WT Foundation in Kyiv, Ukraine, just closed Стрілецька (Streletska), a solo exhibition of new paintings by Rute Merk which was on view between June 4th and Aug 1st. And after closely following her practice and enjoying her groundbreaking technical approach for some time, we were excited to finally have an opportunity to introduce her exceptional oil paintings. Yes, oil paintings.

At the first glance, Merk's visuals seem to be depicting the 3D renditions of computer game screenshots rather than oil portraits of human subjects. At the moment when many young artists resort to the use of spray paint and airbrush to capture the smoothness of the digital aesthetics, Lithuanian-born and Berlin-based painter decided to work with the oldest and most traditional of tools to convey her concepts and imagery. Placed in an uncanny, timeless scenery built from blurry patterns rather than actual places, her sitters are both flattened while being attributed with elaborate surfaces and accentuated volume qualities. Appearing as if they were abruptly transported into the scene and existing as holograms within their surroundings, they feel exceptionally detached from anything and everything around them. 

Using the common digital fragmentation of the image as the structural base for her work, Merk is capable of using her linen support, oil paint, and brush, to construct a range of effective and traditionally uncommon surfaces and effects. Jumping between transparency, blur, plasticity, shine, or the compressed feel of certain sections, her visuals are (I imagine), equally exciting to construct and render as much as they are captivating to examine and decipher. On top of that, such an approach is putting a strong accent on the most impossible light settings and the creation of the screen light illusion, which is in this presentation accentuated with spotlights and darkened walls of the space.

And such a striking choice of classical techniques over contemporary tools is part of a well thought-through concept with which Merk comments on the way that digital imagery interferes with the traditional art and ways of enjoying it. Aware of the way that screen appearance can determine artists’ decisions and inform the work's final look, she seems to have decided to push this concept overboard in order to "prove the point". Taking into account the loss of the actual scale or the flattening of the layers or shades while experiencing it on the screen, Merk is entirely embracing the digital possibilities and/or values while masterfully utilizing the long-established methods, materials, and tools. Simultaneously, she is referencing the alienated, artificial, and blurry nature of the digital or social network existence, basically using her seemingly emotionless, numb protagonists to find and depict the classical forms of beauty in virtual or digital reality. 

Following their previous presentations by Botond Keresztesi and Christian Newell, this exhibition is continuing the WT Foundation's mission to promote the discovery and appreciation of global contemporary art in Kiev, Ukraine. —Sasha Bogojev

Photos by Maksym Bilousov