From an immigrant´s perspective

Eastern European artists pour emotions onto canvas for BMoCA exhibit

Hostel 2012 by Daniel Pitin
Photo by Michael Callahan

In Boulder, talk of changing seasons can lead to anxiety, happiness, or resolution. But what if we had to experience serious change, such as moving into a new environment or changing from a democracy to a dictatorship? Chances are, our interpretation of things wouldn’t be as aesthetically pleasing as the seasonal ones currently on display around town.

The current fall exhibitions at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art bring distinct visions of what first-generation freedom looks like through the prism of two artists of Eastern European descent. Prague-based Daniel Pitín offers snippets of life that juxtapose a repressed past with an enticing future, and Romanian-born Marius Lehene paints on-the-fly observations of life in a foreign environment. Their work offers a chance to visualize life outside our perceived comfort zones.

After his post-art school dreams of being a movie director didn’t pan out, Pitín decided to return to painting. Fifteen years later, Pitín uses his director’s eye to encapsulate the chaos of life in single snapshots that invoke haunting sentiments of iron rule while urging embrace of new-found freedoms.

Romanian-born artist Marius Lehene

“I grew up when the revolution came,” Pitín says of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that brought Czechoslovakia out from under four decades of communist rule. “It came really fast.”

Despite the rapid change, many in the Czech Republic are still stunted by the past, unable to grasp firmly the crutch of democratic freedoms.

“You can open borders in one day, but you cannot open minds,” Pitín says.

That feeling shows up sometimes in his work, almost an urging of faster movement away from the physical and mental shackles of communism.

“It’s not just about me; it’s about the society around me. I feel it’s sometimes not moving, and I try to express that,” Pitín says.

For his creations, Pitín finds inspiration from movies and other media, banking images that may one day inspire a few individual strokes from his brush.

“I do kind of a destruction of the space. Very often I need a photography image to kind of remind me of feeling. It’s like a model. When I watch this photography image or movie still, I just have kind of direction that helps me to keep my emotions going,” Pitín says.

In Cover Story, Pitín’s first United States solo exhibition, those deconstructed photos jump from the canvas with vivid coloration. At times, Pitín will rotate his canvas to start a fresh perspective. He may, after reflection, tinker with a piece by washing parts of the canvas. Through constant exploration while in the moment of painting, Cover Story reveals far more layers under the surface of inspection.

“I live in middle Europe, and it’s a dark place. It influences you somehow. It’s not like here; it’s more dark and cloudy and gray,” Pitín explains of his use of darker colors and themes. Yet even drawing from such dour realms as communist oppression or the recent Pussy Riot fandango in Russia brings Pitín into new areas of inspiration.

“I never did a show that I sat down and think about a topic and just painted it,” Pitín says. “It has to be more open, more natural. Don’t think about it beforehand, because then it just becomes an illustration of your own meanings.”

Like Pitín, Romanian-born and Colorado-based Lehene says he never has a clear idea of what he wants done until it’s made. His exhibit, Random Walk With Drift, is indicative of his foray into new worlds and environments, and how choices influence the path we continue to go down.

Random Walk 2012 by Marius Lehene | Photo by Michael Callahan

“If what I end up doing is just following the initial plan, then probably nothing good has happened. Subjectively, I feel like I recognize good work by the fact that I get lost in it,” Lehene says. “I think art is a paradigm for keeping one’s mind open.”

Random walk is a concept used in many fields, including economics, mathematics and game theory. Roughly speaking, it theorizes that past performance has no bearing on future results; that choices we make going forward are fraught with the same risks and potential rewards. Random walk with drift means that the probabilities are not distributed evenly among a set of choices. It seems to fit the trained economist in the artistic world.

“For me, as an immigrant moving through new cultural spaces, it was a way of thinking more poetically, more openendedly about my condition in a sense,” Lehene says. “As I work on one piece, I try to forget about whatever the plan was and give in to the work. The message clarifies itself along the way.”

Random Walk With Drift features drawings and paintings based on the questions posed by moving from a familiar environment into something similar, but not the same. Or as Lehene puts it, “you feel like you know, but you don’t know what’s really going on.”

Some of Lehene’s pieces are three-dimensional creations made from bamboo or urethane rubber. Others are layered paintings that obscure subtle imagery with splashes of colorful brilliance or intricate line work. His drawings are based on sketches Lehene does while he drives the verdant lands of his adopted Colorado home.

“I have a sketch pad next to me or in my lap and I blindly draw. Those drawings actually accumulate like a trip as I move through it,” Lehene says.

He is mindful not to cross the line from artist to daredevil when finding inspiration while driving.

“I’m not suicidal,” he says about keeping his eyes on the road.

The finished result is a succession of scenes depicting a foreign land devoid of any personal history.

Whether drawn up on the fly or constructed and deconstructed over countless introspective hours, Lehene keeps his learning cap on and his mind open to creativity.

“In art, who knows what’s being taught, and what is being learned?” Lehene asks. “Every step is always a function of intuition and guesses and experimentation.”

Cover Story by Daniel Pitín and Random Walk With Drift by Marius Lehene are on display through Jan. 27 at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art. Call 303-443-2122 or visit BMoCA’s website.