Laimdota Steķe
Santa Mičule, Student, Art Academy of Latvia

Laimdota Steķe is a student in the Department of Painting of the Art Academy of Latvia. She has participated in a few group art shows and has held a small personal exhibition at the theatre of Ģertrūdes iela, and at the moment is getting ready for another. Like so many young artists at the beginning of their creative career, Steķe is still in the process of searching for her own painterly language. Her works reveal tendencies characteristic of many students and recent graduates of the academy, that is, a very naturalistic treatment of form, as well as the use of subject matter which is neutral, uncomplicated and close to daily reality. Steķe’s works so far have not been distinguished by a particular artistic technique or specific subject matter, however, an original and active use of painterly means of expression in a nuanced and intuitively refined transformation of realistic forms could be one of the defining elements of the artist’s creative work, which is based on an interest in the material (physical) world, and both the mundane and the unfamiliar things in it.

A confirmation of Laimdota Steķe’s skills and talent is the first place that she won in the SEB Contest in Painting of 2012. Viewing her works in the context of the competition, there is a small but significant difference that sets her works apart. Competitions like this often abound with participants who show a desire to please by adapting their artistic skills and interests to what is in vogue, noisily effective and entertaining for that given period. Without negating the positive intent and overall benefit of the award, it must be added that the sponsorship by SEB bank inadvertently emphasizes painting as the field of art which is prone to the status of luxury goods, and the quality of which is often determined by the taste and notions of the aesthetic on the part of the society elite. The award-winning works by Laimdota Steķe Vieta I and Vieta II (‘Place I’ and ‘Place II’) with their simplicity and introvert qualities seem to be even rebellious (the most promising quality in a young artist) when viewed against the background of the overall offerings and tendencies. These two works differ from the others not only with their refinement and contemplative nature, but also with an innovative technical approach. Both works have been done as a spatial installation: a wooden crate which frames several rectangles of translucent fabric layers, each of them featuring a landscape in watercolours and illuminated by a light installed in the depths of the crate.
Laimdota Steķe. Peace I. Oil on canvas. 140x60 cm. 2011
Courtesy of the artist
Laimdota Steķe. Peace III. Oil on canvas. 140x60 cm. 2011
Courtesy of the artist
Laimdota Steķe. 2012
Photo from the private archive of Laimdota Steķe
Even though these compositions are outside the framework of traditional painting in both the literal and metaphorical sense, fundamentally they deal with the classical problems of painting. They could remind one of André Derain’s statement about light as the substance of a painting, or the golden light of Rembrandt’s canvases. The unusual use of light in the works ‘Place I’ and ‘Place II’ not only adds to the visual effectiveness of the paintings, but also creates the feeling of a divine presence. The lighting and the cross-sectional structure create fine painterly nuances of brush strokes and the play of light and shadows, and give the illusion of a greater spatial depth of the works, thus also stepping out of the boundaries of painting and towards scenography (this is emphasized by the format of the wooden crate as the frame for the paintings).

The current works by Laimdota Steķe are characterized by a preference for landscapes and the figurative genre, where she transforms the physical qualities of the subject matter into plastic formal effects and creates an inert artistic reality, in which a realistically tended depiction is deconstructed by distinct unreal elements of composition. Thus the depiction of reality is not limited to a passive representation of it.

The transformation of realistic natural forms into optically ornamental and strictly organized forms is brilliantly revealed in the so-called reflection series by the artist, in which the depicted landscapes are based on symmetrical, even heraldic principles of composition. Small deviations from the symmetry in the details of compositions turns the paintings into something similar to the game “Spot the difference”, playing with the concept of harmony, as represented by reflections, and challenging the conditions of visual perception and the usual ways of regarding landscape. A creative interpretation of landscapes (with creativity I mean the ability to present the information in an unusual way by giving it new value, which is also present in the works ‘Place I’ and ‘Place II’) makes Steķe’s compositions come alive, turning them into “imprints of thoughts” and not just mechanical copies of nature. A praiseworthy quality is the artist’s ability go beyond the boundaries of so-called documental (neo)realism, which nowadays not only seems to have been reduced to banality, but is often simplified to illustrative depiction and a pose of arrogant aloofness. Being dependent on the effects of photographic realism and confining oneself to demonstrating one’s “painting muscles” possibly points to a certain lack of confidence and independence of the new generation of artists – the skill of operating with realistic elements can be used to shield an inability to overcome the generally accepted and safe standards of art and beauty, which, despite the revolution of modern art, are still being reborn like a phoenix from the ashes.

Steķe uses similar artistic techniques of transformation of the subject matter and form in her figural compositions. The work Grēku atlaišana (‘The Absolution of Sins’) features anatomically precise nudes which partially blend in with the background of the painting, thus creating associations with the Universe and nudging the viewer’s mind to accept the painting as a metaphor for religious ecstasy. The pronouncedly fleshy qualities of the bodies, intensified by the absence of facial features, creates an odd interplay with the religious overtones of the title of the work, referring to the separation of the corporeal and spiritual aspects of Christianity and the effects of this separation on Western culture, how it has affected Western attitudes towards nudity, etc.

The painting Vieta un laiks (‘Time and Place’), which won the viewers’ vote at the SEB Contest in Painting in 2011, reaffirms the artist’s refreshing approach in the interpretation of the overused general categories inherent in the title (the work was originally created as a task set by the Art Academy to illustrate the theme of space and time). The metaphor of time flowing is embodied in the fashionable floodings of colour, which makes the features of the artist’s self-portrait quite indistinct, in contrast to the mathematically strict construction of space. The themes of confluence and vanishing are repeated in other works of the artist, demonstrating the author’s ability to operate with a realistically direct depiction, where certain separate parts of the composition transform the work into a subjective representation of reality.

Laimdota Steķe is at the beginning of her creative quest – this is obvious in the diversity of her works and the evident influences of the local art scene. However, the artist is able to fuse current art tendencies with an excellent sense of the relationship between form and content, which opens up the way to bold experiments in painting which, we hope, are going to continue.

/Translator into English: Vita Limanoviča/
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