treatment of the mutual effects of colour relationships, in other words a method affecting the interaction between illusion and the painted surface, between understanding and seeing, continued through Op Art the outstanding academic exploration of the constructivist modernist approaches of the Bauhaus school. Irrespective of the generally catastrophic history of the 20th century, we may at least recall that for instance Gropius emphasised the relationship between form and function within an analytical and rational framework, and the focusing of composition, which enables wholeness and integrity, while Albers in the USA (Yale School) continued the very important studies on the character and role of colour and the effects of colour relationships, both of which contributed greatly to the development of Op Art, minimalism and other neo-avant-garde trends in the 1960s.
Although these are well-known world stories, we must necessarily be aware of these tendencies in dealing with the Slovene milieu, where they played a significant part in more recent times, representing the major influence of modernist regeneration aspirations in art and a desire for creative freedom, when we saw the appearance of new forms of abstract art, which emphasised rational and constructive principles.
So can we say that the painting of Beti Bricelj relies on the tradition of modernism? Although the artistic works of Beti Bricelj may apparently be linked to the global masters of Op Art, we must consider above all her different visual expression and leanings. Her painting has a different objective: “I want the composition to be active, dynamic and balanced. Rationally I build or develop various levels of asymmetry and visual tension. Through the web structure and colour, I want forms to appear and disappear, and the viewer’s eye to be constantly activated towards movement and discovery, and not to be assaulted like in Op Art” as Beti Bricelj herself explains best.
At this point we may recall the words of Apollinaire, one of the first interpreters of modernism that each artistic work is a new world, with its own artistic laws.These ideas may also be linked to the initiators of the formalist aesthetic of the Bloomsbury Group, Fry and Bell, who established a new way of viewing, experiencing and thinking about fine art. This is essential for us to grasp both possible sides of formalist interpretation, which arose reciprocally, but broke down into two differing or rather opposing approaches, where one direction was dominated by an entirely positivist, materialist treatment of the artistic object, which excludes the context or circumstances of the artist’s life, and the other side emphasises the spiritual principle of artistic exploration, which through abstraction almost vanished, and as conceptualism abandoned the customary attachment to the material bearer.
It is interesting that right in the most formalistically oriented critical interpretation, we lose a sense of the symbolic dimension of art, which thereby loses a metaphysical dimension. Herbert Read was one of the rare people to resist such a truncated and deficient understanding of art, for he realised how powerfully all art is infused with a primal sensing and relationship towards the mysteries of life.
Yet in modernism, too, we find from the earliest days a recognised grasping of dialectics and the balancing of oppositions, indicated in the treatment and creation of harmony, expressed through the tension of the piece of art. For Mondrian this was a very important spiritual dimension in the conceptualisation of art, although this fact is less known to the public and his admirers, since for example Greenberg himself glibly disregards it. However, general historical experience teaches us that this feeling is always available to subjective experience and understanding, but the paradox lies precisely in the fact that we may say something with justification only about special experience and understanding. Thus we see at the fore precisely what interests us, and thus ideas gain form and life.
Modernism exercises the right to elementary and creative thinking. The artistic object emerges as an image of consciousness, in other words as a result of abstract and organised thoughts. Thus for many pioneers of abstract art, their work reflected a pondering spirit that was not tied to mimicking natural forms of the known and tangible world. So for Beti Bricelj, Mondrian was also an important challenge during her academic education. Avant-garde artists have always coordinated and developed thoughts and feelings according to their own distinctive principles of creation, which may served entirely functional needs and had a major influence on architecture and design (Bauhaus). Precisely in this regard, therefore, we may also link the work of Beti Bricelj to those models, since she has realised her artistic vision in architecture such as Pot sonca na fasadi / Path of the Sun on the Facade, on the Epicenter B2 building in Postojna.
Even if in her exemplary and well-ordered artistic work and creativity, which has long earned her acclaim in the international exhibition arena, we wished to disregard immeasurable or unknown dimensions, we may focus on the modernist tradition and experience out of practical necessity, since we are seeking and selecting a recognisable category into which we might rank her work, in order to recognise clearly the special quality of the work in harmony with similar orientations and explorations; this has been revealed to be something of a more universal than local character in her art; and this of course is the main feature of real artistic creative thought.
We could say that in her artistic career to date, Beti Bricelj has already established herself thoroughly, for she has grappled with major issues in art, far from any simplification or dissemblance. In her creative work the artist has combined a range of information with her own personal, very special experience of the Australian desert, acquired beyond the frenetic excess of civilisation, and marked by a depth of life and an unbroken tradition. For us there is an inherently fascinating and exotic appeal in learning about the artist’s journey to Australia, as well as in discovering her personal story, which is ultimately her own and an irreplaceably significant inner experience. As a special guest of Australian aborigines, after a long stay in Australia and studying aboriginal culture, she has represented it a number of times, for she has become thoroughly familiarised with it. I believe that it is this capacity to fuse different experiences and aspects of life through the symbolic and abstractly universal aspect of art, that has enabled her to find the means of expression at her disposal in creating her artistic world.
Indeed the key to every living culture and rational activity lies in us grasping the temporally infinite connection of a creative being, and what should art serve if not to people who can respect culture and nurture it, if they want it and recognise it, in this way can it be revealed to us through beneficial effects of the symbolically represented world.
The painter especially likes the idea of the famous gallerist Denise René: “I prefer rationalism, I like pure forms and ordered thoughts, while often enough romantic literarising on the poetics of coincidences conceals impotence and laziness. Anyone who knows how to combine sensitivity with discipline and knowledge, does not pretend.” (in an interview with Brane Kovič, Čiste oblike, urejene misli / Pure Forms, Ordered Thoughts, Mladina 2000).
Text by Carmen Tisnikar, art critic