Gojmir Anton Kos – ‘A Painter in Dialogue with Photography’

Gojmir Anton Kos: Dalmatinke s košarami grozdja, 1936

From October 5 until December 5 2010

Moderna galerija Ljubljana

This study exhibition comprises approximately one hundred photographs – some originals, the rest prints made for this occasion – and a number of related paintings. In addition to the photographs the painter used as references for some of his landscape motifs, also works that reveal his complex perception of the medium of photography, will be presented for the first time. Kos was a master portrait photographer, as is evident from the pictures of his family members, and he based the effect of his street shots, whether in big European cities or in villages, on visually and psychologically powerful moments.
The connection between Gojmir Anton Kos’s painting and some of his photography was first pointed out by the makers of his retrospective in 1992. But photography did not only serve as a memory aid to the artist when recreating landscape motifs. He also used photography as a means to record events and impressions that were not directly related to his painting. He captured scenes from street life while travelling through towns in Dalmatia and Europe, he photographed interiors displaying furniture he designed, documented some of the shows in which he participated, made photographic auto portraits, portraits of his wife and mother as well as numerous portraits of relatives and villagers attending social gatherings.

We could therefore label the collection of over 2,300 photographic shots preserved as a personal journal of sorts. Amongst these there are many which exceed the mere capturing of moments for the family album and are instead a product of the artist’s creative thought.

Despite the obvious similarity between some of his photographs and paintings it is difficult to accurately determine to what extent his painting was influenced by his photography.

It would seem photography served him as a tool to rationally check shapes and proportions when recreating motifs from nature yet not to the point of replacing his direct sensual experience in the sense of it being structured around photographs which the expression »photography as basis for painting« implies.

The artist’s mental view, his »inner picture« as he called it, was a product of his direct observation, live presence in the midst of a landscape or town. With some topics he managed to break free from his exploration within painting and immersed himself in the media of photography. When taking a photograph – be it of a quarry, female nude or flowers – he presented it in the language of photography as experienced anew. He took photographs of the river so frequently it was as if the act of capturing it in the eye of the camera allowed him to gain new insight into the river itself.

Particularly interesting amongst his photography are shots of street life which show the artist’s ability to quickly determine how to frame the photograph so the image will have meaning and follow its own intrinsic rules.

As Kos followed moments in which the content and psychological premises, tonal value, the arrangement of surfaces, lines and overall detail all joined in to form a balanced whole, he was in effect making the so-called deciding moment come into being. His street photography appeals with a sort of simple beauty which can best be compared to the poetic photography of his European contemporaries. In the thirties they also explored with their Leica cameras the aesthetics of everyday, passing moments from street life and transformed them into visually rich images which nevertheless showed a sort of restraint streaming from presence without involvement in the action.

Photographs which best show Kos’s fully developed sense of the aesthetics of capturing moments and his sense of artistic value of black and white captured light represent an important accomplishment of photographic modernism of the thirties and challenge the established view of the history of Slovenian photographic art.

Lara Štrumej