Mimi Jaksic-Berger arrived in Paris in 1958, acquainting her with the abstract works of the tachistes (from the French tache meaning blot or stain), whose emotionally charged, gestural brushwork and splashes of pigment had a strong resonance for her. At its heart was a regard for the primitive impulse in art.
This abstraction lyrique, akin to American action painting, was an intuitive style based on the technique of surrealist automatism while also applying Wassily Kandinsky’s principles of spirituality and inner necessity as the primary motivating forces of artistic creativity. According to Kandinsky, who believed with a quasi-religious fervour in the transcendent quality of art, an artist must train not only his eye but also his soul. With the same conviction, Jaksic-Berger avows as a matter of creed that, “Abstraction is the purest and most truthful art, a direct gift from God.”
Like the artist-émigrés from Europe whose avant-garde concepts were seminal to the development of the post-war abstract expressionist movement of the New York School in America, Jaksic-Berger would pioneer lyrical abstraction in her adoptive country, Australia, remaining its doyenne for more than half a decade. Her virtuosic mastery of the genre would garner her an international reputation and a place in the prestigious Phillips Collection of modern art in Washington, D.C.
It’s apt, for one whose quest for freedom was such an irrepressible drive, that the primacy of personal expression has always been fundamental to Jaksic-Berger’s oeuvre. A singular, distinctive voice rings sonorously through all her imagery. Every painting she undertakes is a journey on which she embarks anew and a chronicle of its own creation, the process being equally important as the finished product. Each begins in the same way, with no preconceived idea of the completed image.
For Jaksic-Berger, as for Jackson Pollock, one of action painting’s prime exponents, the canvas is an arena in which to act. Working on the floor with large brushes in a kind of choreography, she applies pure colours with wet edges to the canvas and then spontaneously creates a composition from the forms that begin to emerge, allowing her unconscious to play an active part in the production of the image in much the same way as Leonardo da Vinci studied stains on walls or forms in fire as a stimulus to his creative imagination. She shares Leonardo’s sentiment that, ‘Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.’
Jaksic-Berger’s paintings continually reveal themselves in their successive layers, being open to multiple levels of interpretation based on the cognition, psychology and visual orientation of the viewer, similar to Rorschach inkblots. Demonstrating her affinity for the musicality of painting, with her palette tuned to a high key, she creates in a crescendo of colour rhapsodic compositions in staccato brushstrokes and broad adagio sweeping curves that vary the visual tempo of her images.
From aqueous blues, like amniotic fluid, are born figures or organic forms that refer to the natural world but exist in an illusory space. Rich in archaeological metaphors, they are landscapes of the psyche that transport the viewer, illustrating how imaginative experience can transform our perceptions of reality. The painterly panache and passionate intensity she brings to her imagery enhances their visual power and poetic poignancy.
As Jaksic-Berger succinctly says of her approach to her own work, “Art is a story, a narrative about the unknown, something you observe that can’t be seen in life but to which you give life.”
Linda van Nunen, 2012
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