The Figurative Poetry of Gaya Lastovjak
All that we feel captured in a three-dimensional painting
© Gaya Lastovjak: portrait of the artist. From behind, the painting Restriction
“But what is art other than revealing human nature?”
© Gaya Lastovjak: Reconciliation, 100x80x16 cm, own technique, 2022. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
Hope, optimism, shame, transformation, freedom, love, eroticism, beauty, helplessness, anxiety: those are just some of the aspects of human existence that the polish artist Gaya Lastovjak draws attention to in her three-dimensional paintings, using her signature mixed technique of papier-mâché, canvas and oil paint. Gaya's artistic language is the one of emotional senses, a graceful expression of an universal human experience. Just as the "chewed paper" or papier-mâché is bound by an adhesive paste, Gaya's personal expression is inseparable from the surrounding reality.
The painting "Trapped' for example, refers to the period of strict isolation. The visible metal construction along with the static form show an internal tear and uncertainty about the future. Hands surrounding the figure represent hope, a perpetual struggle against fate.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Trapped, 100x70x8 cm, own technique, 2020. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
Although many would argue on the fact that we can make a categorization of "feminine art", I would, in the spirit of the American sociologist Nancy Chodorow, like to "go against the current flow", and claim that we can still define aspects of "feminine" in art, that are intrinsically gender related. By "feminine" I refer to a specific way of symbolic interpretation of the material world, that is both soft and powerful. There is possibly no better way to express this dichotomy than the use of paper mâché, because, in spite of it's hardness, "life is fragile as a paper", as per a Chinese saying.
The paintings of Gaya Lastovjak are quiet whispers of deep realities, where the refined brightness of paint reduces the heaviness of the human condition, expressed by the frozen poses of her characters. They are essentially a critical language of non-violence. The firmness of her message, reflected in the fragile elegance of the overall composition shows a particular sort of aesthetics that goes beyond any type of standard classification.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Bath, 100x70x8 cm, own technique, 2020. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
© Gaya Lastovjak: Unfinished, paper-mache sculpture, life-sized, art festival “5 Station”, Katowice
© Gaya Lastovjak: Indifference, 90x72x9 cm., 2022. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
With the desire to induce a dialogue between the viewer and her artistic work, we can say that Gaya's artistic expression has already gained recognizable attention: she is an award-winning artist, whose works have been exhibited nationally, as well as in Italy, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Monaco among others. In addition, her art is featured in art books or publications such as Photographize Arts Culture Magazine. One of her paintings has been featured on the cover of the art and poetry magazine Woven Tale Press (New York) and this year the work of Gaya Lastovjak will be exposed in the in the 14th Art Biennale in Florence.
Much has been said already about your work, but before getting deeper in the subject, I would like to tackle the subject of hands, that in my opinion, fosters the idea of your artistic expression. As Aristotle said, hands are « the tool of tools ». Sculptors such as Auguste Rodin and Barbara Hepworth were known for being fascinated by the expressiveness and symbolism of hands. We can just mention Rodin's Cathedral, where hands mirror majestic gothic architecture. Where did your fascination with hands, and the human body come from ?
All my paintings have a symbolic meaning, I build their message with body language. Aristotle says that all our knowledge comes from the senses. The forms we deal with are therefore images that are, in a way, psychic extensions of our perception. They are in our imagination. In Aristotle, the hand as a "tool of tools" also appears as a "connecting tool" of the soul. It can therefore be said that every artist or creator treats his hands as the tool to embody his perception. In my works, body language is very important due to the power of the message, shaping the meanings and content of the work of art. Just like the body, the hands play a very important role in communication.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Compatibility, 90x120x14 cm. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
Gestures are part of the message we convey to the other person. Hands are very suggestive and eloquent in gesture, they show a whole range of emotions or intentions and contain many symbolic meanings. They can be the embodiment of something good like support, love, help. The touch itself can be very diverse, it can symbolize joining forces, cooperation, care, but it also has its dark side. Hands are a tool to express what we feel and this is shown in my works. Thanks to a specific arrangement, I convey certain content to draw the viewer's attention to the world around him. The goal of my art is not only to create something visually attractive, but also to have an important message. The human body itself is very complex when it comes to various contents, meanings and emotions, hence my fascination with it.
© Gaya Lastovjak: The harmony of wholeness, 180x180x6 cm. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
Would you consider yourself as a socially engaged artist ? Your paintings such as « The Game », « Trapped », « Rapacity » (first ones that I think of but surely many more) speak about shared universal experience, that makes me think that you are really « tuned in » to the current social climate ?
© Gaya Lastovjak: Game, 120x280x6 cm. 2022. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
© Gaya Lastovjak: Rapacity, 100x70x12 cm. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
I believe that the environment has a huge impact on each person. The artist is particularly exposed to the outside world due to the enhanced sensitivity. Personally, I experience everything that is happening in the world very much. I try to show what bothers me the most in my art, it could be called a kind of personal release. There are many things happening in the world over which we have no influence, which fills me with a whole range of emotions, such as fear, injustice, but also the desire to change, help or simple human cooperation. In some paintings I criticize human behavior such as falsehood, conspiracy against another human being. A good example would be the work entitled "Connivance".
© Gaya Lastovjak: Connivance, 90x80x14 cm, own technique, 2021. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
This painting touches on the subject of connivance, but not in the context of tolerance or forbearance, but in turning a blind eye to something wrong. Here, connivance appears as tolerating a situation in which there is harm to another person. It also criticizes the forgiving attitude of evil-doers who feel no guilt or repentance. I chose the title "Connivance" because it also means collusion and complicity, which further strengthens its message.
In the beginning I just created interesting shapes to give them meaning later. Now I want to express my feelings and the current state of affairs, say something important, and draw the viewer's attention to a specific problem or situation also such as death. Death is part of life and yet we fear it so much. My greatest fears were born during the pandemic and still persist due to the proximity of the war (I live in Krakow, less than 1000 km from the border where the war is taking place). At the beginning of 2021, I created the painting "Disappearance", which talks about how I personally perceive the topic of death and its closeness. In this work I wanted to draw attention to the harmony of scarcity, deficiency and wholeness. Even though the painting was made in 2021, looking at the current world situation, it turns out to be in a new light.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Disappearance, 120x100x13 cm, own technique, 2021. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
Both characters are incomplete, as if in a state of decay. They look at each other in a gesture of farewell, there is also an element of melancholy or longing for something lost - youth, family and finally life. The titles of the paintings are also very carefully selected, because both the gesture and the word are a key determinant of the meaning and understanding of what I want to say.
On a more technical note, how and when did you discover your so personal, « signature » technique of mixing paper mâché, canvas and oil paint ?
While going to art school. I don't have a higher artistic education, but I went to art high school. We used to have paper-mâché classes, where we made each other's masks. I was very fascinated by the material itself, which in its original matter had no shape, but plastic enough to create anything from it. In addition, it is light and does not require a workshop. I had so much fun in class that I decided to try other shapes at home. I made a chest form then, but I didn't know what to do with it next. It lay flat on the floor, adhering perfectly to a flat surface, so I thought of canvas. Finally, I painted everything white to resemble ancient reliefs.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Gaya in her studio. Source: @gayalastovjak
© Gaya Lastovjak: happening on exhibition “Fixation”, Negative Gallery, Katowice, 2015. Source: @gayalastovjak
This is how my first painting with a silhouette was created. It's very simple, I didn't have such skills as I do now. To this day, I love paper-mâché, but I'm starting to weave other materials into it like rope, metal net or puzzle. Because the need for creativity is continuous development. In my life, I also made three full-figure sculptures exclusively of paper mâché, which were shown at the "5th Station" art festival in 2017.
What would be your favorite piece of art so far and why ?
There are so many great works of art and I've seen so many of them that it's impossible to choose one work that is my favorite. It's like asking what my favorite movie, book or piece of music is. I answer that it depends on the mood. In music, I like both popular, rock, and classical music, but the choice of a given work depends on how I feel at a particular moment. However, I can say with a pure heart that the Sistine Chapel made the biggest impression on me in my life. But it's not my favorite work of art because I don't have one :).
All of your paintings reveal a particular melody of silence, they are extremely contemplative, deep, soft and meaningful, which makes me wonder if your work is also somehow driven by your proper spirituality ?
Thank you very much for your kind words and a very good question. My paintings often raise the issue of the dualistic nature of man. I chose this artistic path (probably subconsciously) thanks to studying the works of Plato, Philo, Plotinus and Origen, and in modern times by Schopenhauer. These philosophers say that there is evil and good, its independent existence and its indestructible nature.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Mystery, 120x90x15 cm, 2020. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
© Gaya Lastovjak: Change, 80x60x13 cm, 2021. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
© Gaya Lastovjak: observing the painting Change
I think that thanks to the observation of my surroundings and books (I love to read), I developed a desire to mark in art both sides of human nature, which are inevitable and are contained in each of us. That's why my art criticizes bad human behavior but also glorifies good qualities.
I also believe that faith is particularly important, not only in a religious sense but in a more general sense. It can be faith in another person, in goodness, even faith in yourself. There are many ways to understand faith. My spirituality is quite simple - you should not judge a man by his background or appearance, but by his deeds. To distinguish a valuable person from a bad one, not to fall into stereotypes (I still have a problem with this myself, but I am trying to fix it), because each person is a separate individuality and one behavior does not exclude the other. It's different.
However, in all this diversity, what is good and valuable should be distinguished, it has a significant impact on my work. I often use a quote by Umberto Eco that best describes my views and art :
“For three things concur in creating beauty: first of all integrity or perfection [...]; then proper proportion or consonance; and finally clarity and light"
This year, you will participate in the 14th Art Biennale in Florence, your painting has been featured in the cover of Woven Tale Press poetry magazine, with all the expositions around the word your work has gained already an international recognition. What was the breaking point in your artistic path, the moment when you decided this would be your life career ?
Gaya's painting Change on the cover of the Woven Tale Press magazine.
I always wanted to be a professional artist and make a living from art, but I didn't spend enough time on it. Only when the pandemic started and I had to stay at home, lost my job, I decided to devote myself completely to my passion. Those were very difficult times, but hard work and determination allowed me to be where I am today. I would like to say that it is not enough to create, an artist must be very active on various levels.
In addition to creating, you need to properly present your work - photos, videos, descriptions - it takes a lot of time. I wrote countless emails to art galleries, out of a hundred, 2-3 responded. Only two years ago, after many breakdowns and tears, I started to get people interested in my art. But I do not treat my current situation as a success, rather as the beginning of the road to success. My dream is to show my works in the largest galleries and museums in the world. I will try my best and see if it works.
In Arts and History I have come across a definition of « feminine art », described initially as an ability to perform by the use of just one hand, completely free of any kind of physical force and showing feminine qualities. Today this definition would be more that questionable but I wanted to know how much of « femininity » do you acknowledge in your work ?
I would not like to enter into the definition of male or female art, because there are many examples where women create strong art, like the Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi and her painting ‘’Judith and Holofernes’’, which is imbued with brutality, and Alfons Mucha or Gustav Klimt, who are men and create thoroughly delicate and romantic art.
This is quite an interesting question, because I should now describe my art from a distance. I can see that some works have a more emotional look, they are more feminine, for example the painting "Worries" or "Change"; here you can see the delicacy, also showing the beauty of the female body.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Worries, 80x70x14 cm, 2022. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
On the other hand, paintings with hands are restrained in form, almost minimalist, which gives them the features of masculine art. So could I say that I have something of both sexes? The answer to why women's shapes dominate in my paintings is quite simple- because I am a model for myself. Sometimes the model is my husband, but he is tall and the form of his body often did not fit into the formats I chose. In fact, it all depends on the idea and the format, most of the paintings with hands have my husband's hands, because they are much larger than mine and you can see them better. As for the whole figure paintings - I have a small body, my height is only 159 cm, so I can fit on almost any medium-sized canvas. So the mystery has been solved :).
If you could by any chance name one art piece that was of a major inspiration what would that be ?
I hear this question very often, but I can't answer it, because I wasn't inspired by specific works of art that could be similar to my works. I really like Vadim Stein's photography, Bill Viola video art, sculptures by Giovanni Lorenzo Bernini or Marcel Duchamp works. A lot of works of art and artists inspire me and speak to me, because I am an art historian by education, but none of them, at least consciously, made me create what I am now.
Looking at my paintings, you can definitely see the great influence of ancient art, but when looking for inspiration, I more often reach for fashion photography that plays with the composition, frame and interesting presentation of the human body. This can be seen in the painting "Mystery", which was based on a photo of Pierre Debusschere with model Sasha Luss for V Magazine. I am not always inspired by visual things, sometimes a description in a book or music creates an image in my head that I have to materialize. I don't know if many people feel like this, but I have this little voice in my head that won't let me stop creating.
In this world full of performances and false narratives, what would be your definition of true art ?
© Gaya Lastovjak: Restriction, 45x35x6 cm, 2021. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
As you rightly pointed out, the current art world is full of false narratives, perhaps because many artists are chasing popularity and quick success. Many people think that it is enough to create and the rest will come by itself, maybe it happens, but in this situation you need to know the right people. I don't know them yet.
What I do know is that true art flows from the inside of a human, his creative self. I create because I can't not do it, I just have to, otherwise I feel empty inside. I believe that true art has no definite definition, because the greatest Renaissance and Baroque artists created only for money. Following this line of reasoning, true art could be called the full use of one's own talent. Art is too broad a concept to be able to define it in terms of what is good art and what is bad. Art is too subjective to be subjected to such reasoning. However, I believe that if someone has talent (regardless of the style of creation, talent is always visible, as well as the lack of it), then they should take care of details, to refine this talent enough to make it a good art. And if his art is good enough, then it will become true art.
How would you love, if you could by any chance influence that,your work to be remembered as ?
I would like my artworks to be remembered as a personal expression of my views, experiences and reactions to the world. I also want to enter into a dialogue with the viewer. Arouse specific emotions and feelings in him, motivate to reflect on himself and the world around him, or maybe even to change for the better, because we should change the world for the better, but we have to start with ourselves first.
© Gaya Lastovjak: Gaya with her paper mâché sculpture. Source: www.gayalastovjak.com
More about the artist:
Gaya Lastovjak's website: https://www.gayalastovjak.com/
Gaya Lastovjak, Saatchi art: https://www.saatchiart.com/gayalastovjak
Art Show International Gallery, Gaya Lastovjak: https://www.artshowinternational.com/fr/artists/gaya-lastovjak
Rodin's Hands-Rodin Museum: https://rodinmuseum.org/exhibitions/rodins-hands
Grajciarova Miroslava: L'art féminin ou l'art des femmes? Essais- 2003/10/06. Sens public, http://sens-public.org/articles/49/
Great interview, super interesting read!
Tout es Relié et prends forme sur terre et dans vos Mains Madame Lastovjak .
Votre mode l age est au meilleur de notre temps qui si légé eleve notre Ame sur le geste approprie que lon dois portee au Femme Unis et tenue le melange creant le couple de deux mains ......
Starting from the title itself, the author of the text perfectly reflects the characteristics of the works and the sensitivity of the artist. Reading the interviews, I had the impression that the artist was opening the door to the rightly noticed "poetics" of her art. The text allows to get to know the artist, learn about her thoughts and even about her spirituality. Just like getting to know various stories from her personal life and finding out that the artist is exceptionally sensitive to the world, at one point she even calls for being a better person, talking about a change that should start with oneself. It moved me a lot.
Very interesting interview, I have never seen such paintings. Questions asked to the artist are also at a very high level. Reads very well.