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November 5-December 18, 2005

Vesna Kittelson's Lost and Found in America

Vesna Kittelson’s paintings are visionary works. They have the power to arrest the viewers in a moment and carry them off to imaginary worlds. Her expressive canvases are explosions of fantasy and uninhibited imagination, overflowing with multilayered narratives that speak of the tragedy of war, displacement, and the entangled trajectories of the immigrant experience.

The striking images of floating feet moving across undefined and amorphous spaces, which open Kittelson’s exhibit at the Catherine G. Murphy Gallery at the College of St.Catherine, are in themselves powerful metaphors of cultural uprooting and of the possibility of residing in different realms at the same time.

Juxtaposition and convergence of multiple realities lie at the heart of Kittelson’s art. Her paintings bring forth a plurality of cultures, places, events, and personal experiences that are temporally and spatially distinct yet somewhat magically interconnected, giving birth to entirely new narratives. Having immigrated to the United States from Croatia (part of former Yugoslavia) in 1970, Kittelson responded in a powerful way to the revolutionary upheavals in southeastern Europe and the violent conflicts of the Balkan Wars of 1989-1995.

The Massacre of the Civilian Population in Timisoara, Romania is a pivotal work in Kittelson’s “War Series.” It is a powerful response to the horrific day of December 17, 1989, when Romanian dictator Nicolae Caucescu ordered his soldiers to fire on unarmed demonstrators in the streets of Timisoara. Kittelson registers here death, blood, and unspeakable violence inflicted on innocent civilians, while inserting her own self-image in different parts of this fractured narrative, as if to bear witness to this dark chapter in contemporary European history.

Other works in the series speak more directly about the painful tragedy of her homeland. After visiting war-ravaged towns in Bosnia and Croatia, she returned to the United States, where she continued to follow the drama of death and destruction from a comfortable distance. In her painting, Parallel Realities, she expressively captures the duality of her state of mind and her painful recognition of being trapped between these dramatically different worlds.

If Kittelson’s work is branded by the savagery that has always been part of human existence, it also offers the possibility of imagining something different--an infinite human capacity for love and tenderness, and the ability to invent new, mesmerizing worlds. Gift of Wings, Going Places, Leap into America, and After the Tempest, among others, take us on a journey to an entirely new plane. They provide a rejuvenating escape into the world of dreams, otherworldly magic, and wondrous travels across different layers of Western culture, claiming as a playground nothing else but a “cosmic space.”

Kittelson draws with great erudition on different artistic periods, making frequent references to ancient heritage, mythology, and the Mediterranean culture and, like a magician, she connects these different elements with a thin thread that meanders across a nondescript space. Her canvases are filled with lyricism and sensuality, but they also burst with an astonishing sense of energy and inner vitality. Influenced by Neo-Expressionism and New Image Painting, Kittelson explores her medium to its full potential. She floods her canvases with fields of intense reds and glowing yellows and animates them by layers of gestural brushworks, which lift viewers into the whirl of their painterly dance, leaving us entranced, with our feet off the ground.

Joanna Inglot, Curator
Associate Professor & Chair
Department of Art and Art History