C. Feign Jr. presents Maja Ruznic and Yevgeniya Mikhailik

Monday, June 9, 2014

C. Feign Jr. presents Maja Ruznic and Yevgeniya Mikhailik

Before heading over to Beyond Baroque yesterday afternoon to take part in a “birthday tribute” reading to Frank O’Hara and Lucille Clifton, Linda and I went to a talk by two young painters at a new gallery, the Bustamante Gill, on La Cienega Blvd. Be forewarned: it is a bit hard to find, even though it’s on the major thoroughfares of Los Angeles. Its second show, featuring Maja Ruznic and Yevgeniya Mikhailik, went up about a week ago.

I had met Maja Ruznic several months ago when she and her boyfriend Josh, who is also an artist, were out for a run on their second day in Los Angeles. They had just moved down from San Francisco in hopes of finding a place to work outside the confines of the limited gallery scene in the Bay Area.

I myself was hardly running. Those days are long gone, but as my brisk morning walk got me within fifty or so yards of the bluff along Ocean Avenue just south of the Long Beach Museum of Art, I saw an exuberant young couple who had paused to tie their shoes and something intangible made me comment on the rare clarity of that morning’s air (Long Beach, on the whole, has some of the most foul air in the nation). Whatever it was they said in response initiated a conversation that soon led to our discovery that we both admired the work of Marie Thibault. Eventually, Linda and I met them at Portfolio for a long conversation and we’ve stayed in touch since then.

Maja Ruznic’s half of the show consists of a dozen paintings, which seem to range in their influences from Alexej von Jawlensky to Eva Hesse. Linda was probably closer to the mark of her affilations; when she mentioned Marlene Dumas, Maja’s face glowed with recognition at the fondness she felt for that kinship being noticed. Maja spoke about how she has allowed herself to work in a manner that is “all intuitive,” a word she added that “I’d never use when I was at the California College of the Arts. She noted that her paintings are meant to be “anti-heroic” and that she was interested in depicting people who are completely overlooked. One way she works on this focus is to “pay attention to hold old people walk.” Indeed, her paintings seem to demarcate with a subtle haunting effervescence the entrapment felt in that forgotten classic by W.H. Auden, “The Unknown Citizen.” In one particularly poignant image, a man of disparate elongations seems pinned within a corrupted, plastic sphere; it is doubtful that a cotton swab of his mouth’s mucous lining would yield DNA much different from Gregor Samsa. One shouldn’t regard this work as only evocative of despair. Ruznic noted that she sees her process as one in which she goes “into a forest, looks for a way out, and the figures are a way out.” The way out would appear to be the willingness to acknowlede the suffering of others. Certainly, the image of a young Jordanian girl in a hospital bed retains its unflinching tenderness in my memory’s screening room a full 24 hours after we left the gallery.

The other artist in the show, Yevgeniya Mikhailik, provides a biographical complement to Ruznic’s journey to the United States from Bosnia. Mikhalik emigrated from the Soviet Union, although she emphasized in her talk that she regards herself as being “nomadic.” Anyone who categorized her life as some kind of exile would be completely off the mark, she insisted. Nevertheless, her status as an “artist from elsewhere” perhaps inevitably led to a question about the possible presence of nostalgia in her images, to which she responded with the reflection that her work derives from “constructed memories,” many of which work on a symbolic level of presence and absence.

In demonstrating the first eruption of solid maturity of her artistic practice, her illustration skills prove to be more adept at supporting her vision than one often encounters in artists with that kind of training. One image, in particular, of a rockpile took the risk of withholding its most important underpinnings from anything but the most close-up view. Only then did I comprehend the extent to which Mikhailik is willing to risk being mistaken rather than compromise her acuity. It is hardly nostalgia that impels her to generate these tightly enmeshed inner buttresses of half-intended drifting coming to rest against more intractable forces. Rather, it is her yearning for a revivified stability that could blossom from a cleansing of selfish motivation that eases her arduous, self-imposed pilgrimage. The next few twists and turns should be very intriguing.

The gallery is located at 2675 S. La Cienega Blvd. It is in the back patio between two buildings that front the street and is not at all visible from the sidewalk. Look for it though, and someday you’ll say one of their first shows in Los Angeles.