Beti Bricelj paintings

The radical turnabout which the Russian avant-garde, with Kasimir Malevich at its head, accomplished in the art field in the first two decades of the last century had long-term consequences which still echo today. With the affirmation of Suprematism and Constructivism, the representation of reality on a scientific basis of perspective which, from the Renaissance onwards defined the depiction of the visible world and objects following the mimetic model, was put under question. The avant-garde artists proposed a concept of another, just as legitimate reality which does not reproduce the appearance of objects but generates concrete and, in a certain aspect, ‘ideal’ geometrical forms which are the invention of the mind, and a wilful construction of pure visual entities. In the development line which extends from Mondrian’s Neoplasticism and Bauhaus through Op-art to Kineticism and the ‘New Tendencies’ this concept was built up and modified several times, also in accordance with improvements in technological possibilities of articulating specific forms and contexts of enonciation. It experienced a relative ‘crisis’ with the phenomenon of Neo–Expressionist figurative tendencies and those related to them, of an evident eclectic nature at the end of the 1970s, but the passage into the new millennium with the predominance of information technologies rehabilitated its reputation to a great extent, and gave it a new research impetus.

The Slovenian cultural ambiance is not much in favour of rationalist approaches to artistic creativity. The Constructivist efforts of Avgust Černigoj and his circle were rejected by the established local critics, and it has experienced adequate recognition and validation only after almost fifty years of activity as an artist in Trieste. A more apparent move, in the sense of thematisation of geometric starting-points, was performed by the group of Neo-Constructivists between 1968 and 1972, but few individuals have persisted with their then elaborated poetics even through the following decades. It is interesting that world-wide constructive art has never lost its creative charge, even though it seems less evident than it once was, yet in recent years the demand of private and institutionalised collectors after artworks by the most eminent artists from this circle has increased in leaps and bounds. The Paris gallery of the legendary Denise René has significant merit in this which, with its consistent programme and exhibition policy, is a pillar and a prime source for its historical references as well as for the actual achievements in this tendency within contemporary context. This is particularly important, under the circumstances, when it seems that practically everything that (self)declares itself art is tolerated in art, although it has not even the slightest connection with any invention, knowledge and thinking, and above all with hard work and personal visions. Yet, as in life, the real protagonists of the art production are always in the background, the ‘mainstream’ favours the opportunists who renounced intellectual inquisitiveness, conform to the imperatives of the centres of power, and persistently repeat the steady formulae, and force us from boredom to apathy. Therefore it is delightful that rare individuals still reject this kind of conformism, and choose the path which is not at all easy but in every way provocative, clear and consistent. Beti Bricelj certainly belongs to them.

Beti Bricelj’s painting is based on a modular principle of multiplication of the chosen geometric form onto a certain picture surface which is not always even but it incorporates itself through the alternation of its determinants in the process of verifying the relationship between form and colour. The dynamic generated by this relationship is perceived by the viewer as an alternative to classical illusionism, based on the legitimacy of the perspective and upgraded through the modelling, where the thoughtful alternations of chromatic entities cause an optical impression of movement which is additionally accentuated by concave-convex dualism of perception. We find the conceptual origin of this kind of painting in Op-Art, particularly with its most eminent representative Victor Vasarely, yet this is not to overlook the chromokineticism Carlos Cruz-Diez and Yaacov Agam have developed; besides these, it is worth mentioning at least two artists who explored optical-kinetical phenomena, Bridget Riley and Jesus Rafael Soto. Therefore we can claim that Beti Bricelj has a solid basis for personal construction of this disposition which remains even today endlessly open not only to variation and permutation, but also to invention which generates individualised syntactic combinations from its paradigmatic basis. The historical continuity of visual enonciations of this type, that is geometrical tendencies of Suprematist, Constructivist and Kineticist proveniences all the way to programmed and computer art, is therefore not linear and fixed but is full of junctions and interwoven trajectories of various functions and intentions, within which personal statements articulate through a constant dialogue with theoretical bases and manifestations, often utopian projections, which are at the same time the main dividing line between avant-gardes and modernisms.As Giulio Carlo Argan establishes (in »Occasioni di critica«, Editori Riuniti, Rome, 1981) the essence of avant-gardes is not in producing art which would be occupied merely with itself, but they try to change reality through interventions. But since the limitation of utopian projects is that they are not by their very nature feasible, art works which are produced within this context continually return to a field of reflection, where freedom of imagination is never limited.

In Beti Bricelj’s painting this freedom is realized in the perpetuation of geometrical models, which can be summarized in two basic accomplishments: the first is marked by a primal black and white contrast which is ‘softened’ by grey tones, the second by chromatic juxtapositions within the range from basic warm-cold to more sophisticated intermediate shades, sometimes also surprisingly daring gradations within the chosen colour scale. From interactions between forms and colours, intriguing visual organisms are therefore created on the picture surface, which absorb the viewer’s gaze and by playing around with structural combinations they open a wide palette of visions of a certain newly created order which we would fruitlessly try to find in natural organic forms. With the simulation of spectral refraction the painter deconstructs classic orthogonal geometry which was, for instance, characteristic of Neo-plasticism and also of some artists of the next generation such as Max Bill, Richard Paul Lohse, Karl Gerstner, Ivan Picelj, early Vasarely, Almir Mavignier, to mention only the best known ones. The likeness is, of course, formal not chromatic, and its consequence is an intensified impression of movement at the level of optical perception, therefore an illusion achieved by non-allusive means or forms. The confrontation of positive and negative ‘volumes’ on a plane only graduates the kinetic impression. In short we are dealing with an individualised discourse resulting from a known art vocabulary and the basic legitimacies of its usage, yet in every new realisation it surprises with the presentation of possibilities which have not been seen until now. In short, this is the essence of the aesthetics of ‘opera aperta’ (after Umberto Eco) which leads in practice from common, known principles to the identification of personal poetics – such one as Beti Bricelj has developed and applies it convincingly in realisation of her artworks.

Brane Kovič