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Borut Popenko / Openings
UGM Studio, Trg Leona Štuklja 2
20 January - 4 March 2023
exhibition opening: Friday, 20 January 2023, 19:00

curator: Jure Kirbiš

25 years ago, on the occasion of an exhibition in Razstavni salon Rotovž, Aleksandra Kostič wrote: “It all starts with empty space, causing an adrenalin rush in Popenko.” A quarter of a century later, painter Borut Popenko returns to Razstavni salon Rotovž, now rebranded as UGM Studio. But the departure point remains the same. From the very start, Popenko is drawn to fundamentals of painting, from the materiality of the medium to the design of space. In his exploration of colours and shapes, proportions, compositions, volumes and harmonies, he refers to the tradition of abstraction in painting, from abstract expressionism, colour field painting, geometric abstraction to monochrome painting and minimalism. Among his role models are giants of abstract art – Mark Rothko, Josef Albers, Morris Louis, Ellsworth Kelly – and contemporaries – Anish Kapoor, Peter Halley, Gerwald Rockenschaub.

In his painting practice, Popenko addresses the tense relationship between painting-object and painting-image. He poses the question; is it possible to fold a canvas, to unfurl layers of a canvas into a fan, to open up a canvas, like a door? A canvas cannot be folded without breaking the stretcher onto which the canvas is mounted. Layers of canvas can be fanned out, only if several layers were stacked together. And the only way to open up a canvas is by cutting into it. And yet, the effect of Popenko’s paintings is just that – folded, fanned, opened. Thus, we search for answers in the fundamental deception of painting – the illusion of space. A corner is not difficult to depict in painting. Everyone can draw two sided of a cube in perspective, two sides of it making a corner. With the most essential understanding of perspective, volume, shading and colour, we possess the skill to cross the threshold from a canvas to a three-dimensional space of a painting. With this, we leave behind the surface which carries the image – the canvas itself. In this case, the canvas is only a frame of an opening through which we look into a space, that continues into in and beyond the edge of the field of vision. However, Popenko manages to convince us of both at the same time – a painting is an object/canvas and a painting is a space/illusion. How does he achieve this? The proof is in the process. The painter's search for an image is guided by play and intuition. Popenko builds colour compositions with a number of methods. He uses coloured papers, holding them up towards the wall, to explore relationships between two, three or more colours. He uses old printed ads and folds them in endless combinations of shapes. He creates simple three-dimensional mock-ups from cardboard and sketches them on paper. Play ends as the right composition is found. Then the canvas is precisely shaped, canvas stretched and primed and the painting process starts – all, without exception, meticulously follows the original design. The result is a dynamic, shifting, multi-layered process, fixed in a flat object of irregular shape, together forming a painting in dialogue with the viewer. “Despite the fact that his creative output is based on geometric abstraction, there is no lack of storytelling in the figurative sense, as the viewer replaces it with their own presence in an active relationship with the picture," Alenka Domjan wrote last year. Indeed, standing in front of the paintings, the viewer is caught in a mental loop of the artist's gesture of folding, of revealing, of opening up of the canvas and the space.

This time, Borut Popenko enters UGM Studio with a new series of paintings. In searching for the title of the series and the exhibition, the author refers to the atmosphere of the recent period of time, characterised by distance, a state of closure, solitude. With the new series, Popenko opens the door, pushed the windows open, lifts the shutters, invites us to step across the threshold, to let the air in. His paintings are portals declaring: “Out!”

Borut Popenko (b. 1969) works in painting, installations and video. He is an active member of the Mariborian art scene with his work within the autonomous zone Pekarna and other spaces of culture in the city. He studied art education at the Faculty of Education in Maribor (1993) and continued his artistic training abroad at the Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle (1995/97) and at the art academies in Athens (1998/99) and Prague (2001). His recent exhibitions include solo shows Prelomi (2019, artKIT, Maribor) and Prelom (2018, Church of the Holy Spirit, Črnomelj) and his work was part of group exhibitions GustArt (2022, Kulturni center Pekarna, Maribor), Fantasy – Geometry: A Dialogue (2022, Dvorec Novo Celje, Žalec), Made in Maribor II (2022, UGM Studio, Maribor), In the Time of Space (2020, Media Nox Gallery, Maribor), Pop-Upstart (2018, Centre for Creativity, Maribor) and “Auf die Dauer setzt der territoriale Imperativ sich durch“ Zwischen Nationalstaatlichkeit und … (2017, Galerija EPeKA, Maribor). His work is part of private and public collections, including the UGM | Maribor Art Gallery.