Jubilee 90 years since the birth of Risto Kalchevski (1933-1989)

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We inform you that on 21.12.2023 (Thursday), in the National Gallery, object Daut Pashin hammam, the exhibition “Jubilee 90 years since the birth of Risto Kalchevski (1933-1989)” will be opened at 7:30 p.m.


On the 90th birth anniversary of Risto Kalchevski (1933-1989), one of the most significant interpreters of the Art Informel practice in Macedonian fine arts, our goal is an integral presentation of his plentiful work. The summarized research and analyzes to date, i.e. his critical and scientific valorization as an author who left a specific mark in certain social conditions, indicate that Risto Kalchevski occupies an exceptional place in the development and affirmation of Macedonian contemporary art, leaving a special mark through his long-term pedagogical work.
Defining him as one of the most significant representatives of Informalism in the country, a short review of one of the most significant world painting directions after World War II is inevitable. In conditions where “doubt in the rational organization of society and rational moral principles exacerbates the problem of human existence, just as the concept of a well-organized and harmonious world based on ‘philosophical reason’ loses almost all value” (L. Trifunović, Slikarski pravci XX veka, Jedinstvo, Priština, Prosveta, Beograd, 1982 – Л. Труфиновиħ, Сликарски правци XX века, Јединство, Приштина, Просвета, Београд, 1982), informal or abstract expressionism is not only a painting direction, seen in the narrow sense of the word, but also a broader movement that encompasses a variety of painting practice, starting with action painting in the USA, through lyrical abstraction in France, all the way to matter painting.
Informalism in Macedonia (and the former SFRY), in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s of the 20th century, appears somewhat later than such phenomena and tendencies have occurred in the USA and Europe. Namely, as noted by the art critic L. Nedelkovska “…the Informalism in Macedonia, as well as in Yugoslavia, develops and reaches its intensity in the period when the process of its stabilization and conventionalization takes place in Europe and the USA, i.e. the process of its academicization.” (L. Nedelkovska, Enformel: 1959-1966 (kratka istorija na enformelnoto slikarstvo vo Makedonija, MSU, Skopje, 2009 – Л.Неделковска, Енформел: 1959-1966 (кратка историја на енформелното сликарство во Македонија, МСУ, Скопје, 2009). From a historical perspective, its emergence represents a key tendency in the liberation, modernization, and development of contemporary Macedonian art after World War II.
Risto Kalchevski emerged in a particularly significant period for the Macedonian art scene, in the mid-1950s, i.e. when the freedom of artistic creation became an unstoppable process in the modernization of artistic expression. He belongs to the generation of visual artists educated at some of the Yugoslav art academies. Even during his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana (in Maksim Sedej’s class), receiving painting lessons on former artistic tendencies, he gradually approached post-cubism. “1955 is the unofficial date when he began to use his free time to create works of art of his own taste, despite still having obligations at the Academy of Fine Arts in Ljubljana.“ (M. Bochvarova Plavevska, Risto Kalchevski, MSU, Skopje, 2001) – М. Бочварова Плавевска, Ристо Калчевски, МСУ, Скопје, 2001) His works were exhibited for the first time after he graduated in 1957, at a group exhibition in Prilep. The critical public defines these works as the result of synthetic cubism, in which a “characteristic abbreviated pictorial evolution” is evident. Harmonized strict relations emphasize geometric lines that shape the shapes and plans of objects, eliminating the play of light and shade and tonal value solutions.
The real beginning of his creative development path is the inclusion in the “Mugri” group, in 1960-1961, corresponding to the new stylistic tendencies in his work, where the associative shapes what appears in the painting. The figure is still present, not completely eliminated. But the treatment in shaping the surface indicates a tendency to break down the form, much more than to construct it. At the same time, the palette has been meticulously refined, and the texture has been magnified.
Kalchevski’s first solo exhibition in 1961 (together with Dragutin Avramovski Gute) defined him indisputably as an author whose work belongs to abstract painting. The characteristic pictorial treatment in the shaping of the artist’s vision of some phenomena from reality on the canvas indicates his approach to calm lyrical abstraction (the 1961-1962 period). He himself noted “…the canvas…I, so to speak, pierce it, not literally, of course. I’m looking for depth… Besides, I’m absorbed with the world of ripening, rotting, with the problem of changes that time brings.” (L. Nedelkovska, Enformel…; Л.Неделковска, Енформел…) Such associations, suggested by the author himself, point to the possibility of cleaning up “painting matter and its ‘spilling’ on the canvas as a kind of metaphorical substitute for organic matter in its dynamism, pulsation, collision, and disintegration”. (L. Nedelkovska, Enformel…; Л.Неделковска, Енформел…) This particularly fruitful period for his “art physiognomy” (1961-1962) tends to ennoble the art medium. The texture of the painting derives primarily from pictorial refinement. In the absence of a rigorous architectural scheme, the author, through delicate processing of balanced colored surfaces, which subtly flow into each other, returns to the painting “individual sensibility especially in the selection of separate passages, arrived as a registration of the meeting of colors in the process itself of the creation of the work, whose ecstaticity is controlled.” (M. Bochvarova Plavevska, Risto…; М. Бочварова Плавевска, Ристо…)
In the 1963-1968 period, Kalchevski created works which according to their characteristics belong to the so-called abstract landscape and/or abstract naturalism. According to Boris Petkovski, the works created in this period retain the “basic internal driving potential”, shaping a kind of imaginary geology, a characteristic imaginary space as an association of nature. A basic feature of this creative phase is the expansion of the painting medium by the introduction of non-painting materials. In contrast to his former smooth texture, technologically very skillful, Kalchevski now introduces other materials into the oil paste of the colors. In this way, he achieves a strongly emphasized pastiness that causes a relief surface on the painting. The next step (1964-1965) is the partitioning of the image into surfaces whose diverse color function is emphasized by clearly separating them from each other. The end of the ‘60s (1967-1968) opens up to new “aesthetic horizons” by homogenizing the surface, which is now broken up by several parallel layers of wooden boards, variously profiled and colored. This parceling of the painting surface is achieved with thick layers of paint that contain relief additions.
After 1968 (around 1970) Kalchevski works on the so-called images-objects, little known or not at all known to the Macedonian public. These extremely interesting examples essentially follow the already established principle of surface partitioning. In this regard, the art critic M. Bochvarova Plavevska states that, in the ratio between the pictorial and the objective in the painting, in this case, the author puts the color in the background. At the same time, not only does he emphasize the use of plastic elements, which suppress the pictorial moment, but also provides a different dimension to the artistic to the “sculptural” or “object” dimension.
The ‘70s period (1972-1980), according to art critic Sonja Abadzieva, is defined by two possibilities in the approach to solving the abstract in Kalchevski’s artwork. One is bound by the gradual abolition of the object in the painting and its reduction to a “pure relationship of color and shape”, which is brought into relation with abstract naturalism. While, on the other hand, the second solution is to affirm a purely plastic concept from the very beginning, which in turn can be linked to “a kind of conceptualism in the abstract”. A careful observation of his work indicates the parallel existence of these two possibilities of the two worlds “interacting through harmonious relations”. Hence, in Kalchevski’s works created in 1975-1978, guided by the first principle, the connection with reality has not yet disappeared. They make up a collage of rich chromatic surfaces that allude to certain landscape panoramas, where color becomes a substitution of the concept (umbra replaces the earth, blue the water or the cosmos, gray the stone, green the field or the forest, red the internal energy, etc.). He applies the same principle of extended association in the abstract to the structure, where the coexistence of smooth and rough surfaces indicates the destruction of the surface, associating with certain processes and transformations in matter (folding, splitting, bending, breaking, separating, etc.).
Towards the end of the ‘70s, his artistic signature tones down. He replaces the color contrast with a tonal gradation, through soft weaving of the texture with similar and equal elements whose movement actually creates the shape of the space with a tendency to go out of the frame of the picture. Art criticism at the time, based on the tonal gradation of color in the informal approach, on the one hand, as well as the subtle relief structures of the material on the other hand, placed Kalchevski’s work within the framework of French lyrical abstraction (Bazaine, Singier, Zao Wou-Ki, Manessier etc.).
His last accomplishments in the late ‘80s, near the end of his life, only seemingly, as M. Bochvarova notes, differ from his previous artistic thoughts. They feature meticulous refinement, careful nuance of tones that are placed two-dimensionally, through wrinkled and layered plots, where the author simultaneously introduces various drawing or collage interventions. They build on the beginnings of his work, reincarnating the first lyrical moments in his latest achievements.
The color expression is primary, as opposed to the composition and structure which are reduced, although the once densely applied paint to a state of relief indicates the need to satisfy the element of plasticity in the work of art. For Kalchevski, color is an artistic sign, but it also has its own pictorial peculiarities, which gives it a meaning with a phenomenological character. He combines the tones in “acceptable regularities of rules derived from the physical-perceptual properties of colors, but also from the codes of conceptual structuring of colors”. (M. Bochvarova Plavevska, Risto…; М. Бочварова Плавевска, Ристо…)
Furthermore, Bochvarova Plavevska notes that his paintings are abstract, but without visible aggressiveness. They contain a certain tenderness, as a result of the shading of the monochromatic surfaces. It is noticeable that for Kalchevski, painting is the result of a “moderate automatic procedure and analytical aspect”. This attitude is the result of the approach to the painting as an analytical process that includes the breakdown of the same or different pictorial fields and their connection as a whole. Following the span of Risto Kalchevski’s artistic thought, we can conclude that his work has its own specific context in the development of Macedonian artistic creativity, a context that to this day still causes new, overall, and separately, deeper layers of meaning.

Maja Nedelkoska-Brzanova, curator – advisor
Maja Chankulovska-Mihajlovska, senior curator

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