“Mysterious Life of Paintings”
28.02. – 22.03.2008.

Title of the exhibition “Mysterious Life of Paintings” is taken from the catalogue introduction by Professor Eduards Kļaviņš, written for Barbara Gaile’s solo exhibition “Discoveries” at Riga Gallery in 2004: “Tonality of colours changes with lighting and the viewer’s movement along the painting, and so its elusive, mysterious life receives additional qualities.” The artist has worked on this project for two years and created eighteen new paintings.
Gaile works on texture and colours of paintings for a long time; polishing and rubbing of paint acquires a particular significance as well as the choice of special technological means (pigments, varnishes, purple, gold) to achieve “a sum of hazy, tarnished and dim mirror surfaces”. The exhibition is a dedication to mystery – emotions and feelings translated in colours.
Helēna Demakova wrote on Gaile’s paintings: “Her abstractions are as abstract as a sea fragment influenced by numerous factors or an exotic leaf subjected to human touch and weather caprices. One could see in her works magnified fragments of a microscopic world or condensed and cartographic macro events, reflecting psychological, not material environment, retaining just the pleasure of human touch from the latter.”
Barbara Gaile (b. 1968) lives and works in Paris since the early 1990s.
The artist
• graduated from the Janis Rozentāls Riga Secondary Art School,
• studied at the Painting Department of the University of Sunderland (Great Britain),
• received M.A. in arts at the Painting Department of the Latvian Academy of Art.

Barbara Gaile has received 5 important awards:
• Prix Bornhauser-Molinari (France, 2000),
• Medaille d’Argent aux titres des arts du Merite et devouement français (France, 1998),
• First Prize, „Geo-Ģeo“ – 4th Exhibition of the Soros Centre of Contemporary Art-Riga,
• Painting of the Year Prize, Agija Sūna Gallery Competition (Latvia, 1995),
• Eva Lange Award (Sweden, 1994).

The artist’s works are found in the collections of the National Museum of Art and Pedvāle Open-Air Art Museum as well as in several private collections in Latvia and abroad. Barbara Gaile has organised 7 solo exhibitions, represented Latvian art at the International Art Fair “Art Moscow” in Russia and exposition “Surprising Latvia” in France, 2005.


The exhibition shows predominantly latest paintings that are (not) concluded by the painter’s present discoveries. Conceptual clarity and minimalism of these profound silent abstractions, combined with the cult of especially refined nuances, seems to tell about an unchanging course of development, well known in the Latvian art world by name Barbara Gaile.

This process has been going on for quite a long time by now, and its straight lines and side-branches have been determined by both Barbara Gaile’s “place and time” and her own choices, ideas and practice.
The artist is certainly not inclined towards end-in-itself, spectacular negative gestures and stances; just the opposite, she has confidently accepted instructions given by her teachers, milieu and external impulses, and continued like this afterward. At the same time, her development can be treated as an answer to her “time and place”, as a liberation from the conditions that had to be accepted and subsequently overcome. Her curriculum vitae informs about extensive and manifold training undoubtedly and clearly. As usually, it consists of both historical routine and possibilities of some prescriptions and discoveries; its particularity was determined by the local traditions, their dissolution and transformation in the period influenced by political changes in Latvia. Barbara Gaile has received a comparatively thorough training of a modernised academism that cultivated aesthetically refined figurative art based on compulsory drawings of plaster casts, paintings of live models, compositions of figuratively treated subjects. All this was complemented with specific formal effects – either offered by instructors of learned from other sources at the time when creative freedom in all spheres increased constantly. Inspirations could be found everywhere – in the former outsider Georgs Šenbergs’ visions and mystical ornamental style interpreted by Barbara Gaile in a research work, in the late-20th-century live classic of Latvian modernism Boriss Bērziņš’ works as well as in her elder contemporaries Aija Zariņa’s, Ģirts Muižnieks’ or Ieva Iltnere’s jerks forward. Also in the time of shocking changes that got mixed with post-modern pluralism, an ideology-free figurative mode was well-known and possible but still more attracting was liberation from it, entering the field of complete abstraction. The reason was not that it was taboo during the recent totalitarian art policy but that the creative freedom afforded an exciting way towards autonomy of experience and expression. Many artists have made this way elsewhere in the world; canonised stars of abstract art were familiar from literature and reproductions and they could inspire, especially after seeing originals in the USA (1989) or in London (1992). Mark Rothko’s and other “metaphysical” painters’ impressive colour fields or Yves Klein’s monochrome surfaces could inspire because they showed Barbara Gaile’s aim – liberation from figurative art that was dialectically linked to restriction and the need to convey some message or achieve something with more simple formal means. Quite early when she completed her studies with an abstract graduation work (which was one of the first cases in the Academy’s history) and got actively involved in exhibition practice in Riga and elsewhere, Barbara Gaile’s individual way of choices emerged – radically abstracted minimalism connected with the tactics of subtle, gentle, “weak” effects if the last designation is at all appropriate in respect to her.

One can guess that it was born “from inside” – as a necessity for a personal foundation, not as adoption of approved formulas and popular examples. Psychological states, related emotions and links to phenomena of inner or outer life were important; appropriate colours, textures and scales had to be found: “What is the colour of a rainy day, what – of an early summer morning and dew? What is the colour of a total desperation?” Moreover, such an expression was not a quick, spontaneous self-expression but a task to be accomplished, working for months on a single work, finding tones, repainting, clearing, polishing, scratching, thinking, “messing up” (Barbara Gaile), meditating, listening to her inner voice to check intuitively if something finally is a success (“I work until I feel that’s it!”). Paradoxically her conception was more close not to traditions of post-surrealist abstraction and its use of subconscious impulses but rather to the colour expression of the rational artist Henri Matisse. His expression was freely, intuitively but at the same time purposefully connected with emotion and impression that has created it. This does not mean to say that the painter was oriented towards remote past, art history was significant for her but equally relevant were post-modern topical examples then and now, many different impulses, attractive for some reason for a moment – Cy Twombly’s abstract signs, Anish Kapoor’s pigmented plastic or Guillermo Kuitca’s fragile and sensitive approach to the plane, even Arte Povera simple materials.

Barbara Gaile’s “expression” could be successfully attained also in spatial works, mastering the closed interior of an exhibition space (“Absolutely Red” at Gallery M6 in Riga, 1995), a ploughed field (within the project “State”, 1994) or ruined buildings in Pedvāle (exhibition “Geo-Ģeo”, 1996). Still concentration on the planar surface as a restrictive factor was decisive. Her trip to Paris in 1996 and stay for a longer time there only promoted this tendency. In Paris there was a chance to see her conception and practice against the background of the infinitely varied artistic life of the large city (“you always live (..) close to something totally opposite”).
Concentration meant working with colour, its changing tonality, base and textures of the painting, finding the necessary technical means because discoveries of expression come with discoveries of appropriate technique. Gaile’s minimalist radicalism was strengthened in the sense that one always had to stop at the effects created by interaction between the strong rectangular confines (traditional field of a painting where there is something to be looked at) and the “invisible”, mysterious and significant life of slightly differing tones (usually one dominant tone), scratches and textures. This is certainly not a rational formalism of homogenous fields, smooth surfaces and geometrical structures. Rather it is a largely sensually perceptible but visually and rationally indivisible painterly quality whose impact was once described by Heinrich Wölfflin. It is created as a non-objective substance, contrasting with the clear, unchanging format of the painting, and play of associations possible “inside” of this effect tells about many undefined things, suggested by the means of the painting’s “subject” – its title. Anything could be here – from “unusual tenderness” to “stones of the river-bed”, from “real gem” to simple “lead”, from “pure splendour” to “cleanness and success”, from “night beauty” to “blind darkness”. Depiction of concrete objects is bothering for Gaile, not to mention social messages. She is content with emotional echoes of real experience that have lost objective basis in the completed work and allows perception to float freely and invites to notice or imagine this or that. (“Artwork should have space for thinking.”) May be the most important is that Gaile continues to cultivate nuances and her refinement grows out from chance (although technically well prepared), from something seemingly fortuitous that is not forced upon the viewer as it happens in many cases with the “strong” abstractionists. This individual specificity is related also to her works’ sizes. Paintings are never extremely large-sized and very small works intended for personal, purely “private” meditation are also possible. The painter explains this fact by working circumstances (no spacious studio available) and by the urge to control the plane of the work “by a single movement of the hand”. But the modest formats and their calmly horizontal expansion is completely consistent with Gaile’s “weak impact” style, her typical unpretentious, delicate and at the same time conceptually radical art.
The exhibited paintings tell about the artist’s development. The essence has not changed, although the working methods, dominant tonality, textures and materials are in some sense different from the early years. Gaile’s relationships with materials have become closer and more special. Earlier they were like “substance, atmosphere to delve into”. Now ideas, notions and emotional states are stimulated by contemplation of materials and fascination with their physical qualities. But this is not a self-rewarding aesthetic treatment of materials and provocative representation, as the artists’ group “Supports-surfaces” once used to practice in Paris. The goal is the same as before, only its initial vision is born differently – in continuous and “interactive” relationships with materials. One can get inspiration from surfaces and substances outside the common technology of painting, like minerals or precious stones. The painter is no more interested in texture created by brushwork; pigments, paints and solvents are turned in with cloth of palette knife. Surfaces are rubbed, scratched, gathered, carved, polished, layered and fixed, sometimes arriving at nacreous, lead or some other indefinite gloss. Tonality of colours change with lighting and the viewer’s movement along the painting, and so its elusive, mysterious life receives additional qualities. Neutralised, darkish grey tones are found most often; contrasting with light achromatic tones make works more sensually restricted and severe in spite of attractive texture. A notable feature is also the regularity of uniform elements (circles, small stick-outs, scaly lines) found now and then; their ornamental, rational layer emerges as a peculiar contrast to the irrationally changing tonality. Connection between these different stylistic principles as well as works in general, of course, indirectly tell about the artist’s personality as a consistent unity of seemingly disparate elements. Open attitude towards innovations, accepted already at the beginning of the independent career (“I cannot live today and paint, meaning, think, fulfil tasks that artists had to accomplish one, two or more centuries ago”) does not deny respect towards tradition and, finally, towards the traditional medium that is used. Relying upon intuition and emotional reactions is found alongside love for clearness, order and sequential work, scale of choices and radicalism – alongside temperance, moderation, silent self-restriction and refinement.

The exhibition offers what has been already found. But it is not a summary, if only for some period. Rather it is like some stop after what Barbara Gaile can go on along her course.

Dr. habil. art professor Eduards Kļaviņš