Portals and related works

A painter by the very act of displaying their works in a gallery space is attempting to communicate. It is a revealing act, it is a mode of expression, and ultimately it is an invitation.

There is a grave contradiction and irony when a body of work exhibited by an artist who has the idealism, ambition and motivation to create a personal language then claims the unimportance of sharing this language, or welcoming understanding. Perversely it is a revelation in itself.

Tomislav Nikolic's work is all about contradictions. He is inviting the audience to view his work, but the paintings by their very (abstract) nature are also a barrier between the viewer and the artist's intentions and personal philosophies. He informs us that these paintings are a language of colour and symbolism, but they represent personal definitions and the symbolism must be explained. This effectively causes a demanding involvement from any interested viewer, because the artist must be sought out. The viewer has to ask questions, become involved in a relationship to a certain extent. The viewers have to reveal themselves in order to learn the artist's language.

The challenge of Nikolic's paintings is not at first obvious. It is their simple, easily pleasing beauty that is so attractive. Beauty seems to be the artist's constant temptation, and he uses it also to please and seduce the viewer. The rich, luminous colours of his paintings; the simple compositions of pure fields of colour; the strong, classic, yet somehow masculine square shape of the canvases - aesthetically they work to a basic human response to beautiful objects.

It is not until the viewer comes closer to the paintings that their subtleties reveal themselves. The seemingly pure flat colour of the surface is the obvious and dominating feature of the work. It sits on a base of solid black; this anchor black creates the impression that the dominant colour is floating on its surface. Each painting has a second colour on the sides of the solid square canvas that prove to be another strong feature when viewing the work from different perspective's. Then a delicate brushstroke or a fine thin edge reveals a possible third colour, and sometimes a fourth colour. The viewer becomes aware of the construction of each work. The layering of the paintings and hidden colours create an awareness of surface. The chalky texture of the paintings tempts the desire to touch. Mystery and curiosity germinates.

Nikolic has chosen each colour so purposefully. He has pedantically painted each layer with delightful perfection and intention. There are obvious patterns of repetition: of colours, shapes, and compositions. The three tiered display of this body of work is also particularly purposeful. It is impossible to recognise a pattern of thought and intention and then not to logically ask - why?

Nikolic has offered clues by inventing strategic titles.

The set of small 12 works are titled Untitled Auric Portals (I see myself in you). For the artist this work draws upon auric dogma. That the true spirit can be revealed by the colours of an individual's aura - their spiritual energy - and in turn the spirit is linked to their higher (or celestial) body. They represent the individual, the mind. This set of paintings sits just above eye level, acting as the portals that link to the larger sized repeated colour above them, and even larger sized works below.

The artist started this collection of works with this set of 12. His attempt is to express strong clear, intense colour and relate that to an emotion. He intends the viewer to get caught in the dominant colour. The secondary (side) colour around then breaks this engagement between the viewer and the dominant colour and allows them to move on from that emotion. If you look at the work straight on it is prominent and overwhelming, to look at it side on, you see it whole.

Each colour the artist has chosen represents to him an emotion or a specific experience he has had -a point in time within his life. He has used colours that he likes, that resonate with harmony or contrast. They are not portraits of other people, but it is a characteristic in the people he encounters in his life that strikes within the artist. To complicate these human relationships further the artist realises that the emotions or characteristics he witnesses in others could possibly be a mirror of himself. It is this idea of projection - of projecting your own traits, faults, feelings, blessings, truths onto others that is the basis of the artist's work.

The medium sized canvases that appear high above us, the top tier, are individual works all titled after names of angels. The artist has sourced these specific figures from ancient and multi-religious cultures with beliefs in angelic spirits and figures who themselves have different personalities and characteristics. These abstract paintings therefore represent the higher celestial body. They are guardians, helpers, figures of spiritual beauty, purity, and blessings.

Nikolic seems almost embarrassed by the high idealism of such notions and through the portals of the middle ground (mind) takes us to the other extreme - the unbelieving, disillusioned cynic.

The bottom tier contains the largest of the canvases, and again is linked by repetition of colour. They represent the body within this construction of human identity. Their titles are sardonic, bitter oxymorons. They are phrases that are blunt in their cynicism and negativity, but enjoy their mischievous humour.

Ironically the artist reveals more about himself than perhaps he would feel comfortable. These contradictions reflect two things: his desire to know more about human existence and spiritual truth, and his frailty and sensitivity as a human being who rejects religious hypocrisies and is hurt by human rejections or misunderstandings.

Nikolic's Catholicism is a logical breeding ground for these confusions. A lifetime of learning the profound Christian good to strive for spiritual purity, surrounded by the physical beauty of exquisite images of angels, and the physical perfection of Christ the Lord and the Virgin Mary (hence Nikolic's obsession with beauty?). The ideologies that perpetuate the disconnection between mind, body and spirit and the hypocrisies that exist in a rejection at best, and persecution at worst of human sexuality, seem to be a constant creative source. The sacred and profane, that exist in the artist (and his work), and in every human, is the great contradiction which has the power to destroy the human spirit, but can also delight.

A part of Nikolic wants to believe in this world of spiritual guardians, and spiritual purity, but his cynic comes out to destroy this. Nikolic creates surfaces to hide behind, but is also compelled to exhibit parts of his personality through his work.

The artist is not afraid of these contradictions, or contradicting himself, in fact he relishes this notion. Perhaps because it offers seemingly endless possibilities, or alternative ideas. He seems blasé that he is not creating a language for others to read. It is a very personal interpretation of colours to him born from his instinct and emotions. But don't be fooled - this is an artist that is intoxicated by people, and suspicious of them. He is constantly seduced - by their beauty and complexities. And when he claims it is of little importance to him for people to learn his language or to understand his work, be suspicious yourself. This is just one of his devilish contradictions.

Marielle Schwerin, June 2001