MAstars 2010: Maria Högbacke, PG Dip Fine Art

MAstars 2010: Maria Högbacke, PG Dip Fine Art Maria Högbacke, Twist and Turn, 2010. Oil on canvas. 100cm x 80cm

Kathy Kubicki selects Maria Högbacke from the Royal Academy Schools for MAstars

Maria Högbacke's serene paintings emanate with several cleverly disguised meanings, which resonate as the viewer spends time glancing over her sometimes luminous yet roughly executed abstract shapes and colours. 

Somewhere underneath the layers of oil paint and medium diffused images emerge, but there is not quite enough information to recognise these pictorial representations abstracted in paint. Memory and desire are mapped onto the layered surfaces, scratched and painted over, buried memories, trauma, love, summer days, winter nights, Ingmar Berman movies, eruptions and silence.

Högbacke works in oil on linen, the history of art and traditional methods underlying her contemporary manoeuvrings. Her paintings are complex; as well as working through the layering of paint her surfaces also have many 'layers of meanings'. Resistance forms part of the viewing process, at the same time the surfaces and brush marks keep us captivated and intrigued, in an urge to discover denotation. The surfaces also act as a barrier to meaning, and as an obstruction, as the idea of vandalism comes into play. The notion of the trace is also relevant here, traces of traces, as the paintings act as a document, and via process and performance, the artist leads us to the remnants of meanings.

Photography as source material is also present, personal and family photos in bound albums buried in the attic of a typical cosy Scandinavian wooden house come to mind. Selection and rejection, vivid and blurred, as via the family album we reconstruct our childhood, sometimes the photo can take the place of the memory as recounted in Roland Barthes formative text written in 1980 'Camera Lucida'. Barthes reflects amongst other issues how we have a tendency to naturalise what are in fact invented and highly structured meanings that reside within a photograph. These meanings are further elaborated by Högbacke's thoughtful renderings in the medium of paint.

The history of abstraction is also part of this work: From Mondrian, and Rothko through to Richter, Högbacke's visual language is developing from the history of modernism, colour theory, and the rituals of abstract expressionism also have a place as gesture forms part of her surfaces. Perhaps also the paintings are about modernism's failure, as the idea of 'utopia' was left to idealists, and the reality of the concrete block and badly constructed public housing is one of the strong images that remain of modernism's urban jungle and barren and destroyed public spaces and dwellings.

One strong feeling I was left with after viewing Högbacke's work in the RA Schools show was that the idea that painting is dead, which has been bandied around by critics over the past 25 years or so is totally redundant. There will always be a place for painting within the contemporary art arena, as we can experience via Högbacke's show. There are plenty of inspiring and worthy ways that painters can attempt to re-establish the importance of painting as a link to the past, and as a medium with immediacy and vitality that can successfully incorporate sources from visual culture and personal memory, and captivate the viewer’s imagination all at once.

Selected by Kathy Kubicki
Published August, 2010

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