My Study Of Roman Kalinovski’s Studies For An Impossible Portrait

Review by Stephen Gambello

DigiAna Studio, New York

Study (Camcorder Close-Up), 2023, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  

Many of us harbor certain expectations when looking at the human face in painting. We cannot help but compare that facial image on canvas to reality itself, as the face is the focal point of our social development, the most complex aspect of human anatomy. The human being is the face — that which first we behold when engaging another person. 

Historically, since 1826, when French scientist Joseph Nicéphore Niépce created the first photograph, and more importantly Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1835 created the first photo-portrait — the painted image has always been in competition with the photograph, especially since the indoctrination of color photography. Many sentiments reflect the attitude: why paint a picture of a face when you can take a photograph?

However, in the case of Roman Kalinovski, there is no competition between the traditional painting from life and the photograph.  Instead, he fuses the two disciplines together. He even employs traditional glazing techniques (which was the main approach to painting, especially portraiture, up until the late 19th — early 20th century) to realize fully his contemporary vision.

The Photorealists such as Richard Estes and Chuck Close paved this way of painting from photos; they brought us into the realm of possibility where paintings literally reproduced the visual language of photography – by way of the paint on the canvas. Artists such as Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans, then, brought the photo painting into an even more expanded realm of possibility – employing approaches such as changing and varying colors schemes, transitioning textures, and cropping the initial photo compositions into new compositions for paintings.  Kalinovski, as Richter and Tuymans frequently do, processes the face within the abstraction of the composition’s intention, eliminating the identity of the individual. Thus, the face becomes another vessel in realizing an open-ended abstract design. We see a complex series of patterns, instead of a recognizable likeness, an anonymous concentration of elements that create a new, universal, image — one that fully articulates the vision of the artist’s objective.

This series of 8 x 10 paintings, Studies For An Impossible Portrait, reflect a meditation on arrested (or partial) consumption. Just as the frame itself partially consumes (closing in on) the subjects (the women), the subjects in the two paintings consume an object (presumably a toothbrush) as in the two Brushing Studies. The inner boundaries of the canvas where the teeth brushing action occurs — and outer boundaries of the canvas consuming what is beyond our purview — follow their respective agendas and synthesize into a consummation of space informing and paralleling their own selves.  It is a kind of fragmentation of humanity, as the images reduce the body to a series of studies of instances, manifesting abstraction by way of focusing on specific details.

Study (Brushing, First Version), 2023, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  
Study (Brushing, Second Version), 2023, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  

For instance: Study (Hand Against Lens) offers us a dark potential access into the shadow of the hands as a chasm, or a mountain scape — an invitation to negotiate a dreamlike interpretation of space. The very sharply rendered eyebrow and eyelashes at the lower right hand corner of the picture provides a visual anchor for the whole composition — an integral accent that activates, and enables, the pervasive viewing experience. Study (Looking Down) dispenses with traditional foreshortening and flattens the face to the point of — however subtly — “sucking” that face into a space of incontrovertible two-dimensionality. It becomes real and unreal – paradoxically – manifesting itself into a new visual idiom of that particular painting. Study (PINK HAT, Second Version) presents an image of both animate and inanimate matter. The hat could be an extreme closeup of an external anatomical part, or even an internal organ. But in the background, there is the indication of the human. So, by the very juxtaposition of the human with the hat, we are reminded of the skin of the body and the fabric of the hat as interchangeably informing and referencing each other, as they become a concise system of inference in biology.

Study (Hand Against Lens), 2022-23, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  
Study (Looking Down), 2022, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  
Study (Pink Hat, Second Version), 2022, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  

The Study (Abdomen) is a mystic transitioning of atmospheres across the realm of the picture frame. The naval becomes our anchor of solidity within the softness of tones harmonizing as landscape. Study (Brushing, second version) and Study (Camcorder close up) both indicate the eyes as vessels traversing into each other; the light reflection upon the part of the face known as the mid cheek groove indicates a path of the eyes trajectory; they seem to be on the verge of colliding with each other. 

Study (Abdomen), 2022, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  
Study (Brushing, Second Version), 2023, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  — Study (Camcorder Close-Up), 2023, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  

Study (sitting down), Study (Leaning back) and Study (ear) inform and maintain each other as a group statement wherein the body is in repose:  the sitting position of the hips, the bending of the trunk, the relaxation of the face — all indicate an absorptive commitment into the activity of preparing for sleep, the transitioning into deep restfulness and unconsciousness.

Study (Sitting Down), 2022-23, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in. — Study (Leaning Back), 2022-23, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in. — Study (Ear), 2022-23, oil on canvas, 8 x 10 in.  

Roman Kalinovski’s series investigates a processional of posits that question what components of reality actually make a portrait. Is it a portrait of an individual identity? Is it a portrait of the system of expectations we experience when we look at the individual aspects that comprise humanity? Only in a dream — as in Study (Hands Against Lens) invites us into – can this all come to a definitive answer, I believe. The dreamscape is the realm of the ultimate meditation on consumption: memories, imaginations, expectations.

Perhaps Roman Kalinovski is presenting us with the dream of the 19th century portrait artist exploring outside of (transcendent) time:  the potentiality of portraiture — by way of harmonizing technology (photography) and tradition (painting).  Timelessness, as enabled by the willful hand of the artist.

In this dream:  the portrait is possible.


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