Maja Maljevic (b. Belgrade, Serbia, 1973) began to consider herself as artist from as early as high school, when she decided to study within the design department in preparation for tertiary studies in the arts. Acceptance into the University of Arts Belgrade depended on producing a portfolio of sufficient quality to meet the stringent demands of the faculty. Once accepted, a gruelling seven years of training followed, of which the first few years consisted purely of academic and classical arts education – drawing and painting from life, the nude, portraiture, still life and the attendant classical theory. Once this solid traditional foundation had been laid, the fledgling artists were set free to discover for themselves what kind of practitioners they wanted to be. For Maljević, like so many artists post-1863, this meant unlearning how to draw – as Picasso famously quipped, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”
Maljević cites the German Expressionists as a major early influence, and has also drawn inspiration from the work of more recent artists such as Philip Guston, Cy Twombly and Jean-Michel Basquiat. She relates that in her first few years at university she loved more than anything to draw the sculptures of Michelangelo, smitten with the bold and monumental perfection of his work, which was simultaneously so real and unreal. Alongside the visual arts she has often expressed the impact on her work of growing up with the sounds of new wave, punk, rock and roll and then later grunge music, which formed a big part of her everyday life. All these things, in the life of an abstract painter, contribute to the pictures she paints, painting being a procedure involving the ‘excavation of memory and taste’.
However, although she works intuitively, her concerns are predominantly formal. Her interest, for instance, in the relationship between two shapes within a composition is informed primarily by an interest in the shapes themselves rather than the arrangement’s capacity to be symbolic of an experience or representative of an essential emotional state. In as much as Maljević unravelled her traditional training in order to find her own voice, her grounding in the academic and the classical allowed her to bloom through abstraction, engaged in an act of creation that sidesteps diegesis.
Maljević’s particular style, in which she has been training herself since then, begins with the “dirtying” of the canvas with a layer of bright paint that breaks the baldness of the white surface and opens up the space for Maljević’s intuitive jigsaw endeavour. Onto this ground, Maljević builds up surfaces with drips, blocks, bands and waves of colour, searching for harmony between colour and form, line and shape, expansive surface and small detail. For Maljević, physical movement is an important part of the process – never can she be found sitting at an easel. Through her own version of gestural abstraction, Maljević prevents the composition from becoming staid and self-indulgent, as she has puts it, and allows action and conflict to occur between the different elements with which she is engaged. Sometimes Maljević incorporates fragments of the world as it is happening around her while she paints, but without dictating their significance to the viewer.
Maljević’s description of her own process recalls Kandinsky, the synesthetic predecessor who sought to create visual music: ‘When I combine objects, it is not a play on their meaning and what they should represent, but rather how they clash, feed from each other, create chaos and from that chaos a perfect sound is made, like too many notes that end up forming harmony. You take one out and everything collapses.
To capture and describe my creative process is like putting music into words – something essential gets lost in translation. How can you record the emotional volume present in the art of listening?
Painting requires experience, dedication, boredom, excitement, dissatisfaction and an eye for possibilities. You have to acknowledge the past and at the same time retune the present without the fear of originality or influence. You have to enjoy the process of painting, playing with variety and assembling style.
I enjoy a visual ensemble that includes the figurative and the abstract, the organic and geometric, the obvious and the elusive. Put them all together and you get an eclectic remix where any one thing can be something else. A portrait can rise out of a still life, a still life can descend into a landscape, a finger is a toe and two legs, slightly parted, might be a whisper.
To make something is to sound its own purpose, its own existence.
“… And then I occasionally introduce forms which have no literal meaning whatsoever. Sometimes these are accidents which happen to suit my purpose, sometimes ‘rhymes’ which echo other forms, and sometimes rhythmical motifs which help to integrate a composition and give it movement… Objects don’t exist for me except insofar as a rapport exists between them or between them and myself.” (De Kooning)
Kalashnikovv Gallery (JHB), Solo Show: ‘’Room With A View’ (2017)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Disrupted’ (2016)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Horror Vacui’ (2014)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Works on Paper’ (2014)
David Krut Projects (CT), Solo Show: ‘Ex Nihilo’ (2012)
Nirox Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Revisted’ (2012)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Bubble and Leak’ (2011)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘2 Months Thursdays’ (2010)
David Krut Projects (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Into The Spine’ (2009)
Obert Contemporary (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Drawings’ (2008)
Obert Contemporary (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Pretty Monsters’ (2007)
Obert Contemporary (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Fact and Fiction’ (2005)
Spark Gallery (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Present Tense’ (2002)
Inspace Interiors (JHB), Solo Show: ‘Recent Work’ (2002)
Gallery Zvono (Belgrade, Serbia), Solo Show: ‘Emocore’ (1999)
Maljevic has exhibited extensively in group exhibitions: ‘The Colourist Manifesto’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2018); ‘Memento Mori’, Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg (2018); ‘A Contemporary Showcase’, Graham’s Fine Art Gallery (2018); ‘Occupy II’, Fried Contemporary Art Gallery, Pretoria (2017); ‘Super Salon II’, Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg (2017); ‘A Piece of Work: An Exhibition of Various Unique Works’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2017); ‘Salon Hang’, David Krut Projects, New York (2017); ‘Mantenga | DKW Prints’, David Krut Projects, New York (2016) ‘Nano’, Barnard Gallery, Cape Town (2016); ‘i.n.c.h x i.n.c.h’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2016); ‘No End to This’, NO END, Contemporary Art Space, Johannesburg (2015); ‘Art Exhibition’, Jan Celliers, Johannesburg (2015); ‘Out of Context’, University of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg (2015); ‘Carved’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2015); ‘Young Collectors’, Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg (2015); ‘I Take It All Back’, Nirox Projects, Johannesburg (2014); ‘Along The Line’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2014); ‘The Benediction of Shade’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2014); ‘Equinox’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2014); ‘MATRIX’, David Krut Projects, Cape Town; ‘PAPERWORK’, SMAC Gallery, Stellenbosch (2014); ‘THe Xmas Show’, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town (2013-2014); ‘BACK TO THE FUTURE: Abstract Art in South Africa Past and Present’, SMAC Gallery, Cape Town (2013); ‘Inspiracija-Secanhe ili Buducnost’, KCB-Podroom Gallery, Belgrade (2013); ‘The Painters Show’, Kalashnikovv Gallery, Johannesburg (2013); ‘The Lite Room’, Basel, Switzerland (2012); ‘Art on Paper’, Casa Labia Galleria, Cape Town (2011); ‘The New Spell’, David Krut Projects, New York (2008); ‘6:08’, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg (2008); ‘Bicycle’, Art Space, Johannesburg (2007); ‘The Winning Team’, Gallery Zvono, Belgrade (2007); ‘Melrose Art’, Obert Contemporary, Johannesburg (2005); ‘Warm Red Carven’, Moja Modern, Johannesburg (2004); ‘Critics Choice’, Cultural Centre, Belgrade (1999); ‘Exhibition of the New Members of Ulus’, Ulus, Belgrade (1999); ‘3rd Yogoslav Biennale of Youth’, Vrsac, Yogoslavia (1998); and ‘2nd Karlovac Salon of Youth’, Karlovac, Yugoslavia (1995).
Art fairs include Cape Town Art Fair (2015, 2017), FNB Joburg Art Fair (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2018), Turbine Art Fair (2013, 2015), Singapore Art Fair (2014), VIENNAFAIR, Viena, Austria (2007), Art Fair Cologne, Germany (2006) and Editions Artists Book Fair, New York (2009, 2010).