The title of the exhibition underlines the artist’s distancing from the quotidian world and his secluded place in Latvian art history, as well as the timelessness of the subjects he choses. If there was a competition for titles, Šenbergs would deserve the one of “the most mysterious personality”. Having acquired education during the first period of Latvian independence, throughout his life he worked for his own pleasure and designated tasks. He took part in group exhibitions only at the urging of his wife Beata, because he was afraid of becoming famous. There is a widespread perception that his work was driven by a conscious avoidance of serving the powers that be, yet it is a myth as he has worked extensively on portraiture of Joseph Stalin. It can rather be claimed that the author simply was not interested in the worldly and the transient. Although his oeuvre contains landscapes copied from nature and portraits of concrete persons, the real appears to be enveloped in a shroud of mystery, engaging the mind and unleashing fantasy.
The quintessence of Šenbergs’ art resides in the fusion of two contradictory notions – the presence of time and its absence. The compositions created over several months or even years become reservoirs of time that have accumulated countless hours of work. At the same time, due to the difficulty in determining the difference between finished and unfinished paintings, various contingencies in their format (at any point the author could extract something from the composition, or expand it by attaching additional plywood elements), the conditionality of the moment slips in. His art creates the impression of gazing at the flow of water, where the exact composition of the painting is an eternity stopped for an instant.
The artist’s paintings can be grouped into three periods: the dark period (1940s – mid-1950s), studies of nature (1956 – 1969) and the light period (1970 – 1989). They differ in formal approaches, with a dominant motif apparent in each. What remains constant is the artist’s inward-facing perspective, which questions the actual relevance of the dates on the paintings to the story of Šenbergs. It would be important, if we sought to prove his extraordinariness with, for example, the creation of an abstract painting in 1937, when figuralism was flourishing all around. We could continue the list, but that is unimportant. The author was only interested in solving the inner tasks in his work, and not the external fanfare caused by questions such as “who first” and “who’s the best”.
The artist was also indifferent towards popularity, as in 1988 he did not even attend the first and last solo exhibition of his work during his lifetime at the State Museum of Art. From this moment on, the interest of the admirers of his art became unstoppable, and was especially stimulated by the gallery created by private collector Valdemārs Helmanis. From 1991 to 1994, it contained a space specifically installed for the works of Šenbergs and accessible to the artist and the general audience. The gallery suffered a fire in 1995 and the already limited oeuvre left by Šenbergs dwindled further.
The exposition of “Beyond Time” is built separating two aspects – the public and the private. The public had access to the paintings from the “light” period, which occasionally were shown in group exhibitions. This section includes references to the artist’s living space – his wife Beata and the view from the window of his room, as well as the story of the role of private collector Valdemārs Helmanis in the popularisation of his art. The drawings and watercolours exhibited in the Balcony reveal the artist’s style and tasks working in other media. For example, the large-format work in charcoal clearly shows Šenbergs’ fascination with the representation of movement on a plane, drawing parallels with the past efforts of the Futurists. The Upper Gallery is devoted to private secrets. They are introduced by an interactive presentation which reveals the tricks behind several paintings. It is followed by works of various configurations in an ornamental arrangement, as the artist was engaged in a search for ideal spatial constructions and mathematical relations appropriate to his art. The private section concludes with the author’s thought space. It shows the so-called pages from the diary, records of the flow of consciousness and codings of signs. The pages reveal the artist’s obsession with ornament as well as the need to discharge, break free of the confusion created by the parallelism of thoughts.
The exhibition has been realised in collaboration with the Latvian National Museum of Art, Tukums Museum, Department of Restoration of the Art Academy of Latvia, “Dd studio”, “Antonija” Classic Art Gallery and private collections of Irina and Māris Vītols, Aldis Plaudis, Valdemārs Helmanis, Guntis Belēvičs. Special thanks to Līga Jansone for technical research of Georgs Šenbergs’ paintings and Zigurds Konstants for consultations as well the friendly filming crew of TV24.
This selection of Šenbergs’ brightest work is not complete, as one week before the opening of the exhibition the Artists’ Union of Latvia demanded rent for their works and included a disproportionate security guarantee clause, making us settle for a centenary overview that, contrary to initial plans, lacks several masterpieces.
Curator of the exhibition: Sniedze Kāle
Press image: Georgs Šenbergs. Youth. Oil on plywood. 105 x 105. Collection of the Latvian National Museum of Art. AG-2012.