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In her earlier works, granting her popularity and various awards that paved the way for her participation in international solo shows, group exhibitions and museum collections, Martina Vacheva (born 1988 in Plovdiv, Bulgaria) has been forging a highly recognizable visual language, a system of themes and personages, that connect her to her roots. A language that acknowledges the local Bulgarian folklore traditions, contemporary pop-culture and the social context formed by the mental and historical preconditions of a former Eastern Bloc country that is presently part of the EU. These works artfully assume an artistic stance, brewing an alluring mixture of the humane and the grotesque. The colors are vivid and bright, the eyes of the personages are open, full of hope, moist with joy and wonder.
Martina’s latest works painted during the lockdown series between 2020-2021 display a visible change. The lights are extinguished, familiar faces from previous paintings sneak in yet the identity, the pop culture stars and the mythic figures are missing. The personages are depersonalized, or more specifically they depersonalize themselves in one general trend, they are the trend itself, they undergo a process of transformation, moving out of the framework and submerging themselves into the subconscious. Specters of the image who seek realization between their own beginnings and endings that have been spliced into one and the same thing. They live through the chthonic world of their own euphoric fits, of music, of passion, as if engaged in a duel and challenging the boundaries of various rules.
The exhibition’s crucial work “Splash” presents the typical rock concert stunt known as “stage dive” or “slam” where the musician jumps off the stage into the crowd. The rock singer is left alone with his existential impulse to plunge into the unknown, standing on the brink between the trust in his audience and the distrust in himself and his former apologists. He plunges forth, yet here, in this moment of hesitation, for the first time in Martina Vacheva’s work we witness the appearance of a splash. A spontaneous, blunt splash of paint over the canvas, serving as a limit to the notion and the image, the white blob, the rejection and the ecstasy. A liberating gesture that makes room for memory, or rather opens up a space for a totally novel reality. Whatever it may be as of now, it will never be portrayed as it was before.
The splash, along with the exclusion of light, are brutal gestures of painting - they invade the other works from the series as well. The excessive flow of liquid is turbid, black, blue, yellow. It functions as a substitute to the social context which recently defined the personages, it is a lyrical aura, an unshared, yet universally gifted ecstasy, it spills from the prolonged self-forgetful spraying on the face of the modern Gorgon (“Burn Out”, 2021); it is the sound that will blow out the speaker, it spills over the two paintings from the diptych in which a male and female character bid farewell to each other and their audience with the hope that something will bring them all together (“Irreversible“, 2021); it is also the dried-up flow of erupting potential, of one’s own intoxicating uncertainty that we use as a stepping-stone with the hope of carrying.
Here too, in this series of works, against the background of dim lights and splashes, things seemingly joyful come to pass, yet things that bring a premonition of war through the applied scraps of confetti, the canvas burns, the dismantling frameworks. One senses a distressing reluctance to leave the territory and a somewhat frantic impulse for prolonging the ritual as a means of providing a safe zone for self-expression. A self-expression that is clearly self-depleting, growing more and more close-quartered and unbearable, existing in a permanent ecstasy between limitation and certainty.
An ecstasy that affects the expansion of the scope of painting itself, as well as its defragmentation and transformation into an object. A symptom visible in the incredible proximity between the universal colors of party supplies (confetti, spray cans etc.) and the oil paints used by the author. It is as if the painting itself has trespassed into reality or the reality has been transposed into a painting.
A boundary between illusion and reality which nowadays, after all, is less and less discernible.
text: Vesselina Sarieva