The American Dream

28. 6. 2019 – 15. 9. 2019

The American Dream

Blaž Vehovar graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Venice (Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia) under the supervision of Professor Carlo Di Racco in 2008. He took part in the 51st Venice Biennale at the A + A Gallery already during his studies, with many solo and group shows in Slovenia and abroad following after his studies. He says that his talent for painting also adds greatly to his love of cynology. He is a member of the breeding committee, a judge and the president of the Karst Shepherd Club of Slovenia. The Karst Shepherd is actually the only internationally recognised indigenous Slovenian breed that was already written about by Valvasor. In the same way, Vehovar published a comprehensive art monograph entitled Karst Shepherds, Sons of the Wind with the renowned Karst poet Ciril Zlobec contributing a manuscript of the poem Self-portrait as well as the accompanying text to the book. Among other things, Vehovar is also the founder of the Visionart art school, where he also helps to fulfil the artistic visions of other future artists of all generations through his drawing and painting courses.

Vehovar’s interpretation of the American dream is, on the one hand, typically artistic, and on the other, bitterly visionary. Long gone are the days when the answer of contemporary society to the opportunistic liberalism of neo-capitalism, spiced up with insensitivity and hypocrisy, was hidden in man – in the individual, even though he is actually the only one that enables it, but in the clever economic spin that manoeuvres with promises of opportunities in the countries seen as the land of milk and honey among the rocks of wars, uncontrolled exploitation and vile profiteering in order to preserve the masses in anticipation of a better future, to which they have a right and which belongs to them “by nature”. Any state apparatus really provides only propaganda and the tools of exploitation, whereas the suspense of a better future is being laid “with good intentions” and brought to its “bourgeois” mill, given that this is the only way that it can keep its hope of maintaining the status quid pro quo also for itself.

The myth of “American Dreams” today remains still historically linked to the realisation of the desire for a better future: America, the Land of Opportunity. In terms of etymology, the term American Dream goes back to James Truslow Adams, who wrote the following words in his book The Epic of America in 1931, “the American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” (Adams, James Truslow (1931): The Epic of America. Boston, p. 373.)

We often forget something that Žižek reminded us of brilliantly in the April confrontation with Jordan Peterson, that the existence of opportunities in a world of extolled democratic capitalism does not automatically mean the equality of opportunity, therefore equal opportunities for all. The fact that he wants a better future, shows only the dissatisfaction of the individual with the current state and his longing for change on a symbolic level, but does in no way mean that he has any real possibility in attaining it. The magic trick of any country of opportunity, from Canaan through America to Australia, is in the absence of touching the “real”, or in the intentional preservation of the transcendent concept of power: the promise bound to the future is not that the wealth of opportunity enables the equal exploitation of these opportunities to each individual, but only to some: according to evolutionary theory, which is, unbelievably, also the basis of modern political economy, opportunities will be exploited by the stronger, which may perhaps not be erroneous, even though it does not lead to a social dialogue in favour of equal opportunity. If, in analogy with Freud, the American Dream is interpreted as an opportunity to fulfil a desire that – remains merely a dream just as dreams do because of their lack of actuality – remains at the level of individual freedom, and represents a mutual struggle of the species in the syntagm Homo homini Deus, managed by the great Other, it seems that this has been done with the painstaking work of reason and a reached consensus on economic evolution, which actually takes its victims, but also justifies them in the name of the necessity of progress.

The term is also linked to the migration of refugees and all those who took their fate into their own hands during the Second World War, fled the horrors of war and immigrated to the American melting pot of cultures in order to finally “live their dreams”. In a modern global society, the term has survived the marking shift: instead of opportunities for everyone, it is today fundamentally linked to stratification and the ever-deeper crack among those who have, and those who do not. In terms of content, the American Dream, compared to James Adam’s dreams, is in fact just another irony, we could call it, true reverie. We know that consumerism, capitalism dominates the global world, which has embroiled us, depersonalised us, and completely alienated the genuine liberal American dream if it ever really existed at all.

Artist Blaž Vehovar has realised his dreams by travelling through the American steppes, forests, natural reserves and prairies, where bison, musk oxen and grizzly bears live. Among the places that have inspired Vehovar in his artistic creativity are, for example, the Mojave Desert, Joshua Tree Park, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Arches, Zion, Brice Canyon, Antelope Island, Grand Teton, Yellowstone and Montana. His painting technique is also related to the artistic movement that emerged after the Second World War in the United States and caused the relocation of existentialist painting to Europe; the movement focuses on the material application of texture. Pintura materica is an art style from the 1950s, whose beginner and founder was Antoni Tàpies (1923–2012), who, like Vehovar, includes natural materials such as soil, sand, sawdust, hay, grass, charcoal, fibre into the painterly whole, also adding “artificial” materials – glue, acrylic and oil paint, to them. Hence the grounded canvas is composed of mixed techniques.

It is worth mentioning also the German painter Anselm Kiefer (1945), another artist who shares his colour and intellectual inspiration with Vehovar. Like Kiefer, Vehovar also stems from the relevance of his own time, whereby he depicts his memories, which he has not merely painted, but has also explicitly materialised: by using an equivalent representation of non-visual materials and their adding to the canvas, the artist uses thick applications of paint that, when dried up, add a further sense of materiality to the painting. The thick applications of paint reflect the light in a very special way, allowing the artist to control the reflection of colour and play of light and shadow, imparting the work with additional reflection and expression. But most importantly, by using the thick applications of paint, Vehovar “pushes” the painting into three-dimensional representation. The artist says that he builds up the painting like a sculpture, since his final result is in fact a relief that is like a modelled sculpture, with which the artist creates forms, partly fused with the ground or background of the canvas, whereas in part, the images also stand out, affording them an aliveness and contact with the reality of the space in which they are located.

In addition to landscape and still life, the artist’s passionate interests include the depiction of motifs of imposing great beasts, which have accompanied him since childhood. This may also provide a partial answer as to why they are close to him in terms of artistic inspiration, yet they are certainly not the only source of inspiration. An example of this kind of monumentalism is Vehovar’s Bison, which inevitably flirts with the motif and composition of the cave paintings from the Palaeolithic era, but only because of the size and depiction of the motif. Thus Vehovar tackles this in an extrovert manner: in the case of the Bison, he paints introspections from his own memories of the American prairie, which have left an impression on him upon seeing the famous wild animals, as well as others inscribed as special feelings upon meeting with an animal that has survived the Ice Age. Grizzly also inspires us with a sense of omnipotence: as if a part of this feeling in Vehovar’s depiction materially pushes beyond the frame of the canvas, thus forming a special painting unit that merges with the representations of the motifs of the animals.

The artist has also included the personal letters of his grandmother into his artistic process, which he discovered in her legacy, in order for them to become a memory and remain a reminder. The artist’s grandmother survived the horrors of the Ravensbrück German concentration camp during the Second World War, which was intended exclusively as a workforce of women. As an inquisitive child, Blaž Vehovar would listen to his grandmother’s stories from the Second World War and this interest has remained with him to this day. That is precisely why he feels very close to the Slovenian artist Zoran Mušič, his colour scale from the Karst and the tragic subject matters of the war times.

The influence of the painting of the Venetian school can be felt in Vehovar’s work, which is most pronounced in his landscape motifs, as he develops the role of light and colour as a sublime emphasis on the emotional charge of the painting by combining the acrylic and oil technique, and mixing natural and artificial materials on the canvas. The main novelty of the Venetian school was its emphasis on the colour scale, not so much on the drawing: a painting process in which the artist radically changes and supplements the image in the process of creating the artwork. A different, more “rational” practice predominates with the older generations of Venetian painters and masters of Central Italy, which means that they try to carefully consider the image beforehand and actually implement it at the time of conception.

Blaž Vehovar fuses the knowledge of art history from Giorgione to Velázquez, and from Van Gogh to Tàpies and Kiefer. The contemporary artist takes the archaic guideline of the historical painters and updates it with a contemporary and above all personal painterly approach. Vehovar is an artist of inspiration, who creates an illusion of grandness, glamour and eternity of the world of Nature by interlacing the natural gaze and the rational thought.

 

Nina Jeza, Artists&Poors